Lee Gilbert Brotherton, Sr., Dallas African-American entrepreneur, civic leader, real estate investor, and pioneering Black Dallas policeman, son of Luther and Ada Brotherton, was born in Lewisville, Texas, on April 17, 1919.
Lee Brotherton graduated from Dallas’s Booker T. Washington High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Prairie View College (now Prairie View A&M University), followed by study at Bishop College and Southern Methodist University Law School. He married Jimmie L. Bilal on January 4, 1943. Brotherton served as a lieutenant in the United States Army during World War II and “trained as a chemical officer for the Tuskegee Airmen.” After the war, he worked as an insurance superintendent.
Brotherton and Benjamin (B. J.) Thomas, Jr., joined the Dallas Police Department in March 1947; they were the first African Americans to serve as Dallas police officers in the post-World War II era (and the first since at least the early 1900s). Brotherton and Thomas patrolled the State-Thomas streets area of Dallas on foot, without benefit of backup. For public relations purposes, they were photographed standing in front of a patrol car, but the only time they got to drive one was in the parade for the State Fair of Texas’s Negro Achievement Day. They did not go to police headquarters at the beginning of their shift; instead, they called headquarters from the office of a public housing project near their beat. But the two officers enforced the law effectively. They also had a calming effect on the neighborhoods that comprised their beat and, in the process, served as role models for many African-American children.
In 1950 Lee Brotherton left the Dallas Police Department to return to the army. After his Korean War-era service, he returned to Dallas in 1953 and opened a liquor store. Then he opened a hardware store. In 1961 he established the first African-American-owned armed, uniformed security firm in Texas. Lee Brotherton acquired a large building on South Second Avenue and the Lincoln Theater building on Bexar Street. The building on Second Avenue is located near the Carpenter Street intersection. In 1998 the 40,000-square-foot structure was described as “cavernous” and was valued at more than $375,000. In 2004 Brotherton owned more than a dozen buildings in Dallas County.
At some point during the 1970s Brotherton effectively changed his surname to Bilal, saying that, since Brotherton was the name of his ancestors’ slave owners, he preferred to determine his own name rather than be called by his family’s slave owner’s name. He also joined the Black Muslim mosque on Flora Street. Sometimes he used the name Malik Hanzalah Bilal Rabi. He sold copies of The Final Call, a Nation of Islam newspaper, for twenty years. He had become a Nation of Islam member in 1959 but later joined the orthodox Islamic community.
Lee and Jimmie Brotherton divorced on April 25, 1979. On October 19 of that year, Lee married Jacquelyn R. Irvin. In 1980 he ran unopposed in the Republican primary election for the Dallas County Precinct 7 constable position but was defeated by the Democrat incumbent in the general election.
Bilal (Brotherton) chaired the forty-one-member steering committee of local citizens that established 157 Goals for Black Dallas in 1977 at a time when Dallas was adopting Goals for Dallas. In 1988 he chaired the banquet committee for a ceremony honoring Dallas African-American pioneers. He was a member of the MLK Merchant Association. Bilal assisted many individuals in the community in their efforts to start small businesses; in some ways, he essentially operated what today would be called a small-business incubator. The Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce in 2005 awarded Bilal its first lifetime achievement pioneer award in recognition of his community involvement and business acumen.
In 2004 Bilal was fined for code violations of one of his large buildings. The continuing violations eventually resulted in a fine of $100,000. When the fine was not paid, Bilal was found to be in contempt of court, and, although he was eighty-five years old, he was jailed for a few days. Finally he was released from jail, and he made repairs to the building.
Bilal died of a heart attack at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Dallas on May 19, 2006, at the age of eighty-seven. He was buried in Dallas’s Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. He was survived by his wife, Jacquelyn, two sons, and two daughters, as well as a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Lee Bilal was well-regarded in the Dallas Black community. While attending a 1987 forum that addressed police and minority relations, Lee Bilal suggested that the police could reduce tensions with Blacks and Hispanics by simply treating citizens of all races with equal respect: “The policemen can solve their own problems by showing that justice is colorblind.” In 2014 a local nonprofit group known as Rechanging Lives worked to save the Lee G. Bilal Building located on South Second Avenue in Dallas.