As renowned Georgia civil rights activist State Representative Tyrone Brooks, 67, prepares to fight a fierce battle for his reputation and his legacy, he spoke poignantly to the Atlanta Daily World about his life’s work.
Under recent federal indictment for allegedly siphoning off money from contributions to two charities for his own use, Brooks talked about the pain these accusations have brought him.
“In 1966 in Newton County during a civil rights protest, Sheriff Junior Odom cocked a shotgun and pointed it at my head,” said Brooks. “He wanted me to leave town and said so in foul language. I told him that if he didn’t pull that trigger I’d be back again tomorrow.”
“But no bullet could hurt me as much as the words that woman (United States Attorney Sally Yates) uttered,” Brooks continued. “She said that Tyrone Brooks is a thief.”
He paused then added quietly. “Everyone knows that civil rights activists don’t take. We give. I’ve given everything but my life to make this a better world.”
Friends who have rallied to his support agree.
Religious, NAACP and SCLC leaders speak of his lifelong commitment to civil rights and the impact he has had in the more than 50 years he has given to the cause. He is considered one of the most popular and hardest working legislators in state government.
Former Governor Roy Barnes who is representing Brooks for free against the federal indictment said at a recent press conference, “His life is about service, not amassing great wealth. If his life had been about wealth, he could afford to pay me.”
Brooks began his work at age 15 when he walked into the offices of the SCLC and under the guidance of two mentors, Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Hosea Williams, joined the cause.
“Tyrone has been called ‘Mr. Rural Georgia’ because of the fight he has waged in the small towns across this state,” said Rev. Anthony Motley of the Lindsey Street Baptist Church. “Registering people to vote, encouraging Blacks to stand for office and assert their civil rights. His life has been phenomenal.”
“He’s called the ‘Energizer Bunny’ because he doesn’t stop moving,” said lifelong friend Bill Cannon. “He made a commitment to serve God by serving the underserved.”
Asked what three things he’d most like to be remembered for, Brooks made a quick list.
In the days before he died, Martin Luther King was just beginning to investigate the 1946 lynching of two young African American couples — George and May Dorsey and Roger and Dorothy Malcolm at Moore’s Ford Bridge in Walton County. Dorothy, who was 7 months pregnant, had her baby cut from her womb and killed. Brooks has continued year after year to advocate for follow up on the investigation and to remind people of the heinous crime with a reenactment at the Bridge.
“I’d like to be remembered for my commitment to not letting this crime go unpunished and forgotten,” he said. “It was the something that Martin wanted to do.”
He also would like people to remember that he led the successful effort, with then Governor Roy Barnes, to red
esign the state’s flag which had carried the Confederate emblem since 1956.
And third, his work to reform the judicial branch of government to allow more opportunities for Blacks to become judges and prosecutors throughout the state is important to him. “This effort eventually led to Georgia having more African Americans involved in leadership roles in the judiciary than any other state. It just blossomed,” he recalls.
“I’ve never done anything alone,” he insists. “I’ve been part of a revolution led by strong, proud men and women that is still evolving. When I get past this (indictment), I think I’ve got a couple of books in me.”