Brooks recalled as Lumbee icon, medical pioneer

By: By Jack Frederick - For The Exchange

PEMBROKE — Martin Luther Brooks, who was known as pioneering physician in Robeson and Scotland counties, has died.

Brooks, 88, was the second Lumbee to practice medicine in the area and an icon for many Lumbee doctors who would follow him. He died at his home Thursday and left behind a big imprint on the community in which he lived and worked.

“Dr. Brooks is a legend here,” said James Locklear, a friend and the publisher of Native Visions Magazine. “The impact that he had on our people was immeasurable.

“He was just a man of integrity and respect among his people.”

Dr. Brooks delivered babies as a member of the medical staff at hospitals in Laurinburg and Lumberton. he had practiced medicine for more than 60 years.

The valedictorian of his high school class, Brooks attended The University of Michigan, where he received his undergraduate, master’s and medical degrees before settling in Pembroke to start his practice. He was the oldest child of Peter and Attie Mae Brooks. He and his brothers Dalton, who has a Ph.D. in physics, and David, a veterinarian, had a combined 150 years of service as doctors of medicine and science in Robeson County.

“I don’t know anywhere in America where you can find three brothers who were all doctors,” Locklear said.

Brooks began practicing medicine in Pembroke in 1958. He opened his first office in an old storage building on Main Street where Dial Insurance stands today. Later he moved his practice to Brooks Medical Center on N.C. 711, in front of his house.

Gov. Worth Locklear was the first Lumbee to practice medicine in the county after moving back to the area from the Oklahoma territory a five-year stint, James Locklear said. But it was Brooks who stuck around in the area and became the longest practicing Lumbee doctor.

He paved the way during a time when Jim Crow laws could have limited his ability to practice medicine. Instead of giving in to pressure, Brooks responded to racial discrimination by fighting against it. He had the first desegregated waiting room in the county and also started the Pembroke’s Alcoholics Anonymous organization.

“A lot of people don’t know the impact he had on the community,” James Locklear said. “Without a doubt, he is one of the most influential Lumbees of all time.”

Brooks was the first American Indian to join the medical staff at Southeastern Regional Medical Center, and from 1961 to 1973 he was the only doctor in Pembroke.

Luckey Welsh, the former CEO of SRMC, said he will remember most of all Brooks’ commitment to the Lumbee Tribe and service to all patients.

“I knew Martin for many years as he practiced medicine in Pembroke and served that community with distinction,” Welsh said. “He would take care of everyone that came to his door, day and night for 40 or 50 years.”

Welsh said Brooks developed a reputation during his career for providing treatment to anyone, regardless of race or ability to pay the bill.

The doctor’s lounge at SRMC is named in his honor. The town of Pembroke had a celebration and parade in his honor in January 2006.

During the celebration, Brooks was given the key to the town and Oct. 14 was declared Martin Luther Brooks Day. By the end of his life he served on the board of directors at SRMC and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He was granted an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the university in 2017.

Brooks will be missed, Welsh said.

“He was just a good man who always wanted to help other people,” Welsh said. “He did it through medicine and his community service … and I’m sorry to hear of his death.

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By Jack Frederick

For The Exchange