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Jack Brooks Papers Digital Humanities Project

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(L-R) Dolph Briscoe, Sam Rayburn, and Jack Brooks
President Lyndon B. Johnson takes the oath of office on Air Force One
The Meanest Man in Congress

The Briscoe Center has launched a new digital humanities project that focuses on the 42 years of legislative service by Congressman Jack Brooks. First elected to the House of Representatives in 1952, Brooks served Beaumont and its vicinity until 1995. He earned national recognition for his advancement of civil rights and voting rights, his tenacious scrutiny and reduction of government spending and operations, and his role in the impeachment proceedings of President Richard Nixon. Archivists at the Briscoe Center will comb through the Jack Brooks Papers, housed at the center, to select items for digitization into an online repository of documents and photographs that will be open for teaching and research.

"Congressman Brooks played an integral role in shaping national policy from the Cold War era through to the emergence of the global economy in the 1990s," said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. "His papers provide historians with a host of important primary sources. By making a large selection of the papers searchable and available online, the center hopes to educate a new generation of students and scholars about Brooks and the political history of post–World War II America."

Born in Crowley, Louisiana, in 1922, Brooks moved to Beaumont, Texas, at the age of five. He attended public schools and received a scholarship to Lamar Junior College, later transferring to The University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a B.A. in journalism in 1943. During World War II, Brooks enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving for approximately two years in the Pacific theater. In 1946, Brooks began his career in public service when he was elected to represent Jefferson County in the Texas State Legislature. During his three-term tenure, he also earned a law degree from UT Austin. Brooks was elected to Congress in 1952, becoming a protégé of House Speaker Sam Rayburn and a friend to then Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson.

On November 22, 1963, Brooks rode in the motorcade carrying President John F. Kennedy through downtown Dallas. Following Kennedy's assassination, Brooks was on Air Force One for Johnson's swearing-in as president. He remained a strong supporter of President Johnson and a champion of his legislative program in the House. As a prominent member of the Judiciary Committee, Brooks helped write the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; he was one of the few southern congressmen to support civil rights legislation.

In 1974, he was a central figure in the impeachment of Richard Nixon. A leader in an earlier investigation that uncovered millions of dollars in public funds expended at the vacation homes of the president, he later drafted the articles of impeachment adopted by the House Judiciary Committee. Nixon resigned as a result of his involvement in the scandal. Later, after becoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Brooks sponsored significant pieces of legislation, including the Single Audit Act of 1984, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1991, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

Brooks crusaded against government waste and inefficiency throughout his career, becoming known as "the meanest man in Congress." However, he also secured funding for public works projects that benefited Texas, including funds for the Rayburn Dam and Reservoir and for extensive improvements to deep water shipping channels along the Texas coast. He also helped pass legislation to provide flood insurance to individuals and businesses suffering losses due to hurricanes and other natural disasters. Brooks lost his reelection campaign in 1994. He lived in Beaumont until he died in 2012.

“Jack Brooks was a vitally important legislator who was committed to saving Americans money, holding presidents accountable, crafting intelligent public policy, and getting it done in a spirit of bipartisan collaboration,” said Jon Bassana, President of the Jack Brooks Foundation. “We’re pleased to work with the Briscoe Center to celebrate Jack’s legacy but also to educate students on college campuses across the nation about better approaches to both policy and politics.”

The project’s first phase—leading to an online repository of items digitized from the Brooks Papers—will be completed early next year. The project is made possible by the generosity and vision of the Jack Brooks Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to educate the American electorate on the impact of public policy and to advance progress within the U.S. voting process. Last year, the biography, The Meanest Man in Congress: Jack Brooks and the Making of an American Century (New South Books, 2019) by Timothy and Brendan McNulty was published to detail Brooks’ legacy. Moving ahead, the Foundation will continue to host bipartisan public programs and lectures about the biography and the digital archive project across the country.