While the U.S. debates the teaching of Black history, our unsung heroes, our hidden figures, push back by sharing the stories of how they contributed to it. Tyrone Brooks, who worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is one of them. His activism began at the young age of 15; he was jailed more than 66 times during his work and faced the brutality of the Civil Rights Era with an unshakable commitment toward justice. This fall, Brooks’ life and work will be explored in the documentary, Tyrone: The Story of An American Statesman.
Brooks didn’t just hop on the bandwagon after hearing Dr. King declare “I have a dream.” Brooks was a student of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, marched with him to Selma, fought with him for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and saw through every historical milestone leading up to his death. Brooks was 22 years old when King was assassinated.
The Root: How did King’s assassination impact you?
“He knew the government was going to kill him. He kept telling us he wasn’t going to live to be 40. At the last speech delivered in Memphis on April 3rd, 1968 at Mason [Temple] church, he talked about going to the mountaintop and looking over and seeing the promised land. He said I may not get there with you but one day we will all get to the promised land. Dr. King had given us a full warning of what was about to happen the next day,” said Brooks.
I had just turned 22. I was devastated. I thought I was going to die myself and I still live with the trauma of losing Dr. King today. I think that’s one of the motivating factors in keeping me busy, keeping me active and keeping me on the trail to do his work around the country,” said Brooks.
King’s impact on the country and the world paved the way for Brooks to make change years ahead. He spent 35 years in Georgia’s House of Representatives, delegated outside the U.S. in countries like Beijing and Cuba and began an initiative to investigate the Moores Ford Bridge Lynching case.
The documentary will also highlight other groundbreaking achievements Brooks accomplished including the permanent removal of Georgia’s confederate flag, having the Dr. King statue erected at the State Capitol and being mentored by Hosea Williams and Ralph David Abernathy.
From His Press Release:
Brooks Sr., 76, and a native of Warrenton, GA has always been on the frontlines of the struggle for freedom and equality. Jailed more than 66 times during his activist work, he was an unflappable soldier in the midst of chaos, and was fearless when putting himself at risk to protect others.
Faced with threats on his life from the Ku Klux Klan and even the government, the brutality of the civil rights era was undeniable, but Brooks learned this level of poise, commitment and servant leadership from some of the best mentors one could have. He is excited to share his story with the masses.
“I’d like for people to know how the youth began to rise up, take control and launch movements without any media or technology to push the message,” he said. “What we did have was first class training in nonviolent civil disobedience by attending SCLC Freedom Schools led by Dr. King, Dr. Abernathy, Rev. Hosea Williams, Dr. Dorothy Cotton, Rev. Andrew Young, Ms. Septima Clark and others.”
TR: After all you’ve witnessed on the frontlines of the Civil Rights movement, do you think the country progressed since then or taken steps backwards?
“I think we’re pretty much where we have been since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. I think we’re at a stalemate. We go up and down. What we’ve been experiencing over the last two years, some people call it a ‘racial reckoning’, but I see it as a continuation of the struggle to bring justice to this country and the criminal justice system.
I am an eternal optimist. I’m always optimistic that there is going to be progress. I think we will continue to make progress, but we’ve got to work at it. This is not the darkest day in our history. The last 2-3 years have not been the darkest years in our history. You got to be willing to work every day to bring about the changes we desire,” said Brooks.
TR: What were your thoughts on the current debate over critical race theory and Black history considering your work contributed greatly to both?
“I just can’t talk enough about how inspired I am about what I’m seeing today in terms of the exposure piece of our history that many people even deliberately wanted to ignore, tried to ignore, but have been forced to deal with. I’m so happy for that. I think the young people of today - the children who are reading these books and watching these documentaries - they are going to be so inspired that they’re going to have the fire in them to allow them to grow up and become great leaders in their own.
We don’t want any banning of teaching subjects in our schools. We want it all out there. We want our children to know the full scope of their history - they can take it. And if you don’t teach it to the children, they’re going to go and find it anyway. Then one day they’ll grow up and say, ‘Mama, daddy, where were you when they were trying to ban this book? What side were you on?” said Brooks.
TR: What would you say to our present day activists continuing the fight for civil right and social justice?
“Dr. King said, the struggle is not over. He said, even if Congress passes the Voting Rights Act, President Johnson has agreed to sign it, we have to continue to struggle. He said, the struggle is forever. He said, ‘There’s never a day in your lives when you shall ever come to the part where you think we have arrived. If you start thinking that way, that means we are losing the battle.’
So all I’m saying is in 20 or 22 years, as those who are in the movement, whatever level, whatever organization, just realize that the struggle continues. You got to raise the heat. Don’t get too comfortable because you got to think about your children and your grandchildren, your unborn generations coming behind you.”
The documentary will also feature interviews from Reverend Jesse Jackson, former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes and other activists who worked with Brooks through the years. The premiere date has not yet been released but projected to be in October of 2022.