Interview with Keith Brooks

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Table of Contents 
  •   Introduction and consent  
  •  LOUIS KELLER: Recording. 
  •  REBECCA LORINS: So we’re here in Echo Heights interviewing Keith Brooks, Tape 1, and I’m Rebecca Lorins interviewing for TAVP and this is Louis Keller whose doing the videography and this is Mr. Keith Brooks.  Mr. Brooks, you signed the consent form before we began?
  •  KEITH BROOKS: Yes I did.
  •  LORINS: And you freely participate in this interview?
  •  BROOKS: Yes I am.
  •  LORINS: To begin, can you state your name and your relationship to Charlie Brooks Jr.?
  •  BROOKS: My name is Keith Brooks, and I am the second born son of Charlie Brooks Jr. His younger son.
  •  LORINS: Can you tell us a little bit about when and where you were born and a little bit about that neighborhood and childhood home?
  •  BROOKS: I was born in Fort Worth, Texas. The address on my birth certificate is my grandparents, my mother’s parents, so I was pretty much born there. My mother was twenty years old and married to my father at the time I was born. 
  •  LORINS: What year was that?
  •  BROOKS: In 1962 I was born, November 1962. It was a good year, I’m sure. (Laughs). But I grew up in the home of my grandmother. I don’t ever remember living outside of that home for a full time. We’d go stay at different places with my mother, but I grew up there. The south side of Fort Worth, the Morningside neighborhood. On the south side of Fort Worth. Near downtown. 
  •  LORINS: Can you describe that neighborhood, what types of houses?
  •  BROOKS: My grandfather was employed by Montgomery Wards, where he retired, and then he was also a Baptist pastor. Our neighborhood comprised mostly of a lot of teachers and working class people at that time. It was a nice neighborhood. Morningside— It was a neighborhood that had been all white, and my grandfather was part of the first group of blacks to move into that area.  So there was still white people in our neighborhood when we first grew up there. 
  •  BROOKS: And then it was a good neighborhood.  It was low crime. There was not a lot of crime there. There was not a lot of apartment complexes. So it was a very neighborly place. You know, it was the time when the neighbor still looked out for you, the lady across the street, next door, and down the street watched us as if they were our own relatives.  So Derrek and I grew up there all of our life.  
  •  LORINS: So you lived in that— 
  •  BROOKS: In that house until I left home. And I left home at seventeen. 
  •  LORINS: To go to—? 
  •  BROOKS: Well, I actually went to prison when I was seventeen. I was in eleventh grade, I was at the end of my eleventh grade year, they let me finish eleventh grade, but I got in trouble with some cousins of mine. My grandmother that I lived with had died when I was sixteen. And so my grandfather had—was a pastor and he began to go on with his life. Derrek was a senior in high school, I was a junior. So I got in trouble. 
  •  BROOKS: We didn’t have grandmother there any more, and I had some cousins who participated in some other illegal activities, and by my own choice I made some bad decisions and I was held accountable for that.  But I think that even then I saw God moving in my life.  
  •  BROOKS: I got saved when I was nine and I began to teach in the church and work in the church as a young man. I taught Sunday School as a young’un. My grandfather was a pastor, so every Sunday we’d go back down home to the country where he pastored. And so me and Derrek would go with him. Well, in the country they didn’t have Sunday School books, but because we came from the city here in Fort Worth, we’d have them— We’d have Sunday School books. 
  •  BROOKS: So I’d go down there and they would let me read the Sunday School book to the older people. I could say I taught Sunday School, but I actually only read the Sunday School books to—and I did that for a number of years as a pre-teen. As a teenager, my grandfather got a church here in Fort Worth in the Riverside neighborhood where my father was from, and so we began to go to church out there. But I served in the church there too.
  •  LORINS: What was the name of that church?
  •  BROOKS: That was the True Light Baptist Church on First Street in the Riverside neighborhood of Fort Worth. Now down home, we were in Lott, Texas, and it was the Hopeful Rest Baptist Church, and then he pastored in Hearne, Texas, out in the country, and that was called the Trinity Baptist Church. My grandfather took that church in the country that was in the middle of a cotton field and they cut it in half and put it on these great big truck trailers and they moved that church into town and put it back together. 
  •  BROOKS: And so for years we kept going down — that’s like a two or three hour drive from here to Hearne, Texas, but then as he got older and whatever he got a church here, and so we begun to go to church here. So church would have been a big part of my life. 
  •  BROOKS: My relationship with the Lord started young and it was very serious for me. I was very serious about God. And so, that’s why—before I got in trouble, my ninth grade year, my father was here. He had been gone for a number of years. Like six years. And so he came home, he was released from prison. And so he was here for my freshman year of high school and then. He was here for that summer too. 
  •  BROOKS: But that first semester of my freshman year was when this case happened. My father was arrested and I think honestly the only way we found out about it is that it was in the paper. And we went to school and a teacher had saw it and said, “Hey, your father is in the paper.”  At that time, the teachers still remembered my parents, and whatever. 
  •  BROOKS: And so we saw it and he was part of a murder, the guy got killed and all that, and so, that’s how my freshman year in high school began — with that. Within a year’s time, probably that same school year, so it probably was like the end of my freshman year in high school, they had the trial and then he was sentenced to death.  Which was quite notorious here. 
