Brig. Gen. George Morris Brooks, 77, Md. National Guard's first black colonel

March 25, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Brig. Gen. George Morris Brooks, the first African-American colonel in the history of the Maryland National Guard, who also served in World War II and Korea, died Tuesday of cancer at Maryland General Hospital. He was 77 and lived in West Baltimore.

General Brooks enlisted as a private in the Army in 1943, and served with the infantry in Europe and the Pacific.

In 1946, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Maryland National Guard's 231st Transportation Truck Battalion.

The battalion traces its history to the First Separate Company (Monumental City Guards), an all-volunteer African-American unit that was established in 1879. The unit met for many years above the Richmond Market, now part of Maryland General Hospital, on North Howard Street.

"When the Korean War broke out, the unit was federalized and the only Maryland National Guard unit called to active duty," said Lester C. Huggins of Northwest Baltimore, a longtime friend who was discharged from the Maryland National Guard in 1966 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

The unit, which was integrated while overseas, spent about 15 months in Korea and reached the 38th Parallel. It earned eight Korean War campaign and two meritorious Unit Commendation streamers.

"General Brooks was the unit's supply officer, which hauled ammo, rations and dead soldiers," Mr. Huggins said.

Despite President Harry S. Truman's presidential order in 1948 that ended segregation in the military, after the 231st returned to Maryland, Maj. Gen. Milton A. Reckord opposed integrating the unit into the regular Maryland National Guard.

"After Korea, we saw no reason not to be integrated. We said there would be no unit unless it was desegregated, and General Brooks was one of the officers who got involved in the effort," Mr. Huggins said.

After seeking support from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Afro-American newspapers, and threatened with the loss of federal funds, Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin signed an executive order in 1955 making Maryland National Guard units open to all, white and black.

"General Brooks was an excellent soldier. He was always dedicated to the Guard, and it was never out of his sight. He never forgot it and wanted people to know of the work and contributions made by black soldiers," Mr. Huggins said.

Philip Sherman, a Baltimore attorney and retired Maryland National Guard brigadier general, said, "He was a dynamic leader and eloquent spokesman for the integration of the Guard. He was well-spoken, a true gentleman and a good comrade in arms."

At the time of his retirement in 1977 with the rank of colonel, he was commander of the 29th Support Center for rear-area operations. In 1979, Gov. Harry R. Hughes promoted him to brigadier general, retired.

During the 1950s, General Brooks worked in Morgan State University's placement office and the personnel office at Aberdeen Proving Ground. From 1966 until retiring in 1978, he was deputy director of the Social Security Administration's division of property management in Woodlawn.

In 1980, Governor Hughes appointed him director of the Maryland Civil Defense and Disaster Preparedness Agency, responsible for coordinating local, state and federal emergency services in the event of a natural disaster or nuclear attack.

General Brooks served on many boards and commissions, including the boards of the Baltimore Red Cross, Church Hospital, Maryland World War II Memorial Commission, State Board of Trustees of the State Universities and Colleges, and Mount Ararat Baptist Church, where he was a member.

Born and raised near Harlem Avenue, General Brooks was a 1941 graduate of Douglass High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Morgan State University in 1950.

The Rev. Marion Bascom, director of Morgan's University Christian Center and a longtime friend, said, "He was a man of unbound enthusiasm in the things he believed in, such as his love for Morgan. He always wanted to keep the story straight and alive."

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Union Baptist Church, 1217 Druid Hill Ave., with interment with full military honors at 2 p.m. at Baltimore National Cemetery.

He is survived by his wife of 58 years, the former Amelia J. Soden; a son, Dudley Morris Brooks of Bowie; two daughters, Muriel E. Brooks of Atlanta and Angela A. Brooks of Columbia; a sister, Evelyn E. Brooks of Baltimore; and three grandchildren.

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