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Interview with Tyrone Brooks, September 2, 2009

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:23 - Family roots

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Partial Transcript: Your parents and grandparents have deep roots in Georgia history.

Segment Synopsis: Brooks talks about being born with pneumonia, explaining that he was healed through his grandmother's prayers. He speaks about his father, a railroad worker who had to flee to Philadelphia after getting in a fight with a white man.

Keywords: A. Philip Randolph Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Ku Klux Klan; NAACP; Sparta; Warren County; Warrenton; birth; family; father; health; mother; parents

00:07:35 - Picketing against segregation

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Partial Transcript: So you grew up in Georgia.

Segment Synopsis: Brooks recalls reading about civil rights in the black newspapers, which inspired him to picket for school integration around 1970. Brooks was expelled from his high school and sent to a private Presbyterian school, but his student movement spread and attracted attention from major civil rights leaders.

Keywords: Boggs Academy; Brown v. Board of Education; Reverend Hosea Williams; integration; marching; protest; segregation

00:11:04 - Meeting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Partial Transcript: When did you first meet Dr. King?

Segment Synopsis: Brooks talks about Rev. Hosea Williams and his attempts to engage young Georgians in the civil rights movement. He remembers that Williams arranged for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Ralph David Abernathy to pass through Warrenton and meet Brooks and other students. Brooks also recalls subsequent meetings with Dr. King and briefly mentions the Moore's Ford Bridge case.

Keywords: MLK; Memphis; Moore’s Ford Bridge; Poor People's Campaign; SCLC; lynching case

00:16:44 - Southern Christian Leadership Conference

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Partial Transcript: But before we do, let’s talk a little bit about the SCLC.

Segment Synopsis: Brooks talks about working with the SCLC full time and becoming Rev. Abernathy's communications director after Dr. King's assassination. Brooks also chronicles the Montgomery bus boycott and the formation of SCLC. Brooks credits the SCLC with ending Jim Crow and forcing the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Open Housing Act, and affirmative action.

Keywords: Claudette Colvin; Hosea Williams; Montgomery; Reverend E.D. Nixon; Rosa Parks; assistant; bus boycott

00:25:42 - SCLC training

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Partial Transcript: Explain to us, if you will, Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence and how he taught you and others how not to turn the other cheek.

Segment Synopsis: Brooks talks about SCLC members' training in community activism, nonviolent protest, and self-protection from billy clubs, tear gas, and police dogs. Brooks highlights the importance of resisting anger and of relating to people from a variety of backgrounds.

Keywords: Dorchester Academy; First African Baptist Church; Gandhi; Penn Center; Tremont Temple; nonviolence; organizing; training

00:32:03 - Chicago's resistance to integration

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Partial Transcript: You didn’t have the resistance in the rest of the country that you had in the South did you?

Segment Synopsis: Brooks discusses Jesse Jackson, James Orange, and James Bevel's demonstrations in Chicago's immigrant communities. He says that the level of resistance to integration was higher in these areas than it was in the South. Brooks also comments on southern state governments' historic links to the KKK and their current level of black representation, which has increased due to the Voting Rights Act and the abolition of county unit systems.

Keywords: Ku Klux Klan; enclaves; law enforcement; resistance; segregation

00:36:19 - Dividing King's Nobel Peace Prize money

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Partial Transcript: What is – what was the relationship between SCLC and other organizations like the NAACP and CORE?

Segment Synopsis: Brooks notes the SCLC's support for the NAACP, the National Council of Negro Women, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Congress of Racial Equality, all of which received portions of King's Nobel Peace Prize winnings. He also talks about the close relationship between Dr. King and Rev. Abernathy.

Keywords: Bayard Rustin; John Lewis; Nobel Prize

00:40:05 - Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee sit-ins

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Segment Synopsis: Brooks talks about SNCC sit-ins in southern cities like Greensboro, Anniston, Montgomery, and Birmingham. He describes police treatment of black protesters as well as the danger white students faced for supporting civil rights. Brooks also discusses Lonnie King's student movement, which protested at Rich's Department Store in Atlanta with Dr. King.

Keywords: Congressman Lewis; John Lewis; Lonnie King; Rich's; Rush Memorial Congregational Church; law enforcement

00:48:55 - Arrests at the Poor People's Campaign

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Partial Transcript: You been to jail 66 times.

