Stories of S.P. Brooks
The Long Look
He stood head and shoulders above the limitations of reality and took the long look, dreaming visions of what could be. S.P. Brooks was often quoted and remembered for encouraging students to "take the long look" into their future.
Will they care for Baylor?
During the last days of his life he was preoccupied mainly with the University which he loved so dearly. As he laid on his deathbed and looked toward the broad stretches of life and eternity, he asked his wife, "Will they really care when I am gone?" Mrs. Brooks began to tell him of the great concern the people were manifesting in their letters, telegrams, and flowers. "No," he said, shaking his hand in his special characteristic way, "will they care for Baylor?" (Pg. 151)
Brooks met each great challenge of his presidency forcefully, but in 1927 he face perhaps the most unusual and greatest challenge of his life. Eight basketball players, a yearbook writer, and a yell leader were killed when the team bus collided with a train, the "Sunshine Special," on Jan. 22, 1927, in Round Rock. Only 12 of the 22 on board the bus survived, making the episode among the worst athletic disasters in U.S. history. Yet it also revealed a shining moment of heroism and selflessness that some Baylor graduates today strive to embody. Standing before a huge crowd gathered to mourn the tragic deaths of the young men associated with the basketball program and who have become known as Baylor's "Immortal Ten," Brooks, "his voice breaking with emotion, spoke of the great love which he and all Baylor had had for the boys. With the tears of a bereaved father coursing down his cheeks, he voiced the feeling of every person present when he declared simply that we have all come to this place as a fire-stricken family to ‘cry it out together.'" He expressed his belief that a blow so deadly as this would be utterly unbearable were it not for the fellowship of suffering evoked by the tragedy. He believed that "if night never came the stars would never shine." The Immortal 10 are entrenched in Baylor lore because it is one of the greatest tragedies in the university's long history.
Brooks was, in truth, probably the best-loved president Baylor has ever had, for the longest time. All of Baylor's major presidents have been respected and/or loved, but the big, affable ex-section-hand from Johnson County had a special place in the affections of his students and colleagues. He managed that rare feat of being in charge without being obvious or obnoxious about it.
The 1908 Round Up yearbook described him as "approachable, kind, and sympathetic, yet firm and unswerving, the student finds in him a friend and guide." Hudson Long said that Brooks was known as "Prexy," apparently the only Baylor president to carry that designation around the campus. "It was," said Long, "a term of affection, admiration and respect." Brooks' best qualities, among many, were integrity and sincerity, according to Long. Brooks had very little sense of status-if any. A former student once wrote that "For five years I carried the key to his office as a janitor. Not once did he fail to greet me on an equality (basis), and often he would ask me to sit down and talk with him, busy as he was." (Page 38)
Freedom for Faculty and Students
Brooks was considerably ahead of his time in allowing such a high degree of academic freedom, along with freedom of action for school publications and student government. This sometimes brought down wrath on his head from outsiders. Brooks absorbed the heat as long as he felt the faculty, editors or student officers were acting in good faith and responsibly. When they went beyond that point -that was different. He allowed student government to handle most student disciplinary problems. In 1926, his patience snapped when the student government administered only light slaps-on-the-wrist punishments to some student cheaters, and he promptly abolished the student government for that year. (Page 28)
Football at Baylor University
Football has plagued virtually every president of Baylor at some time or another, almost since the day someone first introduced an inflated pigskin on the campus.
Here, again, President Brooks allowed the gridiron enthusiasts a lot of leeway, as long as they didn't try to give it more importance than academics. That was the test he applied to most everything. He canceled the 1906 football season. Then, his message across, he reinstated the sport, and nine years later Baylor became a charter member of the new Southwest Athletic Conference.
A smart, innovative coach named Frank Bridges (not to be with a later John Bridgers) arrived at Baylor and promptly won three SWC championships – 1915 (when the Bears had to relinquish the crown because of an ineligible player), 1922, and 1924. Bridges also won a baseball championship- and he was the fair-haired hero of the Baylor sporting crowd, not to mention being a celebrity in his field throughout the South.
Unhappy at what he considered a lack of enthusiasm (and, some say, a lack of sufficient salary or money for his football program), the brash Bridges forced a showdown with the president. It is said that Brides used his ace in the hole: he told Brooks if he didn't get some satisfaction, he might leave. It is recorded that Brooks quietly said, "Your resignation accepted, Coach. Good luck and good day." (page 39)
Outvoted by students
His ability to see some humor in most situations helped him through his many trials. Once he was walking across the campus noted that some of the young pecan trees showed evidences of "thrashing" by students.
"I once objected to planting pecans as shade trees," he grinned at his visiting companion, "but I was outvoted." The visitor couldn't get over a president, of that era, admitting he was outvoted on a campus question. Had it been something Brooks felt very strongly about, it's highly doubtful he would have been "outvoted." Visitors to Baylor's current tree-shaded campus can be thankful the genial Brooks was outvoted on that issue. (Page 39)
Charge to the Freshman
Every year Brooks would address the freshman class and give a short little motivation speech that varied very little from year to year. "You are here to work. Your instructors will give you work to do. They will give you hard work. Some of you after a few weeks will give up and go home. Others of you will squander your efforts and at the end of the quarter be sent home. But others will give something of your best work here and will come to know the rare satisfaction of intellectual achievement." He meant every word of it- and there were no exceptions granted, as the heirs of some very important Baptists and Baylorites would sometimes discover to their surprise and dismay.
