Two decades and some change have blurred recollections of the merger of five school systems in Robeson County in 1988, and we doubt that all these years later there would be much agreement on whether education has prospered or suffered as a result.
For those with short memories, and those who were not yet born or were too young to notice, trust us when we say it was a turbulent time, when a lot of forces conspired to put this county on edge. The word tender-box was uttered more than once, and many worried that school merger would be the spark that ignited.
So when a calming voice was needed as five school systems of different shades became one, this county turned to Dalton Brooks, who served as the first chairman of the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County. Mac Legerton, the executive director for the Center for Community Action, fought hard for merger back in the day, and had a front-row seat as history was written.
“… He was such a reconciler,” Legerton said of Brooks. “He will be sorely missed as a spiritual leader, reconciler, and a model of kindness and compassion.”
With Brooks providing that leadership, the transition to a single system was far less bumpy than many predicted — and fewer feared.
Legerton recalled Brooks after his unexpected death last week that followed a short illness. This newspaper scrambled on a Friday afternoon to put together a story on Brooks’ death, an assignment that was made more difficult because of a deadline and an inability to reach those who could speak most intimately of his accomplishments.
But those who did sounded a similar theme: Brooks was a compassionate and soft-spoken man whose words were weighty. He was a deep thinker, a problem-solver who was content to work behind the scenes for solutions that would benefit all races.
A decade ago, Brooks was again called on to lead as the Lumbee Tribal government, newly hatched, took its first steps. Brooks as chairman took over another fledgling government, one feeling its way forward in the wilderness.
Brooks early on understood the value of education, and at a time it was often denied American Indians, he earned a master’s degree from Temple and a doctorate from the University of Miami. He returned to his alma mater, now The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and for decades taught physics, enhancing the lives of literally thousands of students.
His 75 years were marked with achievement, with more testimony being that he served almost four decades as pastor of Dundarrach Baptist Church in Hoke County, satisfying generations of congregations, no easy task.
“He was one of the most humble human beings that I have ever met,” Legerton said. “He would not have wanted to draw attention to himself or his accomplishments, but they are so great in number.”
His death demands that those accomplishments be marched forth, recognized and celebrated.
Robeson County has lost a leader.