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BY: ALEX ASHLOCK
A future Supreme Court justice, a future Pulitzer Prize winner, a future Super Bowl champion — They were among a handful of young African American men recruited to the almost totally white Jesuit college Holy Cross in the 1960s.
They were recruited by a young white priest named John E. Brooks. He was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of an integrated society and after King was assassinated in 1968 he drove up and down the east coast looking for the students who could help make that dream come true, at least on the campus he loved so much.
Father Brooks died on July 2 at the UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester of complications from lymphoma. He was 88.
Among the first group of black students he brought to the Holy Cross campus were Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Edward P. Jones, who won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, and Eddie Jenkins, who played on the undefeated Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins in 1972 and went on to work in state government in Massachusetts.
Another recruit was a star basketball player from Detroit named Stan Grayson. He later became New York City’s Finance Commissioner. “The thing that I most appreciated about [Father Brooks] was not just his interest in me as an athlete, he was always concerned about you as a person,” Grayson told Here & Now‘s Robin Young earlier this year. “He was the kind of guy who taught many of us how to think, by asking probing questions and constantly reminding us when we needed to be reminded why we were in college and that was to get an education.”
Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Diane Brady tells the story of Father Brooks’ integration effort in her book “Fraternity.”
“He was a very strong personality,” she said. “And it was striking that a lot of the people I talked to who knew him, that was very clear, that what John Brooks wanted John Brooks went and got.”
Father Brooks was a Holy Cross graduate. He was the president of the school for more than two decades and he never stopped teaching there. A funeral mass is scheduled for July 9, followed by burial on the Holy Cross campus.