  •  BROOKS: It was—Texas had just now started back thinking about it. They were starting out giving these death sentences. Tarrant County had already given out some. He wasn’t the first to get one, though he would eventually be the first to be executed. Let’s see, I was a freshman in high school-- 
  •  LORINS: So that was in, so your freshman year in high school, that was in September 1976, or so? 
  •  BROOKS: Uh huh, ‘76 and ‘77. I was in high school. Freshman. And so he was—1977, he got the—and then he was tried by an all white jury. They had no witnesses. They had witnesses that could testify that he was not even at the scene of the crime when it happened. They didn’t call any of those witnesses. It was a rush to judgment. 
  •  BROOKS: We in Fort Worth didn’t desegregate until 1974. Fort Worth. So this was 1976. So the bitterness of desegregation was still fresh in those who didn’t agree with it, which probably was a majority of those on that panel too—On the jury. And so it was a rush to judgment and they were tried together and then he was convicted and given the death sentence. My father always felt that, if he was ever given a fair trial or a retrial, then he would not be sent back to death row. 
  •  BROOKS: He even felt that he’d be able to beat the case totally because he was not there at the time that the murder occurred.  Though he was an accomplice. I’m not saying he was innocent, because they can prove he was in the car, in the room. He was just not there when the man was killed. And so that doesn’t make you innocent. It just says you were not the shooter.  
  •  BROOKS: Okay, and so—That’s how my high school started, and so I began to make friends. My father was a fairly young man still at this time. And so we still lived in his neighborhood, and so all of his friends now became my friends too. And so we could get a lot of notoriety and respect by going into the streets. 
  •  BROOKS: My father was a kingpin in the streets. He was and so Derrek didn’t like that at all, in fact he shunned that, he didn’t come around that. There was a part of me that did like it, I guess, and so I began to hang out there. I did. 
  •  BROOKS: Especially as my grandmother, who got cancer and wasn’t able to watch us as closely—At sixteen, I could go down to places he had hung out, actual places where I could walk in and they could say, “Hey, that is Charlie Jr.’s son.”  I did take a lot of pride in being Charlie Jr.’s son.  I did. I still do. I still do. I’m happy that he was my father. I’ve learned a lot from his life and I have a lot of things that I think are important about me that are direct characteristics from him. I do.  
  •  LORINS: A couple of directions we could take. You had mentioned going into the streets and he was a kingpin, and you visited some of these places. Can you describe some of these places that you hung out in?
  •  BROOKS: Well, they were—
  •  LORINS: --what it was like on the streets then.
  •  BROOKS: They at that time, people hung in what they called “cafes.” I guess they’re still cafes.  Beer joints, or whatever. But then, we particularly called them cafes, and they had names. They were on the south side of Fort Worth and in his neighborhood. 2117 Lounge, long torn down. It was just several of them but they’re no longer there. That type of—I guess they still do it—but not on that small of scale. Cafes were smaller, more intimate places. 
  •  BROOKS: Now they go to like discos, clubs, or whatever, but when I came through, they were still going there.  Like my mother and them grew up there. My grandmother owned one at one time. My father’s mother owned a café. They sold food, soul food, beans and ground meat with catfish and whatever and, then, they had pool tables and just the local neighborhood people hung there, and there were several, but there were some particularly that he went to that I would start to go to.   
  •  BROOKS: Rebecca, it’s almost like a conscious and—I promise you, it was God directing my life. To say that I consciously made decisions would say that even now I’m making a decision today that will affect my life the next few years. I’m actually just living today. Things I’ll do today will affect the rest of my life. So, I don’t think then I said, “Hey, I’m going to do this for this particular reason.”   
  •  BROOKS: But when I look back now at that time—and I think it was just God’s—He had a purpose for my life. I think it’s been fulfilled in many, many ways.  Even if I quit working for God today — and the only reason that could happen is if I died — so, if I died today and I was no longer able to do anything else for the Lord, I think he’s gotten out of my life what he had intended. All right, and I think that he began to direct my life, for one, through by grandparents, allowing me to be able to live in their house all my life, not as opposed to living with my parents, because that kept me focused on God a lot.  
  •  BROOKS: And then I went to prison. I was the president—at that time, the day I was arrested, I was the president of the youth NAACP.   In 1979, we had the largest youth chapter in the nation. We went to Louisville, Kentucky, to the national convention where they polled all that stuff. They have national conventions, the NAACP, every year. And they poll that, who has the largest number, who has — there was another thing, they wanted to see who had the largest membership, not who had the most money, there was something else — but that year, it was like my second or third year as president of the youth NAACP, that we won that. 
  •  BROOKS: And in fact that allowed me to sit on a panel with Dick Gregory and Julian Bond. In Louisville, Kentucky, in 1979. I sat there with them, for that reason, because I was president of the largest youth chapter in the nation.  And for that same reason, I became a member of the Board of Directors of the NAACP here in Fort Worth, Texas. In 1980, I became the youngest member of the Fort Worth Board of Directors of the NAACP.
  •  BROOKS: That same year — at that time I was also the vice president of my high school class by vote, by popular vote of the student body, I was the vice president of my class. People had political, “Aw Keith, you’re going to be a governor, you’re going to get to, you’re going to run for mayor.” Especially the NAACP people. They really thought that God had gotten me ready for them. “You’re going to do all this for us.” And I thought, “Okay, that’s fine,” and we went to a lot of conventions, state conventions. I spoke in Austin at the state convention to thousands. When I was about sixteen years old, Derrek was with me there.   