Segment Synopsis: Brooks describes the Poor People's Campaign, a movement Abernathy and King organized to bring Congressional attention to poverty, especially in Marks, Mississippi, and throughout the South. The Poor People's Campaign proceeded on mules from Mississippi to a tent city in Washington, D.C. Participants were arrested in Georgia and in Washington, where officials claimed the demonstration did not have sufficient permits. They were held in D.C. and Virginia jails, where they fasted until the end of their 30 day sentences.

Keywords: Bobby Nelson; Governor Lester Maddox; Hosea Williams; Jimmy Wells; Resurrection City; West Hunter Street Baptist Church; Willie Bolden; mule train

00:59:37 - Newton County arrest

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Partial Transcript: But the longest period of time I stayed in jail was right here in Georgia. 1970, Covington, Georgia,

Segment Synopsis: Brooks recalls being jailed for 45 days in Covington, Georgia, on charges of marching without permits and inciting riots. He says that charges were dropped and he and the other activists were released after Judge Ernest Tidwell signed a habeus corpus order. Brooks also details his most recent arrest in Taliaferro County in 2003. He was jailed for contempt of court after refusing to allow progress on a landfill in his community.

Keywords: Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials; Howard Moore; Joe Lowery; Judge Parnell Davis

01:04:30 - Selma, Alabama

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Partial Transcript: The two things that really, really gave impetus to the movement were the sit-ins and Bloody Sunday.

Segment Synopsis: Brooks talks about the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, a reaction against violent police killings including that of Jimmy Lee Jackson. He describes the persistence of the protesters, who would not delay the march even at the request of Dr. King, and the reactions of state troopers.

Keywords: C.T. Vivian; Hosea Williams; James Bevel; John Lewis; Maynard Jackson; SNCC; VRA; Voting Rights Act

01:12:08 - Political impacts of Selma

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Partial Transcript: It touched the conscience of America and it touched the president of the United States.

Segment Synopsis: Brooks talks about President Johnson's decision to provide Selma marchers with protection from the Federal Marshals, the National Guard, and the FBI. Brooks mentions the presence of angry Klansmen and supportive Hollywood stars at the march, and he recalls Dr. King's speech in Montgomery. Brooks also talks about the Voting Rights Act's impact on political parties in the South and explains the opportunities the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act opened up for black Americans.

Keywords: Civil Rights Act; Dirksen; Humphrey; LBJ; VRA; civil rights march; opportunity; partisanship; protest

01:18:20 - Contemporary issues for African-Americans

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Partial Transcript: What do you think are the most important issues facing African Americans today?

Segment Synopsis: Brooks talks about poverty, unemployment, and incarceration of African Americans. He discusses the SCLC's efforts to improve economics and education in black communities.

Keywords: community; finances; imprisonment; incarceration; jobs; money; stability

01:23:06 - Early days in the legislature

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Partial Transcript: When did you get interested in becoming a politician?

Segment Synopsis: Brooks discusses being elected to the Georgia legislature in 1980 despite his image as a "radical civil rights worker." He talks about Speaker Murphy and the legislative process. Brooks recalls passing legislation to change Georgia's flag.

Keywords: Confederate Battle Flag; Roy Barnes; Tom Murphy; state flag

01:29:05 - Reforming Georgia law

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Partial Transcript: The work we did in areas of judicial reform where we – we had to challenge the state on –

Segment Synopsis: Brooks talks about reforming judicial law to make Georgia courts more representative of the black population. He also discusses reforms to Georgia's welfare program, improvements to employment and pension opportunities, and fair reapportionment.

Keywords: Brooks litigation; HB 101; House Bill 101; Peace Officers Benefit Annuity Retirement Fund; PeachCare; law enforcement; pension; redistricting; welfare reform

01:33:51 - Moore’s Ford Bridge investigations / Brooks's Legacy

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Partial Transcript: Now, Tyrone, I’d like to ask you about your involvement in the Moore’s Ford Memorial Committee.

Segment Synopsis: Brooks talks about the Moore's Ford Bridge case, in which Klansmen killed two black couples in Monroe, Georgia. He mentions Dr. King's interest in the case and the federal task force's progress. He emphasizes that although the crimes occurred long ago, there is no statute of limitations on murder and that the suspects must still be brought to justice. Additionally, Brooks briefly ponders how he would like to be remembered.

Keywords: Emmett Till bill; FBI; GBI; Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials; Roy Barnes; Walton County; lynchings