The Jack Brooks Project explores the 42 years of legislative service by Congressman Jack Brooks through the creation of a digital repository of selected primary source materials from the Jack Brooks Papers, part of the Briscoe Center’s collections.
First elected to the House of Representatives in 1952, Brooks served Beaumont and its vicinity until 1995. He earned national recognition for his advancement of civil rights and voting rights, his tenacious scrutiny and reduction of government spending and operations, and his role in the impeachment proceedings of President Richard Nixon.
Led by Director of Research and Collections Stephanie Malmros and Brooks Project Archivist Nina Tarnawsky, the project is nearing the completion of its first phase. Archivists have selected materials for digitization into an online repository of documents [other materials? Audio for example?] and photographs that will be open for teaching and research. Once completed, the repository will comprise around 1500 described items, totaling between 4,000 and 5,000 pages of digitized material, in a special project website. The project team is also creating metadata for the materials, which will allow users to search and find related documents with ease and accuracy.
In addition, the project site will feature essays that provide historical context to the selected materials. Project coordinator Eric Busch notes, “I’m confident that the records that the Brooks Papers Project is making accessible will offer a valuable new lens on the modern history of the United States Congress, Texas political history, the history and legacy of the Watergate era, and of government efficiency and regulation. This project will also present a timely portrait of a sharp, forceful, and humane public servant.”
The project is made possible by the generosity and vision of the Jack Brooks Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to educate the American electorate on the impact of public policy and to advance progress within the U.S. voting process.
Born in Crowley, Louisiana, in 1922, Brooks moved to Beaumont, Texas, at the age of five. He attended public schools and received a scholarship to Lamar Junior College, later transferring to The University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a B.A. in journalism in 1943. During World War II, Brooks enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving for approximately two years in the Pacific theater. In 1946, Brooks began his career in public service when he was elected to represent Jefferson County in the Texas State Legislature. During his three-term tenure, he also earned a law degree from UT Austin. Brooks was elected to Congress in 1952, becoming a protégé of House Speaker Sam Rayburn and a friend to then Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson.
On November 22, 1963, Brooks rode in the motorcade carrying President John F. Kennedy through downtown Dallas. Following Kennedy’s assassination, Brooks was on Air Force One for Johnson’s swearing-in as president. He remained a strong supporter of President Johnson and a champion of his legislative program in the House. As a prominent member of the Judiciary Committee, Brooks helped write the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; he was one of the few southern congressmen to support civil rights legislation.
In 1974, he was a central figure in the impeachment of Richard Nixon. A leader in an earlier investigation that uncovered millions of dollars in public funds expended at the vacation homes of the president, he later drafted the articles of impeachment adopted by the House Judiciary Committee. Nixon resigned as a result of his involvement in the scandal. Later, after becoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Brooks sponsored significant pieces of legislation, including the Single Audit Act of 1984, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1991, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
Brooks crusaded against government waste and inefficiency throughout his career, becoming known as “the meanest man in Congress.” However, he also secured funding for public works projects that benefited Texas, including funds for the Rayburn Dam and Reservoir and for extensive improvements to deep water shipping channels along the Texas coast. He also helped pass legislation to provide flood insurance to individuals and businesses suffering losses due to hurricanes and other natural disasters. Brooks lost his reelection campaign in 1994. He lived in Beaumont until he died in 2012.