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Thomas Overton Brooks (December 21, 1897 – September 16, 1961) was a Democratic U.S. representative from the Shreveportmarker-based Fourth Congressional District of northwest Louisianamarker, having served for a quarter century beginning in 1937. Brooks was a nephew of U.S. Senator John Holmes Overton and chaired the House Science and Astronautics Committee at the time of his death.

Brooks succeeded John Nicholas Sandlin, Sr., a fellow Democrat from Mindenmarker, the seat of Webster Parish. Rather than seek reelection to the House, Sandlin ran unsuccessfully in the 1936 Democratic primary against Allen J. Ellender for an open seat in the U.S. Senate.

Brooks was born in Baton Rougemarker to Claude M. Brooks and the former Penelope Overton. He graduated from public schools. Brooks served overseas during World War I as an enlisted man in the Sixth Field Artillery, First Division, Regular Army, 1918-1919.

After the war, he obtained a law degree in 1923 from Louisiana State Universitymarker in Baton Rouge. He was then admitted to the bar and began his practice in Shreveport, the seat of Caddo Parish.

On June 1, 1932, Brooks married the former Mollie Meriwether of Shreveport, a daughter of Minor Meriwether and the former Anne Finley McNutt. They had one child, Laura Anne.

In 1940, newly-elected Governor of Louisiana Sam Houston Jones urged that Brooks be defeated in the Democratic congressional primary, but Brooks won his third term that year. He served served on the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services from 1947 to 1958, and he then became the first chairman of the newly-formed House Space Committee (later Science and Astronautics), reportedly because his seniority entitled him to a more important post on Armed Services than he was considered capable of handling. He was reappointed in 1961. Although little can be credited to his chairmanship, he was noted for urging the development of a civil, rather than military, space program, and on May 4, 1961, his committee sent a memo to then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson on this subject. (President John F. Kennedy's famous speech which prompted the Apollo program came just a few weeks later.) From his Armed Services Committee berth, Brooks became a champion of veterans' causes. The veterans' medical center in Shreveport bears his name.

He was also president of the National River and Harbor Congress and was an early advocate of making the Red Rivermarker navigable from Shreveport to Alexandriamarker, a cause continued by his popular Democratic successor, Joseph David "Joe D." Waggonner, Jr., of Plain Dealingmarker in Bossier Parish.

Brooks was reelected to Congress twelve times. He signed the Southern Manifesto, a failed congressional attempt to block desegregation of public schools. In 1956, he campaigned on issues popular with many of his constituents: continued support for segregation, strengthening national defense, the production of natural gas, rural electrification, and "fair prices" for farm, dairy, and ranch products. Brooks defeated (68-32 percent) the Republican nominee Littleberry Calhoun Allen, Jr., who later turned Democratic and was elected as Shreveport's public utilities commissioner (1962-1970) and as mayor (1970-1978). Brooks declared himself a lifelong Democrat in that campaign and urged voters to support Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinoismarker for president over the Louisiana choice that year, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Allen had called himself an "Eisenhower Republican".

In Brooks' last election in 1960, he overwhelmed his Republican challenger, Fred Charles McClanahan, Jr. (1918-2007), of Shreveport, by a 74-26 percent margin. McClanahan was a native of Little Rock, Arkansasmarker, grew up in Homer, Louisianamarker, graduated from Centenary Collegemarker, compiled a distinguished record in World War II, and earned the Chartered Life Underwriter designation in his job as an insurance agent.

On January 31, 1961, Brooks voted with a narrow majority of 217-212 to increase the size of the House Rules Committee to permit Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texasmarker to appoint newer, more liberal members to the panel which determined which legislation goes to the House floor. Conservatives in both parties generally opposed this vote, which they termed "packing the Rules Committee." Waggonner later announced that he would challenge Brooks in the August 1962 Democratic primary.

Opposition to Brooks' vote to expand the Rules Committee led to the burning of a cross on the congressman's lawn at his Linden Street home in Shreveport. Caddo Parish Sheriff J. Howell Flournoy advised Brooks to remain in Washington and not come home until tensions eased. Brooks later died of a heart attack in Bethesda Naval Hospitalmarker in Bethesda, Marylandmarker. Former Shreveport Mayor James C. Gardner, who at the time lived only two blocks from Brooks, said in his memoirs that he believes Brooks' death was "largely a result of the strain that he experienced from the Rules Committee vote. The party had demanded a vote that had a large and vocal opposition among the congressman's constituents."

Brooks' death propelled Waggonner into the special election to choose a new representative. Waggonner faced a stronger-than-usual Republican challenger in Charlton Havard Lyons, Sr. (1894-1973), a Shreveport oilman. Waggonner nevertheless prevailed with 54 percent of the vote, having carried every parish in the district except Lyons' Caddo Parish.

Brooks was a member of the Masonic Lodge, the Shriners, the Elks, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Kiwanis Club.

Brooks is interred in Forest Park Cemetery in Shreveport, the final resting place of many Shreveport politicians. He was Episcopalian.

References

  1. "Hot Election Forecast for Louisiana Democratic Primary", St. Petersburg Times, St. Petersburg, Florida, September 9, 1940
  2. Minden Herald, July 26, 1956, p. 2
  • http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=B000884


  • Shreveport Times, September 17, 1961


  • Ken Hechler, The Endless Space Frontier. A History of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, 1959-1978 (Univelt, 1982) ISBN 0-87703-157-6 (hardback), ISBN 0-87703-158-4 (paperback)


  • "Overton Brooks," A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography, Vol. 1 (1988)
  • http://www.legacy.com/shreveporttimes/Obituaries.asp?Page=Lifestory&PersonId=91314875


  • James C. Gardner, Jim Gardner and Shreveport, Vol. II (Shreveport: Ritz Publications, 2006), pp. 30–31



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