  •  BROOKS: But God had other plans. With all that, I’m telling you, I was current President, current President of the NAACP, current Vice-President of my class, and currently on the board of directors of the NAACP, and I went to prison. I made a bad choice. One night, I made a bad choice. I did. But it was my own choice. Didn’t nobody make me do it. It was something that my grandmother was not there, I was out too late at night, and I got into something with my cousin and some other friends and, then, we went before the judge at that time a few months after I got in trouble, and he just said, “No. I think that prison will do you better. It will make a man out of you.” He did. That’s what he told me at 17. 
  •  BROOKS: And I was mad and I didn’t understand why. But when I got to prison — I got there at 17 — I went to a farm called Ferguson.  It was called the “gladiator forum.” And it was. 
  •  LORINS: What is that?
  •  BROOKS: Gladiator, where you fight expedition fight. What you call. It’s not expedition.  Ex — what’s the word? Exhibition! Exhibition fighting. And that’s what they did when I got there.  They, for whatever reason you wanted, whether it was just somebody thought you all should or we had a beef with each other, then that’s how they handled things there.  They stood in what they called a square and they fought by hand fighting.  I had a great time, I’m just telling you. That was fun to me. It really was. 
  •  BROOKS: Ferguson was a great time. It was hard. It was prison. I had to pick cotton. I picked cotton a long time, the whole cotton season.  Listen, I went to prison in 1980, which is the hottest year on the record. Now every time August comes back around, I am reminded of 1980, because they’re going to say, “this was a hot day,” but it was not as hot as it was that summer of 1980! And the truth is that, in the summer of 1980, I picked cotton that whole summer. A whole lot of cotton. I was pretty good at it. I was. I enjoyed picking cotton because I was outside working. 
  •  LORINS: Were you with other people, I mean, was it a group?
  •  BROOKS: Oh yes. In prison? Yeah, you had squads. They went out in squads at that time. They may still do it. They went out in what was called a “hoe squad.” And each squad would be a group of people, twenty people, and they used the two toughest people, one would be the leader, the lead row, and the tail row. Which meant, as twenty guys spread out in twenty different rows to pick the cotton, one is the first row and the other one is the last row. But they used these two guys to make sure the group does what they’re supposed to do. By any means necessary. So you get a lot of “gladiator” stuff with that.  
  •  BROOKS: And so, when I was there, by one week or two weeks, the guy that they put me in the squad with was from Fort Worth! He was the lead row. Well, as soon as I got there, first day or so, they said, “we’re going to make you tail row, because you could handle yourself, it looks like.” And, in fact, they wanted to make me lead row. But that guy was from Fort Worth, so I was from Fort Worth, so I said, “No, as long as he’s here, he’ll be the lead row, and I’ll just back him up.” And so I spent that summer as the lead row — I mean as the tail row, which is almost the same as the lead row. I was his assistant. And then we picked cotton and we made it through.  
  •  BROOKS: And after that I got a job in the kitchen, cleaning, well at first washing dishes. I was happy to be in there. But through that, and then, through that I found out about the weightlifting team. I did. And I didn’t even ask. It was just a guard — I mean, he wasn’t a guard, he was the coach over the basketball program, also over the weightlifting. And then he had saw me and he asked if I wanted to be on the weightlifting team. And I said, okay, I’ll try that. But you have to have a job. 
  •  BROOKS: So as soon as I got out of the fields, and I got that job which was working in the kitchen, then I went back to him and said, “Hey, I well got a job now.” So he let me join the weightlifting team, which allowed, about two days we could go to the gym and lift weights. 
  •  BROOKS: I joined the team and then I found out they were having the championships at the Ellis Unit. They’d have a local championship where we were, where a few other teams would come to where we were. Then they’d have a regional at the Eastham Unit, which was a really tough place. But the finals would be at Ellis! Boom! Gave me a goal to go for then. All I’d have to was win. And of course I won local, I won regional, and I three-way tied in state. And I was stronger than those guys. I just got distracted. 
  •  LORINS: So, your goal was to go to Ellis, and that was partly because your father--
  •  BROOKS: My father was there. And I had begun to write him. We were writing. My father was on the Ellis Unit. That’s what death row was period. Death row was all Ellis. 
  •  LORINS: Right, and I mean, and so to peddle back and connect it to this, you had mentioned that when you first learned of the murder, you had learned it through the newspaper. So that means—you weren’t in touch with your father at that time?
  •  BROOKS: No, well, they arrested him almost in the same day. So it happened. No. No. It just happened. We were. If this happened on Friday, I had been with him at that motel like about Tuesday or Wednesday. He came to my grandmother’s house one night and asked if we would go. Of course, Derrek didn’t go with us very much, but I went with him. 
  •  BROOKS: So me and him walked back down there to that café that he hung out, and we got with Uncle Woody and Marlene who were the other two defendants there, and we did whatever that—day—that evening. But we spent the night in Room 22, or whatever the room number was. We spent the night there. Woody and Marlene slept on the bed, me and my father slept on the floor. And then that was on the Tuesday, I got up the next morning. He took me to the school. We rode the city bus to the school. To the city bus, and I went on to school that day. 
  •  BROOKS: And I didn’t hear nothing from him maybe Thursday.  And by when we went to school Friday, they said, “Have you seen the paper?” “No.” “I see your dad in the paper.” We read the paper, and it told the story. The man was murdered. David Gregory had been killed and all that. So the story was there. And then we started getting calls. And so that’s how I found out.
