The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 84,232 black Americans with Brooks as their last name. That represented 33% of the total of 251663 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Brooks in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Brooks Before The Civil War
The 1850 census was the first to record all free members of households together. Before this, people who were not white were not named in the federal census.
In 1850, there was a box to enter color on the census. There were three categories: white, black, and mulatto. The third term is the language of the time, and I will use mixed in this article.
If you are researching your black Brooks ancestors in census archives, be sure to check the two non-white categories. Do not assume that the people recording the information were always correct.
1850 Federal Census
There were 705 people named Brooks who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 334 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 21,327 free citizens named Brooks that year. There would be one more census in 1860 before the Civil War.
After The Civil War
The 1870 census was the first survey after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. All African Americans were included.
Those who were omitted in 1850 and 1860 because they were enslaved were now recorded.
10,820 people named Brooks were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 1,647 as mixed.
There was a total of 43,329 people with the name.
Brooks In The 1900 And 1940 Census
The mixed category was dropped in 1900, so we just need to look at the black numbers this time.
The 1900 census recorded 22,917 people named Brooks as black within a total of 74,962 that year.
By the way, the mixed category returned in the 1910 and 1920 censuses. It was dropped again in 1930, but replaced with extra categories for colored and non-white in a way that seems confusing now.
This changed again in 1940 and we can simply focus on one black category.
The 1940 census recorded 31,949 people named Brooks as black within a total of 126,616.
Historic Black Figures With The Brooks Surname
Here are some notable African American people in history with Brooks as their last name.
- Born: about 1814
The Underground Railroad was a network of safe houses and travel routes organized by many church and community leaders, civil rights activists, and abolitionists. Thousands of enslaved people were helped to escape from the South.
William Still kept substantial notes on fugitives who were helped on their way through Philadelphia. He published the notes in a book in 1872.
Susan Brooks was one such fugitive helped by the Philadelphia underground railroad. Still describes in his book how she decided to follow her son to freedom in Canada.
There is also a very interesting account of how women in general managed to smuggle themselves on board steamboats from the South that were bound for Philadelphia.
You can read the full excerpt in our account of Susan Brooks and the Underground Railroad.
- Born: 1865
- From: Virginia
Charles Brook was working in his thirties in New Jersey as a porter with the Pullman Company, a manufacturer of railroad cars.
He patented several inventions, the best known being for street sweepers. These machines were relatively recent, with the first one with attached brushes being invented in 1868.
Brooks devised substantial improvements to the front-brush mechanism. Specifically, he patented an additional pan in 1895 that collected the sweepings and moved the dirt to a bucket.
With financial backing, Brooks manufactured the new street sweepers for Pennsylvania. The state department paid $100K in 1896, a considerable sum.
Other black inventors
Check out these other early African American inventors.
- Born: 1891
- From: Key West, Florida
- Died: 1966
Irvin (Chester) Brooks played pitcher and outfielder in the early black baseball leagues. His playing career ran from 1918 to 1933.
He played for the Brooklyn Royal Giants and was regarded as an outstanding hitter.
The baseball color line was firmly established in the late 19th century to bar black players from major and minor league baseball.
Several black leagues were formed with professional and semi-professional clubs. Some of the outstanding players were the best of their generation, regardless of color.
The color line was eventually broken by Jackie Robinson in 1945.
- Born: 1939
- From: East St Louis, Illinois
- Died: 1989
Paul Brooks was a seminary student in 1961 when he sat beside a white activist named Jim Zwerg on a bus from Nashville to Birmingham, Alabama. They were arrested at the city limits.
He later married Catherine Burks, another student freedom rider. Brooks continued to raise funds for the movement in the 1960s.
He invented the Afro-pick comb in 1965 and opened several comb factories.
The Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode on segregated buses in the South from 1961. They sat in mixed groups to challenge seating segregation.
If they weren’t arrested on the bus, they would disembark and sit in segregated cafes and terminals.
The activists endured violent arrests from local police who would also let gathering mobs attack them. Many of the Freedom Riders were young college students.
Other freedom riders in the 1960s
Brooks In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research.
Here are examples of the Brooks surname from three different military services:
- Buffalo soldiers
- Black civil war sailors
- Tuskegee airmen
Five regiments for black soldiers were formed during the Civil War. They were known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Their records are part of the national archive of military monthly returns. The information includes the year and place of birth, where they enlisted, their occupation, and their height.
One of the earliest military entries for Brooks was in 1867. Robert Brooks was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in 1867 at Fort Leavenworth.
One of the later entries was in 1914. Edward Brooks was a Private in the Ninth Cavalry.
If you are researching military ancestors, there is a free index of these records on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. You have to create an account on either website, but you do not need to pay for the Buffalo Soldiers archive.
Black Civil War Sailors
The National Parks Service has a free archive of African American sailors during the Civil War.
The information includes their age, height, rank, occupation, and where and when they enlisted. It also includes every ship that they served on.
You can search the database on the National Parks website.
One of the earliest entries for Brooks was for Levi Brooks from Baltimore, Maryland. He enlisted in July 1861 aged 39.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Caulker. His naval rank was Seaman.
A caulker was someone who used a caulking iron to sealed joints on metal structures. Levi possibly worked in shipping yards, sealing the sames on the hulls of ships.
A seaman in the Navy is a sailor who is not an officer.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted in April 1863. Samuel was aged 26 and was from Fredericksburgh, Virginia.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Cook. His naval rank was Landsman.
“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.
The Tuskegee Airmen were military personnel who served at the Tuskegee Army Airfield or related programs.
Nearly one thousand black pilots graduated from the Tuskegee Institute. The photograph above (from the Library of Congress shows a class in session.
They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.
Milton Brooks graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in May 1943. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Milton was from Glassport, Pennsylvania.
His combat credits said: Downed 1 Me-109 on October 12, 1944
Tilford Brooks came from East St. Louis, Illinois. He trained as a fighter pilot and graduated in April 1945.
You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.