GRETNA, La. —
The life of an innocent black union worker from Marrero who was killed by a white Gretna police officer more than 70 years ago is set to be etched in history in a new memorial that has been approved by the state of Louisiana.
“We applied for a historic marking with the state of Louisiana in order to accurately perceive the history of what transpired,” said Kaylie Simon with the Civil Rights & Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston.
It was February 27, 1948. Royal Cyril Brooks 44. He was getting on a bus near the ferry landing in Gretna when the woman in front of him put in her five cents only to realize she was on the wrong bus. So, Brooks gave her his nickel so she could ride on another bus, thinking he could ride on her nickel.
The bus driver, however, did not like this.
That’s when Gretna Police were called. Patrol officer Alvin Bladsacker arrived and witnesses say he ordered the unarmed 44-year-old off the bus and walked him at gunpoint down the street to what is now a post office. Then, he shot him in the back.
“He left home thinking he was going to have a wonderful day at work -- he lost his life,” said Brooks' grandson, Roy Brooks Jr.
The case did eventually go to court. The defense argued Brooks hit the policeman and appeared to be reaching for a weapon. The trial lasted two hours. Deliberations were only seven minutes before the all white, all male jury acquitted Bladsacker.
It seemed like there would be no justice for the Brooks family, then some seven decades later, a photo from the Louisiana Weekly changed that.
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The photo shows a large crowd of people, including Brooks' son (Roy’s father) next to his lifeless body. The photo caught the attention of Simon and the rest of CRRJP, a group of law students, lawyers and professors aimed at preserving history and righting the wrongs of the civil rights era.
The photo sparked an investigation that led to a considerable amount of other evidence, things like NAACP and court records, Brooks' death certificate, other newspaper articles and witness accounts from the broad daylight shooting. This included at least four eyewitness testimonies against the policeman, saying Brooks never posed a threat.
“There were many witnesses who observed the police behavior and who observed Royal Brooks’ behavior,” said Margaret Burnham, also a member of CRRJP. “Our account comes from the account of these witnesses.”
WWL-TV aired a story about the group’s research in April 2018. The next day, the city of Gretna apologized to the Brooks family and issued a proclamation about what happened.
Now, the historic marking approved by the state of Louisiana is a sign of more progress. The marking will be unveiled on November 9 at 2 p.m. at the Gretna ferry landing, where Royal was first taken off the bus.
Roy says there will always be a pain but the historic marking offers at least a little closure.
“We’ll never be 100 percent,” said Roy Brooks. “But if my dad and aunts were here alive right now, they’d be very grateful.”
While the city of Gretna has apologized to the family, Gretna PD has not. That's something Roy says he wants badly. WWL-TV reached out to the police department. They did not comment.