  •  LORINS: Uncle Woody was just a good friend of your father's?
  •  BROOKS: That’s right. Childhood friend.
  •  LORINS: Childhood friend?
  •  BROOKS: Yes. Not many of my family members like Uncle Woody, because that’s who he got in trouble with. They had that as a relationship, was to get in trouble. And so, they blame him for some stuff. But my father never had a negative word to say about Woody. He always said positive. He always called him “your Uncle Woody.” I’m telling you—I have his letters. He wrote me a ton of letters, including his last letter. 
  •  BROOKS: On his last letter, he mentioned Woody. He did. In his last letter, I was twenty years old, and had not long been out of prison, but I had been with him personally. We met a total of three times. That first time, when I went there to lift the weights, they allowed me to go see him. They did. The warden wasn’t there. The assistant warden was there, and so they were excited that the son of a guy from death row was there, and they took me to death row and let me go into the day room. And then they went and got him and brought him into the day room. 
  •  BROOKS: And so, now, I was on a one day visit. We were just there for a meet. We were going to come early and go back to our own unit. For however long it was — fifteen or twenty minutes –– they let us sit and talk, and that established a bond that lasted for the rest of the time that I was there. We became really tight. And then we began to work.  
  •  LORINS: Well, you said you went to the day room. I’m wondering, were you able to sit with him, was there glass? 
  •  BROOKS: The first night, no.  
  •  LORINS: You were not allowed to sit with him? 
  •  BROOKS: Oh no! I sat with him! We sat side by side. Yes. That first time. 
  •  LORINS: At that time you were able to . . . 
  •  BROOKS: The very first time, that’s right.  I was on death row, and in the day room, and we sat together. And there was an assistant warden. But when we got back to my unit, a few days or weeks passed by, and my coach said, “You know we got in trouble?”  I said, “What happened?” He said, “they shouldn’t have let you—they violated your constitutional rights. They should not have let you be alone with him on death row.” 
  •  BROOKS: Even my father wrote me a letter and had something to say about that. That they shouldn’t have took me to death row, for one, and they should not have let me alone with him, for obvious reasons. He has a death sentence. What more could you do to a man? Who knows the mental state of people? So I do kind of see their point. I didn’t think about it at that time. It was just my father and me together, and I never felt threatened. 
  •  BROOKS: But the second time I went was an arranged visit. We did the paperwork and the time passed and my behavior record was good enough that they allowed me to come there. At that time, I stayed with the regular inmates and they took us to a neutral room and they actually had him on the other side of a screen. So that time we couldn’t touch each other. We could only—It wasn’t where we talk on the phone. It was just a screen with holes in it. 
  •  BROOKS: That was our second meeting, but the third meeting they put us in another room. But it was just a table. Now they had him on the other side of the table. I’m on this side. But we were at least able to touch each other. I saw him a total of three times. In ‘81 and ‘82. I was released from prison in 1982, in May of 1982.
  •  LORINS: How long total were you in prison?
  •  BROOKS: Two years and a month or so. From ‘82.  And I was released May of ‘82. My father was executed six months later. Or seven months. December. I was released May 27th. He was executed December 7th of 1982.   
  •  BROOKS: And then I started to realize what God had did. That had I been here with the negative attitude that I had because of his life, I wanted to emulate him in the wrong way, because I didn’t really know him. I just knew what the people said. He was all this all this stuff on the streets. So I was emulating that. If God had not took the time to let me meet him, and let him explain it to me a little better, I think—not think—I know I’d be a different person than is sitting here now. Things that my father taught me give me strength even today. Today!  And even some things. When this came around, I had to go revisit some of those principles, because I got away from some of them.
  •  BROOKS: But by this coming up, it made me like the — one thing he believed in is an “unstealable cool.” That’s in Eighties prison lingo, probably, but it makes clear sense to me that my cool attitude should not be stolen. I should not let people steal that from me. I should be able to maintain a cool head at all times. 
  •  BROOKS: If somebody tries to upset me, I should not look at—I should look at it that they’re trying to steal my cool. Right, and that’s something I need to protect. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense maybe, but as a young man that made a lot of sense to me. And then, when I went through life, “I’m not going to let you steal my cool.”  Mainly, don’t let somebody upset you. Let it be your responsibility, my responsibility, not to let somebody upset me. That helped me. 
  •  BROOKS: Even now, as an older man I had not thought about that in a long time. Years had went by and recently I looked at areas of my life—I need to re-implement that. Because there are some areas I let people get to me a little bit sometimes. 
  •  BROOKS: So I need to reestablish that in my life that I’m not going to let you upset me. If I do that by not coming around you or just not engaging in that particular conversation or event, whatever it is. But it’s my responsibility as I go out here everyday to make sure I maintain my cool. And that was something that my father told me when I was eighteen years old. 
  •  JOYCE EASLEY: Um-hm. Um-hm.
  •  LORINS: Can you describe some of the other conversations you had with him when you were visiting?
  •  BROOKS: Okay.
  •  LORINS: If you can remember?
  •  BROOKS: Oh, I remember very clearly.
  •  LORINS: Oh, you do?  Tell me some more.
  •  BROOKS: Well let me say this. Probably the biggest thing, my father was a devout Muslim. He had became a Muslim in prison. And he had studied to the point that, when I got there, he was the Imam of the unit. Not of his unit. Of the system. He was not just the highest ranking Muslim on his unit, but he had by now become the highest ranking Muslim in the prison system. In fact, they used him to talk to with the Muslims. 
