Written by Elisabeth Barber, 2023
Photos are Courtesy of the History Museum on the Square
Gerald Brooks was born on January 6, 1913, in Quincy, Illinois. After his mother passed away at a young age, he moved to Hannibal, Missouri, and attended Douglas High School. While at Douglas, he was greatly influenced by his own band teacher, Martin A. Lewis. Gerald Brooks graduated from Lincoln University in Jefferson City in 1935 and later went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Illinois. His first teaching job was in a one-room schoolhouse in Nevada, Missouri. In between teaching positions, he served in the Navy during World War II.
Brooks moved to Springfield in 1947 and took a job at the Lincoln School as the first foreign language teacher and band teacher. At the time, the school did not have a fully-established band. Brooks made arrangements with local musical instrument companies to rent instruments for students and parents raised money for uniforms. Under his direction, the Lincoln Band became a force to be reckoned with and consistently stole the show from other school bands at holiday parades.
After the desegregation of schools, Brooks was transferred to Springfield Senior (Central) High School as an assistant in the music department before eventually becoming a French instructor as well. In 1963, he transferred to Glendale High School as an English and French instructor, where he remained until his retirement in 1976. Brooks taught for 29 years in Springfield Public Schools.
Outside of the classroom, Gerald Brooks was a dedicated advocate during the civil rights movement. He was a member of the Mayor’s Human Rights Commission and volunteered for NAACP adult and youth divisions. He was a key part in integrating the job forces of department stores and was involved in protesting segregation policies of local establishments such as the Kentwood Arms Hotel in the 1960s. Brooks was also dedicated to serving young people in his community. He was one of the founders of Park Day Reunion at Silver Springs Park, which during segregation was the only park Black Springfieldians could go to. Park Day Reunion was used for years as a day for Black youths to get together to play games and sports. Now, it serves for members of the African American community to come together and remember the people and stories of their past. He was also an active member of the Benton Avenue AME Church, volunteered at the Community Youth Center, and volunteered for the local Boy Scouts Troop. Gerald Brooks passed away on December 30, 2001, at the age of 88.