Former Democratic Congressman Jack Brooks, who passed away late Tuesday at the age of 89, may be best known for being part of one of the most famous photos in history. Brooks was standing behind Jacqueline Kennedy in the cabin of Air Force One as Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office hours after President John Kennedy was shot on November 22, 1963.
But his legacy came from the work he went on to do after that photo was taken with President Johnson to fight for civil rights.
Brooks was elected to Congress in 1952, one of the youngest members at the time, and he joined the handful of Southern Democrats who refused to sign the Southern Manifesto of 1956 that opposed racial integration in public places. Years later, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, Brooks helped to craft the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.
At the same time, he was working hard to decrease government waste, most notably through the Brooks Act, which required competitive bidding for government computer contracts and the Inspector General Act, which was designed to prevent wasteful spending by government agencies.
Brooks went on to play a key role in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, helping to draft the articles of impeachment that led to Nixon’s resignation.
He lost his seat in the Republican landslide of 1994 after four decades in Congress. Many pointed to his support of the assault weapons ban as contributing to that loss in a gun-friendly Texas district.
Described as irascible and curmudgeonly, Brooks was unafraid of a tough congressional battle. According to the AP, he was once quoted as saying, “I never thought being a congressman was supposed to be an easy job, and it doesn’t bother me a bit to be in a good fight.” Fortunately he used that fighting spirit to help move the country forward.
Vice President Joe Biden released the following statement on his passing:
I’m deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Jack Brooks. He was a Texan through and through – tough, bold, and bigger than life. He lived by principles that were carved into his heart, and he was never afraid to fight for what he believed in. In the sixties, he was one of the few southerners to boldly support civil rights. And throughout his career, Jack was always determined to do right by the people who sent him to Congress, whether that meant investigating Iran Contra, or fighting to root out government waste. He was a great man, and one of the privileges of my Senate career was working side-by-side with Jack when I was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and he was Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jack’s family today.