During his last days he was preoccupied mainly with the university to which he had given so much of his life and his love. He learned that the seniors of the Class of ‘31 hated to bring up the subject- but that they were hoping he could personally sign their diplomas. It touched him deeply, and he waged a battle to do so. Propped up in bed, he set out to sign 60 of the sheepskins per day. There is considerable confusion among accounts on this matter, as to how many he signed and how many he couldn't. Many versions say that he signed 254, but could not make it through another 200. The Waco daily newspaper for May 7 has a story relating that Brooks had signed 60 diplomas a day, a total of 260, and that 279 graduated that May. Registrar records show a total of 454 graduates for 1931- probably including summer sessions, medical degrees and other degrees.
The figures are not all that important. What is worth remembering is the vision of that once-powerful pain-wracked man, striving to perform one last of love for Baylor and her reason for being, her students. He wanted to attest that they had, indeed, stayed and had come to know "the rare satisfaction of intellectual achievement." A framed display of the newspaper article and a hand-signed lambskin diploma hang in the Brooks College. (page 40)
Baylor's Impact on a young S.P. Brooks
"To Baylor's campus I came with no very definite plans. I was helpless. I was a child intellectually. Baylor took me up. She guided my feet in paths of coordinate studies. She brooded over me in influence for correct thinking, for honorable conduct. She taught me my own right and the rights of others. She opened to me a respect for law and order, not only in the realm of government, but of God. She taught me the artistic principles and harmonies of language in prose and poetry. She turned my feet toward the past that I might see the historic march of events, the better to know the present, the better not to be shocked at the future. She confirmed irrevocably in mind that in the beginning God created the heavens and earth and all that is within them. She kept before me the fact that God is not dead, having completed His work, but that He still lives and works in the hearts of men. She revealed to me the beauty and glory and power and majesty of the life of Jesus Christ as I had never known before. So my Alma Mater lives in my heart" –S.P. Brooks
Charge to Faculty
S.P. Brooks would often give the faculty a charge concerning the students of Baylor. His concern for the welfare of students is evident in this quote."Tell the students to believe in themselves and to do their best. There are many who distrust themselves, or feel that they have made a mess of things, who if only encouraged, can yet make their lives worthwhile. Tell the boys and girls that they are living life right now. Everything they do counts. Tomorrow they will find this so."
Brooks devoted as significant portion of his time to issues of social justice. Here are a few quotes from throughout his presidency.
"Christ's commission to his followers is not primarily to increase the census of heaven, but to make down here a righteous society."
"Consistent competent service to humanity is the highest possible obligation resting upon any man."
"Not only save the souls, but the lives of men."
"Whatever elevates society elevates the individual members of it."
"Society has more claim on you than you have on society."
"Conduct yourselves that a judicial world may not think the B.A.s to your name stand merely for business assets nor yet braying asses."
Burn your degrees if you are "devoid of a heart tender to the cries of a child, the sick, the sorrowing, the suffering, the lost in mind and morals and spirit."
View of Education
"In short, he thought of education as being for the purpose of creating the highest human values, for producing vitalized personalities imbued with the ideals and passion of Jesus Christ. He wanted a university that would go in search of all knowledge, fitted out and equipped with the best laboratories and libraries, manned with the best teachers who could impart the best that could be given anywhere in the country; and then he wanted all these to be shot through and through with the principles and mind of the Master of men." -Joseph M. Dawson
Evolution DebateDuring his record tenure as president, Brooks was sorely troubled for years by one of the Southern Baptists' sporadic controversies over the knotty issue of evolution versus divine creation.
The bright, dogmatic Baylor ministerial student, J. Frank Norris, became a thorn in Brooks' side. The bombastic Norris left Baylor to become a sensational fundamentalist leader, with large churches in Forth Worth and (at the same time) Detroit, Mich. He became a newspaper publisher (including, briefly, the Baptist Standard), radio station owner, supporter of the revived Ku Klux Klan, a world traveler, and the highest paid pastor in the South. He also had the dubious distinction of being the only prominent Baptist pastor ever tried for arson and murder. (He was acquitted on both charges.) From the pastorate of Fort Worth's First Baptist Church, Norris maintained a steady onslaught of news-making attacks on a variety of targets. He saved his biggest oratorical guns for Baylor University, which he asserted was teaching "modernist" Biblical courses, which denied the Christian divine creation concept so basic to Baptists.
For months, in his pulpit, in his papers, and on his radio station, Norris lambasted his old alma mater as being a hotbed of evolution teaching. The Baptist General Convention of Texas was forced by the furor to "investigate." And it came to the conclusion that Baylor's administration and trustees could settle the matter. This merely added fuel to Norris' vituperation, and he added the BGCT to his "hit list." He started his own Fundamental Baptists group with headquarters in Chicago and a seminary in Fort Worth. Norris and his following demanded the firing of at least one Baylor professor, and Brooks coolly but firmly stood up and fought for the teacher. Dr. E. Hudson Long, chairman of Baylor's English department for the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, was a member of the class of 1931, the last class to graduate under Brooks. Long lamented the fact that "Much of a great man's time and energy had to be spent in defending the fifth of inquiry into all facts and theories and in combating those who would strangle intellectual initiative. It was from sad personal experiences that Brooks often advised student learn to adjust to criticism." It is quite likely that Norris was bitter toward Brooks also because of S.P. Brooks' public stand against the Ku Klux Klan. (Page 37)
Eulogy by Pat Neff
"Dr. Brooks lived a life of unselfish devotion to the betterment of mankind. He struggled not for money and he scrambled not for fame. He spent his life giving, not getting. He toiled to pay his debt to the world and not to collect dues from it. He walked in dignified comradeship with the great but never lost the common touch. He had courage without bigotry, convictions without egotism, and religion without affection. He now sleeps with the immortals." –Pat Neff