After slavery ended in 1865, the black men and women in South Carolina set out on a new path to their destiny in life. With the shackles taken off, they had to reset their lives so as to meet the challenges and responsibility of providing for themselves and their families.
In the area of law enforcement, black men and women have always pushed to prove they can perform the duties of a peace officer just like whites. In 1872, Edward Cain became the first black elected sheriff in Orangeburg County. He served from 1872 until 1876.
Since Cain, the black men and women who serve in law enforcement have demonstrated their ability to protect and serve all of the people under their oath of duty. Peace officers such as Ike Hodges, Robert Keith, Marion Harrison, Joe Keitt, Patricia Dowdy, John Wolf, Leon Porter, Wendell Davis and countless others have made their mark of success in law enforcement.
In the State of South Carolina, Israel Brooks Jr. completed the unthinkable accomplishment of becoming the first black Highway Patrolman and the first U.S. marshal for the state.
Brooks was born on June 30, 1944, in Newberry. At an early age, his parents always emphasized the lesson of responsibility and hard work. After graduating in 1962 from Gallman High School, he joined the U.S. Marines, where he served 4-1/2years. He was discharged honorably as a sergeant in 1966.
The next year in 1967, he decided to use his military skills seeking a position with the South Carolina Highway Patrol. While training to become a Highway Patrolman, he did not realize that he would be paving the road for other black men and women seeking an opportunity to change the pattern of an all-white group that patrolled the streets, roads and highways in the state. That year, he was certified as the first black Highway Patrolman.
Brooks began his tour of duty patrolling the roads in Beaufort County. Remembering the lessons taught by his parents, he worked the roads so professionally in his duties that by 1975, he was promoted to sergeant. From 1976 to 1982, he became a certified Highway Patrol instructor.
Continuing to advance in this profession, he moved up the ranks to become a lieutenant and later the Highway Patrol’s Equal Employment Opportunity Officer. This position included statewide recruiting, affirmative action, researching and compiling statistics.
From there, Brooks was elevated to captain in 1987. Then in 1990, he became a major and was assigned as Highway Patrol Administrative Officer with administrative duties for the entire South Carolina highway system.
In March 1994, President Bill Clinton offered Brooks another “first” position to become the United States marshal for the District of South Carolina. He held the position until his retirement in November 2002.
Major Israel Brooks died on Sept. 7, 2007, following a long fight with cancer. He was survived by his wife, Barbara; son, Errol; two daughters, Nadine, Tiffini, and daughter Miriam who is deceased.
In 1996, I was highly honored when he presented me a U.S. marshal’s lapel badge after I videotaped his lecture in Charleston. Since that time, I have continued my memory of him by wearing that badge.
Israel Brooks was indeed a giant of a man. I am sure that he did not set out to accomplish those honors of becoming a public servant the way he did. Brooks simply cut a road through the forest for the black men and women who came behind him in law enforcement. With his big smile, generosity and people person skills, Brooks was a trailblazer and a dedicated public servant for all of the people in South Carolina.