  •  BROOKS: Muslims are a very powerful group there. Even to this day. They are comparable to the Mexican Mafia or the White Aryan groups they are—or the Mandingo Warriors, which is another black group. But they are a formidable group. It’s a lot of them, and my father really believed in that, and he tried really hard to convince me for Islam, and I started to listen. Their greeting is “as-salam alaykum,” and the answer is--
  •  LORINS: “wa 'alaykum as-salaam."
  •  BROOKS: “Wa 'alaykum as-salaam.”  Peace be unto you and unto you be peace.  You know Jesus said those words. Those are the exact words that Christ used. But the Muslims use them as Muslim words. So I learned that, and he was say it, and I’d answer back. Even in all our letters I began to say that. And then in prison, though.  And so he was convinced. Like even like “don’t steal your cool” — those things are probably Muslim principles. They probably are. 
  •  BROOKS: My father had a great desire to help people. He just felt like that was a calling on his life. And now, as we got older and we began to talk with people around the town, everybody told us that. When he was little—Even now as an adult, men will stop me, grown men, and say, “when I was young, your daddy helped me, he did this for me, or he did that for me.” I mean I’ve heard scores of times where people would say good things that he had done for them, right. 
  •  BROOKS: And then when I got to prison, he was doing it there too. He had become a paralegal and he could write writs. He had a reputation. If you went to a jury trial in Fort Worth, he could get it sent back. He had found a technicality, a mistake that they had made, and were continually making. But only if you went to a jury trial. If you copped for your time, just took it, or made a plea bargain, he couldn’t help you. But if you came to prison and you had went to a jury trial in Fort Worth, he could get your case thrown out. 
  •  BROOKS: In fact, there’s a story that he even got at least one person off of death row. At least one. I think there may have been even two that he helped get off of death row through his own paperwork.
  •  BROOKS: In fact he wrote the writ that caused his case to be brought to the front of all the others. There were people on death row before him. He was so sure he’d beat it that he wrote a writ and that said, “Here, now. Let’s go now.” And so that brought him to the front of all other death penalty cases. 
  •  BROOKS: Which was not necessarily a good move, because Texas was fixin’ to do it. We can blame Governor Mark White, or Bill Clinton, but the mood in Texas was ready, the appetites was hungry, for this. You see, we’ve done four hundred since then. We haven’t stopped. They’ll kill two in a day, three in a month. Two hundred people.
  •  BROOKS: You know what? This year Iran executed more people than us—for the first time. They killed like four hundred. We killed a little less. Before that, we were executing more people than Iran or China. Texas one year executed more people than Iran. 
  •  BROOKS: But not this year. Now Iran caught up with us. But listen who we are comparing ourselves to, and you wonder why you got innocent people killing innocent people: is because we have a governor that, and a climate that, sanctions, even if you are innocent, that we’re bloodthirsty, we’re going to kill them. And they’ve killed handicapped people. People who can’t even tell you their whole name, they’ll kill you. They’ll kill people that we know are innocent. Not just my father. There’s been other people. You can’t expect that you can do that and not feel something back.
  •  BROOKS: I don’t think that the death penalty helps in the way you think. It doesn’t. You’ve killed one man and we’ve got people in prison doing life sentences for small crimes. I mean we’ve got enough money to take a repetitive alcoholic who’s probably been in the war and has post traumatic stress disorder, and we’ll put him in prison for life because he can’t get off alcohol. But we don’t have the money to put somebody in prison . . . How many people have we killed? Five hundred? 
  •  BROOKS: That’s a dent in the bucket compared to what we’ve spent on keeping people locked up. And I’m going to say this: Had you took my father and just left him in prison, we probably would have forgotten about him. My life would have been different. We would have. We would have loved him, but you would not have devastated us, you know, the way it did. It was very devastating when they executed my father. Such a high profile and such a heinous manner. It was devastating. So where are we?
  •  LORINS: Yeah. Now, we’ll definitely get back to that. I guess I, before we move away from the situation in prison, if you can describe a little bit more about the relationship—well, two things: one is your experience and the relationship between the men, kind of just describing the milieu. And two is your father’s experience and his conversion to Islam. Do you think that changed him? Did you see a change in him?
  •  BROOKS: I think for sure. I think that the Muslim principles of peacefulness definitely was permeated his life. He really was a very peaceful and a generous spirited person, and I do attribute that to organized religion, it does tend to have that—and, where I was. Some things happened in prison with me that I was given a choice honestly—God came into my life and said, “Hey, I done brought you all the way here. Now are you going with me or are you going in a different direction. 
  •  BROOKS: So at 18 years old, I dedicated my life to Christ, I did—in prison. I told Him that I would serve Him the rest of my life, whatever I can do, I’ll do. From that day to this one, I have. I’ve made every decision in my life based on my relationship with Jesus Christ. And so when that happened I sided my father, he wasn’t there. 
  •  BROOKS: When he came back—and I said my mind is made up, I’m going on with Jesus—and he accepted—He said “Well, you’ve been in the house with your grandparents, and that’s only natural you’ll be like that.” But I did. He accepted that I would not come to Islam. I respected, but I didn’t even play with it anymore. And even now I’m not really too—my youngest brother, my mother's youngest son, is a Muslim, and he followed in the footsteps of my father for that reason. He attends the local Mosque. My brother is a member of the Allen Street Mosque or whatever—Masjid something. But no, my relationship with Jesus Christ started then, at eighteen before I was released, before he was executed.
