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Mar 02

Reverend Daniel Brooks, A Short Biography - Contributed by Marian Inabinett

Posted on March 2, 2022 at 4:21 PM by Tamara Vaughan

Recently, there has been much in the local news about the demolition of the Daniel Brooks Homes, an 80-year-old housing development off University Parkway bounded by Davis Avenue, Henley Street, and West Avenue. The High Point Housing Department announced that the name of the new affordable housing complex replacing it will be named Legacy Ridge, leading to questions from the public about the original namesake, Reverend Daniel Brooks.

Daniel Brooks is best known in High Point as a minister, founder of Brooks Memorial Methodist Church, and the namesake of the Daniel Brooks Homes. At the time of his death in 1933 at age 95, he was perhaps the most well-known African American person in High Point. His obituary in The High Point Enterprise noted his self-education, religious leadership, and interest in education in High Point. 

He was interested in all uplift work in High Point and surrounding communities. He resided in one place for 50 years, was on the committee which selected the site for the William Penn high school, was trustee for the old school which used to be on the Cherry street hill and was a member of the North Carolina [Methodist] conference. Several years ago he was elected president of the ministerial union. [High Point Enterprise]

Indeed, Reverend Brooks was often referred to as “Elder Brooks” due to his stature in the North Carolina Methodist Church. The story of his remarkable life, however, starts in Cleveland County, in a settlement called Duncans Creek near Shelby. He was born a free African American in 1837, among a community of other free African Americans, although his father was noted to have been enslaved. His uncle was a successful blacksmith. An account given to the newspaper by Reverend Brooks when he was 88 years old told of how two neighbor boys - both white -taught him to read and write, at a time when it was illegal to educate African Americans, free or enslaved. He also credits a grandfather for instilling in him the inspiration to preach. Daniel Brooks can be found living with his mother and family in the 1850 Census and 1870 Census.

Fearing he would be drafted into service when the Civil War broke out, Reverend Brooks and his brother Milford voluntarily enlisted in the Confederate army. He recounted his war experiences to The High Point Enterprise in 1925, saying that he did not carry a gun all of the time he served, but often cooked for the officers and did road construction work near Wilmington. He was released from the army in New Bern toward the end of the war and returned to his mother’s home. It was there at a camp meeting where he says he resolved to join the church and preach. 

By 1880, Brooks was already serving as an itinerant minister living with a nephew in Raleigh. It seems he served for a time at St. Mark Methodist Church in High Point around 1874, before moving to Mocksville. He was married there in 1885. By the 1900 Census, Reverend Brooks is established in High Point. Some reminiscences of early High Point note that he owned property and lived in the East Commerce-South Wrenn Street area. The Census shows Brooks was a preacher, with a family of six children. Two of his daughters, Sara Brooks Davis and Lola Davis Curtright, married prominent African American educators in High Point. One son became a medical doctor and another served in World War I. 

card with a black and white image of a man in a suitThe photograph of Reverend Brooks on his business card held by the High Point Museum shows him wearing a Southern Cross of Honor pin on his lapel. This pin was given by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to Confederate veterans in good standing with an organized veteran camp. When Reverend Brooks attended a community reunion of his Cleveland County neighbors in 1921, the white Civil War veterans advised him to apply for a pension. He replied that he thought he wasn’t eligible because he had too much income. His Civil War service is noted in the newspaper article published about him when the Daniel Brooks Homes opened. The concept of African Americans, enslaved or free, involved in the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy remains a controversial topic. While Brooks recounted that he volunteered, for others, under what circumstances or in what capacity they joined or served may never be fully known.

In High Point’s first City Directory in 1908, Reverend Brooks is recorded as living on East Washington Street and the pastor at Brooks Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church. A 1907 newspaper article noted that he “hit the first lick” to start construction of the Fairview Street Methodist Episcopal Church, later to be named in his honor, Brooks Memorial. He retired as an active pastor in 1909 but continued to serve as an elder in the state Methodist conference. As reported in The High Point Enterprise when he retired at the conference, “And many an eye was dim with tears as the conference rose to honor him in his request.” For his 92nd birthday in 1929, a special program and banquet was held at Brooks Memorial in which both white and African American friends were invited. 

 black and white photo of the front of a churchThe old Brooks Memorial church building on Fairview Street was demolished around 2015. Brooks Memorial and St. Marks merged in 1972 to become Memorial United Methodist Church, now on Cedrow Drive.

Reverend Brooks took an active interest in the education of High Point’s African American youth, as well, often noting that he did not have the opportunity for as much education as he would have liked. School records indicate that he served on the school committee for the Guilford County African American public schools in as early as 1889. He is also credited with helping to broker the purchase of land around 1893 for High Point Normal and Industrial Institute, later William Penn High School. It has been noted by the Museum in the past that Reverend Brooks later went into the grocery business on East Washington Street, but further research indicates that this probably is incorrect. When he died in 1933, he was living at the home of the Curtrights, his daughter and son-in-law, on East Washington Street a few blocks east of the school. 

 

Daniel Brooks Homes
High Point’s two public housing projects built through a U.S. Housing Administration loan in the early 1940s were both named for local religious leaders: Reverend Daniel Brooks’s name was given to the African American development and Clara Cox was given to the white development. Brooks had died in 1933, Cox in 1940. Both were still remembered and held in high regard at the time the projects were named. Demolition of the Daniel Brooks Homes complex began in 2020. The City of High Point approved $6.5 million in bond money for new public housing redevelopment on the property. Construction is planned to start this year.  

 Block Planting Plan with Plant List ncsuInitial site plans drawn up in 1941 for the “Colored Housing Project,” later to be named Daniel Brooks Homes. Through a federal New Deal program, the city’s housing authority received a $1.7 million loan from the U.S. Housing Administration in 1940 to clear areas that qualified as slums and construct 450 modern apartments. At the time, government statistics showed that nearly half of all houses in High Point were substandard. Local architect Tyson Feree and landscape architect R.D. Tillson developed the plans for Daniel Brooks Homes. The complex of 200 apartments was designed in the style of mid-1800s English worker housing. Greenways and open spaces surrounded clusters of neat, brick buildings. (Site drawing, courtesy of the Reginald D. Tillson Landscape Architecture Papers, North Carolina State Special Collections Library.)

 

black and white photo of building and swing set

 row of housesPhotographs of Daniel Brooks Homes in 1945 from the High Point Housing Authority annual report. The racial segregation of the era meant building two separate developments, and both projects were completed and opened in 1942. The 250-unit Clara Cox Homes, located on the present site of Park Terrace Apartments near East Russell Avenue, was for white citizens and was demolished in the mid-2000s. Clara Cox served for 21 years as the pastor of Springfield Friends Meeting and was a staunch advocate for the poor and underserved in High Point. She lead numerous clubs and charities and was also chairman of the Guilford County Board of Public Welfare for many years. For more information on the High Point Housing Authority’s development plans: https://hpha.net/page.asp?urh=futuredevelopment

 

 Contributed by Marian Inabinett, Curator of Collections at the High Point Museum. Contact her at marian.inabinett@highpointnc.gov

 

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