Martin Brooks was born in 1929 in Detroit, not in the Jim Crow South where he spent most of his life, but a part of America that also was not a welcoming place for an American Indian.
Brooks, the oldest son of two amazing parents, Peter and Attie Mae Cummings Brooks, didn’t fret that the deck was stacked in opposition, and embarked on a lifetime of achievement, enhancing the lives of literally thousands of people he touched — figuratively and literally — during his journey.
Brooks’ resume was remarkable and lengthy.
He began his journey the old-fashioned way, by taking full advantage of educational opportunities, graduating as high school valedictorian and then earning his undergraduate, graduate, and medical degrees from his beloved University of Michigan, with which he had a lifetime love affair.
In 1958, Brooks and his wife moved their young family south and settled in Pembroke, joining his younger brothers, all high-achievers — Howard, a pharmacist for more than 50 years, David, the first Lumbee veterinarian, Paul, the former Lumbee tribal chairman, and the late Dalton, a well-respected pastor in Hoke County.
Brooks set up a medical practice, becoming only the second American Indian physician practicing in North Carolina, and for the first dozen years, was Pembroke’s only doctor, serving young, old and in between.
The stories, which were being told on social media following his death, are many and heartwarming, about a doctor who would treat anyone, regardless of their race or their ability to pay. He worked out of a store front on Main Street before opening a clinic on N.C. 711 beside his home, but much of his care was provided in the patient’s home.
Brooks was a pioneer, the first American Indian on the medical staff at Southeastern Regional Medical Center, and a doctor’s lounge there is named in his honor. He understood before most that addiction was more than human frailty, but was a disease, and he was a determined advocate for getting addicts the medical help they needed.
His medical contributions, which spanned seven decades, are iconic, but Brooks’ healing extended beyond medicine.
Brooks was instrumental in knocking down racial barriers that existed in Robeson County, where three races fought for control. It is not a stretch to say that Brooks helped pave the way for American Indians to have a firm hand on the steering wheel in a county in which they are the plurality.
Brooks was a giant on many fronts locally, at what is now The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, where he served as medical director of Student Health Services for a decade, and was a trustee. He helped launch Lumbee Bank, which has done so much for the economic health of the tribe, did more than his share on the civic scene, and was active and an inspiration in the church.
He was also a patriarch, the father of six children, grandchildren of 19 and great-grandchildren of 14 at the time of his death. Brooks embraced everyone as his family, always eager and willing to share a kind word and his wisdom, which was endless in supply.
Brooks’ remarkable journey ended last week after 88 years, and it was a blessing to those around him that he managed four score and eight years because he continued bestowing blessings upon others until the very end.
He will be badly missed by a county that he made better.