  •  BROOKS: And so, even though where I was, there were Muslims on that unit, and because of him, they would look out for me. They kind of would be around me and try to protect me. But it wasn’t necessary. I kept a Bible right here in my top pocket. For my last year in prison I was saved. I had just sold all the way out. And that’s saved, sanctified, filled with the Holy Spirit as evidenced with the speaking in tongues. Now, I’m a Baptist and we don’t do that anymore, but that’s what it was when I was there.  
  •  LORINS: Can you describe the experience of being saved. Do you remember— Was it a moment? Or how— 
  •  BROOKS: Yes. Well you know now, I’m a dramatic, so it was an event. I was on the gladiator forum, and I participated in one of the gladiator events, and I was injured pretty bad. And so I was faced with a life or death situation that was out of my control. I had already made my move and it was about to cost me my life. And when God spared me. He decided not to take my life then, and I knew that he could have and should have then. Yes . That’s when I—at that moment, that night, that day, I said “If you let me live, I promise you, I will—“ Cause I already knew I should be doing it anyway, and I felt guilty about doing this “Wa salaykum a-kalum” stuff, and I felt guilty when I was doing it. 
  •  BROOKS: I knew that’s not the way I was raised or what I believed. And so when that happened, that event happened it happened—in an event I was in—this goofy—it happened on Easter Sunday morning, 1980. I was in a gladiator style event that I had agreed to, and I wanted to do it. I did it, and it just went wrong. It didn’t go right. It went bad. And the guy was more violent than I thought he would be. It just didn’t go right. Just anytime you try something, you’re taking a chance. So that didn’t go right, and I gave my life to Christ.
  •  BROOKS: Now, I never told my father those exact words. And I was already saved. Remember I had got saved when baptized at nine, but to me, it’s one thing when you accept Christ as your personal savior. You can do that at a young age. But it takes a mature mind to give Christ your life. You can’t say at nine “I gave my life to Christ”. You don’t even know what that means. But at nine, you can say I believe Jesus died on the cross for me, and I want to go to Heaven and be with him, or that I can go to heaven, because he died, I can go to heaven. 
  •  BROOKS: Now you can accept that at nine, but it takes a—but I don’t believe in a—this is religious all right —but I don’t believe in a second baptism of the Holy Spirit. I don’t think that you’ll get another—you know, like mine, my second event. I don’t think that’s necessary. I don’t think he’s got to knock you off the horse, and blind you like he did Paul just to get you to turn your life over. But I also don’t think believing that he died on the cross, and giving your life to him can happen at the same time. That’s too much to think that you could comprehend. That today I’m gonna quit doing everything and I’m going to —and it may do it, that’s just my—my experience just wasn’t like that. 
  •  BROOKS: So at 18, I was injured in a gladiator style event, and as a result of that I gave my life to Christ. I dedicated—I gave my life to Him, because I wasn’t supposed to make it out of that. I wasn’t. I mean, I shouldn’t have started it, and then I wouldn’t have to worry about making it out of that. But since I had started it, it could have—a lot of people did not make it out of those type—when it went bad, you know people—you know, we don’t have the medical attention down there in prison at that time to fix the problems. So usually, if you get injured pretty bad, you’ll die. That’s prison now. Prison was a tough place.  
  •  LORINS: So you experienced people dying? 
  •   BROOKS: Yes 
  •  LORINS: From injuries like that? 
  •  BROOKS: Yes. I’ll shout his name out. It was a great guy, his name was Antonio Rougeaux and Rougeaux had gotten into a gladiator style event with a Hispanic fellow and overdid it, beat him up too bad. Well, the Hispanics decided to get him. So one morning, while we—you know, we don’t normally eat breakfast at 5:30, you don’t normally go to breakfast all the time, unless you’ve got to go to work or something—and this particular morning, they say that only Rougeaux and two other guys, black guys, came to breakfast, but about twenty Mexican guys—and they went to breakfast, but after they came back, they said the minute he walked in there, they attacked him 
  •  BROOKS: --with homemade knives and you know, he was a big guy, he could fight. And he beat up some people, and he walked out of there. In fact, to the point that those guys had to—they didn’t take him down. They were able to stab him, but he had them backed up. Twenty guys! One guy had twenty guys. And so when they let him out, he walked out of there. But I think they used, like, icepicks that caused internal injuries. You don’t have no way—That’s internal bleeding, and there’s no way to fix that. So, he died.  
  •  LORINS: And you were mentioning, before we started, that prison was a different place than it was now. What do you mean by that? And what was a typical day like? Just one typical day.  
  •  BROOKS: In prison? 
  •  LORINS: Yeah.  
  •  BROOKS: Well, you know, we had a lot of fields where I was. So there was a lot of agriculture. If you had a job, unless it was maintaining the building and the men, you worked out in the fields. And so that’s hard work. And I was there in 1980, so it was 102 degrees about 12 o’clock. And it was really hot. 
  •  BROOKS: At that time, prison was still dominated, and probably still is—I’ve been out thirty years. May the 27th was my 30th anniversary of being out. No felonies, no more. None! None! Not even one chance that I almost could’ve went back. That’s God. You know recidivism is high. And I had all the characteristics to get involved in that repeat offense. 
