Wilcox County “First” Electeds – Featuring Jesse Brooks of Coy, AL

It was twelve years after twelve years after the first group of candidates ran for office and thirteen years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the first African Americans were elected in Wilcox County Alabama. BAMA Kids presented a celebration of this historic event and of Wilcox County Black History February 21-22nd. For more information: Wilcox Area Chamber of Commerce.

Jesse Brooksr and his daughter Ethel Brooks, Freedom Fighters. Bob Fitch photo 1966 @ Stanford University Archives.

Jesse Brooks and his daughter Ethel Brooks, Freedom Fighters. Bob Fitch photo 1966 @ Stanford University Archives.

Farmer and military veteran Jesse Brooks was a man of action long before he was elected Tax Collector Of Wilcox County in 1978. Beginning in 1965, with his wife Julia and daughter Ethel, he organized voter education and registration activities, worked on veteran’s and farmer’s affairs, and risked hosting outside civil rights workers. Both Jesse Brooks and Ethel were natural and SCLC trained leaders in the Wilcox County movement. When I met Mr. Brooks, he was optimistic and said that would run only if necessary to get honest people into office. He did not run on the People’s Choice” slate in 1966 but worked hard for those who did. Despite great organizing, African American candidates for county office continued to be defeated until November 1978 when Jesse Brooks was elected Tax Collector, and Prince Arnold became Sheriff.

In January 1979, a formal inaugural ball and program was held in the Camden National Guard Armory on Whiskey Run Road to celebrate this great victory. When Jesse Brooks spoke he didn’t talk about his office or campaign promises. “I stand here before you as your tax collector,” he told his friends and neighbors. “But I also stand here tonight for someone else. I stand here as the grandson of a little Black slave boy who was brought down river from Charleston, South Carolina, to Lower Peachtree, Alabama, and sold for a thousand dollars. Thanks be to God there’s not going to be any more bidding off of human beings!”

It was a wildly emotional moment and Brooks stood in the center of it ramrod straight, letting the cheers and clamorous applause roll around him. It was a golden moment when the years of struggle, pain and despair were faced squarely and dismissed. The sufferings of that “little Black slave boy” had been vindicated.

Brooks did not fail to mention that what is ahead is more struggle, but “we plan to push forward until justice runs down like mighty waters,” using one of Dr. King’s favorite quotes from the prophet Amos. Mr. Brooks vowed to walk into the courthouse “just like John walked into Jerusalem” and begin working hard to build what he predicted will become “one of the best counties in God’s country.”

Compiled by Maria Gitin in Memory of Jesse Brooks, based on her personal friendship with the Brooks family, her book “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” www.thisbrightlightofours.com copyright University of Alabama Press 2014 and an article by Harriet Swift, “A New Day in Wilcox” http://beck.library.emory.edu/southernchanges/article.php?id=sc01-6_002 copyright Emory University 1979.

10 comments on “Wilcox County “First” Electeds – Featuring Jesse Brooks of Coy, AL

  1. Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews says:

    The history of the struggles and accomplishments of African Americans in Wilcox County is intriguing. I have learned so much, while conducting research for the BAMA Kids Black History Extravaganza. Thank you for bringing attention to it.


  2. Clara Gulley says:

    I love reading about the history of our people,and the struggles we have over come, thank God for the accomplishments. We made it.


  3. Jacqueline Edwards says:

    This is really something, to know these are my relatives, makes me so darn proud.


  4. Joyce Ramsey says:

    I remember Mr. Jesse Brooks very well, when he was elected to the Office of Tax Collector, i alone with another young lady were clerks in the office. He was a great man, a gentleman, a stateman, a civil rights activist, husband, and father. I’ll Always Remember Mr. J.M. Brooks


  5. Gloria Powell says:

    I am so grateful to know some of the people who stood up for us in Wilcox County, Camden, Al. I am so proud of my cousins Robert Powell and Emmanuel Hardley, others like Frank Conners, Mr. Robert Durant, and Mr. David Colston,Sr and other whose names I did not call who stood up for what was right. Some of us were young we didn’t know what was happening but it was explained to us that it was for a GOOD cause. We all have to know that GOD see everything we have done and doing, he is awesome. For those names I did not call Thank You. I remember sitting on the grass at Antioch Baptist Church, others were there also, I do remember John “Shot” Thompson and Sanford Smith there. Little did we know we were making history.


  6. I love Wilcox county camden,we loved each other. those that came from Coy to do what they could, my Cousin Tony Charley got hurt with his back.he has pass on,i was one of the group that walk through Camden to get a chance to shake Dr King hand,he had that mobile trailer home. his daughter was standing behind him in the door way while he sat on the step,with her arms around his neck,my walking parton was Willie Couston young.that day i can still feel the wind that would blow on my face.when you let your self go back in time you can remember little things,we was part of really shaking hands with such a great man as Dr Martin Luther king Jr.and we all love you he spoke where little Childrens could understand right from wrong RIP Dr.King you did more then enough.we have some great people that heard you.they did a good job, like Mr.President Barack Obama.that was all because of Dr. King .I love you both, and so many other play such a big part.Thank you all from the small to the big one,may God add a blessing to you for the work you help him God carry out .at the right place for the right reason!!!🤘


  7. Joyce Ramsey says:

    Mr. J.M. Brooks Was The First Black Elected Tax Collector Of Wilcox County, Not Tax Assessor.


  8. Brenda Jones says:

    Praise God I am the Mother of Ethel Brooks granddaughter. It was an blessing to know her May she continue to rest in her father’s arms.


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