  •  BROOKS: But not only this—let me say this. All my family members—I don’t know what, but none of them have been able to go back. I have cousins and uncles that were repeat offenders. But through the blessing of God in my life, and sharing my life—sharing, not just telling them my story—living with them, they too have been able to kick that. We have almost no relatives in prison at this time. None of my mother’s brothers or cousins are in prison at this time. No nephews. At that was one thing I intentionally wanted to do, was to stop that cycle in my own family, and kind of restore my father’s name. So prison—you had a question? 
  •  LORINS: Actually, something also, we have been thinking about is your father, when he went to prison he was still addicted, correct, to heroin? 
  •  BROOKS: Yes. 
  •  LORINS: So I’m wondering, do you know anything about his experience detoxing in prison? 
  •  BROOKS: See, we didn’t know anything about heroin.  
  •  LORINS: Okay.  
  •  BROOKS: When he was here, we didn’t know it that he was on—that stuff we read in the paper too. We were never personal witnesses of his drug use. I think that’s something they probably do really, really privately at some point in time. So, we had no idea that he was addicted to heroin, that’s something we’ve read, we have almost—maybe mama, my mother may remember that. But I personally don’t remember binges, or anything. I just don’t.  
  •  LORINS: Okay. Do you have anything you want to add? 
  •  KELLER: Yeah. If you don’t mind me asking, what do you mean by the term of “kingpin” when you were talking about your father on the streets? 
  •  BROOKS: Well, even in the streets today they have a hierarchy. They do. They have lower level people who usually are addicted to whatever was being sold or distributed at that time. And then they’ll have those that are actually participating in that. And then they’ll have those that kind of call the shots. You know, there’s a code in the streets. We don’t have to go there but— 
  •  KELLER: Yeah.  
  •  LORINS: You can teach us about it, a little bit. I mean just-- 
  •  KELLER: As much as you want.  
  •  BROOKS:  [laughter] Well—but anyway—the code, my father—it’s there. And it still exists today. It’s kind of like how there’s no honor among thieves, but there really is. Maybe not out here. And not necessarily that they’re thieves, but there are people outside of here who make their living and a lifestyle out on the streets. Whether it’s, you know, selling drugs, or participating in gambling, running gambling establishments or whatever. And so those people that run those are higher echelon people—group. They are. And we was a part of that group.
  •  BROOKS: Fort Worth once had—what was it called—Public Enemy Number One, was a guy named E.C. Douglas. And E.C. Douglas, a very widely known gentleman here in Fort Worth, the most celebrated gangster we ever had in Fort Worth was E.C. Douglas. He came from a family called the Douglas’s. Their mother owned a café, and I think she even—I’m sorry—she killed somebody. But I think all of his brothers killed people. 
  •  BROOKS: In fact, when I went to see my father, I stayed in the cell with Eddie Douglas, for that reason. Because he was the brother of E.C. Douglas, who was a kingpin and then was a friend of my father's. Well, you know, it’s like protection. It's protection. That’s why they made it that I could stay with a known gangster from my own hometown.
  •  BROOKS: And so, there are rules in the streets. And my father was one that kept those rules. I still have great respect to the code. I do, to this day. I consciously, honestly, maintain what they call a “ghetto pass." You won’t get that one either. It’s something that you’re doing in this community that gives you a right—that even though I live out in the neighborhood, you know, I live in a brick home neighborhood, with two story houses—I still maintain a “ghetto pass” here. That means there’s something that I’m doing here that gives me a right to come back to the streets. I keep a “ghetto pass,” I do.
  •  BROOKS: And so kingpin then would just be the people who are calling the shots, who make the decisions. Now, they call them O.G.,” you know, young people will call them the “O.G.” of the neighborhood. So, he was like an “O.G.,” if you understand that term. Kingpin was the older term. I mean it still means something but then that’s what they called them. 
  •  BROOKS: And he was friends with E.C. Douglas and Billy Ray Maddox. I made a mistake—I said, E.C. Douglas was probably the most widely known gangster, Billy Ray Maddox would have been the most rich. Billy Ray Maddox was on Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon giving away money, and he had no income other than the streets. I think both of those guys are in federal prison now. So they were my father’s friends. 
  •  BROOKS: And so anywhere you went, if you’re the son of Charlie Jr., you know that meant something, and to some places, it still does. Not anywhere where it matters now (Laughs). But if you go into the smallest—one of them holes on the corner, where a lot of street activity is going, and they still got the hierarchy, its “Hey, you’re Charlie Jr.’s son,” and I say “Yes, I am.”  
  •  BROOKS: But not, see, what I try to emulate though, is not that side that they remember, but the person that I met more in prison. My father spent a lot of time helping people, and giving and helping. He was very generous and very giving, and so God gave me a lot. My father died at 40, I’m 50. So he’s given me a much longer life, and I’ve spent all of my life—all of it—all of my life, helping people. I learned truly you can’t beat God giving. Oh, if you give, it’s gonna come back to you every time. I mean, every time. 
  •  BROOKS: People say “How, Keith?”, it’s because I give, and then I just keep giving. In fact, I purpose in my heart to give, so I put people under me, and I tell God “Even if you’re mad at me, I’ve still gotta help him” and He does. He will. The Bible says that he’ll not only give to you, but he’ll give you in proportion to your desire to give! What I’m saying is, he’ll not only give but he’ll give you—you know he’ll supply the seed to the soil. What you give, he’s gonna give you more of. I can quote it, I just can’t do it right now.  
  •  KELLER: I was just gonna ask how did your father—I guess, you said he was a very helping man—how did he view, I guess, the powers or the people in his life that were kind of trying to go against his appeal or trying to do the arrest? Basically— 
  •  BROOKS: Yeah. He didn’t— 
  •  KELLER: How did he feel about people who were kind of putting him into the position he was in prison? 
  •  BROOKS: Well, you know he had confidence though. I think because of the number of people he had gotten off, including his own friend. Woody Loudres was no longer on death row. In fact, when I was in there, Woody was walking down the hall. I saw him. He came and talked to me. I was standing there talking to him and Woody passes by. He comes to the window—who had just recently been on death row with him—was now walking down halls a free man. And Woody’s out now. Woody’s now a deacon at a church, at True Light, my grandfather’s old church. Who would have thought? In the Riverside neighborhood. Woody’s there.
  •  BROOKS: So, I think that a part of the street code is that you have very limited contact with law enforcement. You know, policemen are better now, but they do represent a group that has plagued our community for years. And they still have the power to devastate your life. That one policeman that could drive by out there, just could take it the wrong way, and could put you in the position that years of your life—and now over years, they have used that power callously. They make frivolous laws. And yet, they send people to prison for long periods of time. 
  •  BROOKS: It’s like when crack came. We don’t have no boats to go get crack. We don’t have no planes to go to Colombia. They let that stuff come in here. And it’s extremely addictive. And so the person that does crack has a problem. But when they arrest him, they treat him as a criminal. And not so much the guy that’s selling it, but if just you, the user, is caught with it, they will send you to prison like you a criminal, when all you are is an addict. 
  •  BROOKS: I think that’s been extremely unfair that they’ve plagued our community with that. And so I too don’t have a great fondness. Now, some of my best friends are now police officers, but a part of me still does not maintain social relationships with them.
  •  BROOKS: I’m the assistant director at a children’s church. I am the assistant to the director—not assistant to the director, a co-director. My director is an ex-warden, from the federal prison. He chose me. He told the pastor that “The only way I’ll take this position is if Brooks will be my co-director.” 
  •  BROOKS: He didn’t know I was an ex-convict. He didn’t! But because of my life and—we had served together for more than ten years before that—and now we’ve been together 5 or 6 years. Well, because of these—this (gestures to camera), he now found out that I’m an ex-convict. Which is life—ain’t nothing I can do about that. Now he realizes—I think they all think it’s kind of cute—that a warden and an ex-con run the children’s church. Now, we’ve had no escapes from children’s church—nobody’s got away. And then we’ve also had no problems either. 
  •  BROOKS: So, we’re both watching both ends there. But because of his position, I don’t have a social relationship with him—nobody that represents that side of the—I just don’t. Personally! Me! I don’t have a problem with him, but I just don’t talk to police officers. Even in private life [laughter]. ‘Cause a police officer, is a police officer 24/7. It is. You can do things—or they can observe situations off-duty, and they’re still a police officer.  
  •  LORINS: I know you continued your religious education— 
  •  KELLER: We’re actually— 
  •  LORINS: Sure. Change the tape? 
  •  KELLER: Yeah. 
  •  LORINS: Yeah, great.  
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Title:Interview with Keith Brooks
Abstract:Keith Brooks, a youth minister, small business owner, and native of Fort Worth, Texas, is the second son of Charlie Brooks, Jr., the first man to ever be executed by lethal injection in the United States. In Tape 1, Brooks discusses his experiences growing up in segregated Fort Worth; the gang culture that permeated his neighborhood in the 1970s; memories of his father’s arrest and trial; his experiences with the NAACP; his own time spent in prison; his father’s conversion to Islam; and his own views on the ethics of the death penalty in Texas. In Tape 2, Brooks discusses his experiences with segregation and desegregation of public schools in Fort Worth; his relationship with his family; how his father’s notoriety affected his life and that of his family; his time spent at Texas A&M University and his father’s appeal process. In Tape 3, Brooks discusses the day of his father’s execution, December 7, 1982; his family’s history as sharecroppers in Texas; his experiences as a Black student at Texas A&M; life after his father’s execution; his relationship with Christianity; and the ways in which his father’s legacy has impacted his life and the lives of his family members. This interview took place on February 6, 2013, in the Echo Heights neighborhood of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Texas.
Sequence:1 of 3
  • Keith BrooksRole: Narrator
  • Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
  • Rebecca LorinsRole: Interviewer
  • Louis KellerRole: Videographer
  • Jordan WeberRole: Transcriber
  • Sharla BiefeldRole: Proofreader
  • Jordan WeberRole: Writer of accompanying material
Publishers:Texas After Violence Project
University of Texas Libraries
Date Created:2013/02/06
Geographic Focus:North America--United States--Texas
Geographic Base:North America--United States--Texas--Fort Worth
Type of Resource:Moving image
    This electronic resource is made available by the University of Texas Libraries solely for the purposes of research, teaching and private study. All intellectual property rights are retained by the legal copyright holders. The University of Texas does not hold the copyright to the content of this file. Formal permission to reuse or republish this content must be obtained from the copyright holder.

Source Metadata

Analog/Digital Flag:physDigital
Carrier Number:1 of 3
Signal Format:NTSC

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