Jennifer Giddings Brooks said she vividly remembers the cheers from the crowd when she was named TCU’s first Black homecoming queen in 1970. She was also the first Black homecoming queen in the Southwest Conference.
“You probably won’t get many moments like that in your life,” Brooks said.
Fifty-one years later, Brooks is being honored at a Dee J. Kelly Alumni and Visitors Center portrait unveiling Friday at TCU, and she will be recognized at Saturday’s homecoming football game.
In an interview with the Star-Telegram, Brooks reflected on her experience at TCU and the university’s efforts to reconcile with its history.
“I appreciate certainly TCU and the race and reconciliation [initiative] for their willingness ... to look at TCU and to tell the university’s complete story about this and persons who have made a difference on campus,” she said.
But even more than 50 years after she was crowned homecoming queen, some Black students are still “the first,” she said. She referenced TCU electing its first Black student body president in April.
“I always see things in terms of a foundation being built, and upon that foundation other people will be recognized,” she said.
The event on Friday was inspired by interviews Brooks had done as part of the university’s Race and Reconciliation Initiative, a five-year research and academic-based project that will study the university’s relationship with the Confederacy, racism and slavery. The initiative will report on the experiences of minority students, faculty and staff at TCU since its founding. It includes other projects such as Reconciliation Day and regular town halls to talk about reconciliation.
“When we talk about reconciliation and what does it mean to us, I think it’s about getting the full story correct,” said Frederick Gooding, chair of the initiative.
The initiative started in August 2020 following several instances of complaints against the university about racial discrimination. Two discrimination lawsuits were filed against the university, one by five Black students and alumni in 2020 and the other by a former Hispanic employee. And three times since 2016, students and faculty have made a list of demands to the university for racial equity and inclusion, according to the initiative. In response, the university has established an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, established an intercultural center, made efforts to incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion into its core curriculum and started the Race and Reconciliation Initiative.
After its first year, the initiative compiled its findings in a report on the Black experience at TCU since its founding and made a list of recommendations. It acknowledged that TCU’s founders were Confederate soldiers, that students dressed up in blackface and Greek organizations held mock slave auctions as fundraisers in the past.
It also reported that in 1971, one year after Brooks was named homecoming queen, four Black student athletes made a list of demands and charged the administration and the athletic department with racist attitudes. It was the first action toward racial inclusion at TCU. The students eventually transferred to play football at other schools. That same year, Brooks was barred from attending the Cotton Bowl parade, unlike previous homecoming queens before her, according to the initiative’s report.
“There are absolutely dark, embarrassing chapters of our past that we still need to reconcile with,” Gooding said. “It took some time — over half a century — but it’s never too late to embark upon the path to reconciliation.”
Brooks said she was the first Black woman to do many things on campus. Her “joiner” attitude contributed to her overall positive experience as a student and ultimately led to the election by her peers as homecoming queen, she said.
“People get a chance to meet you, and, if there was an opportunity to do something, I certainly was always willing to say, ‘Well, I’ll do it,’ or ‘Let’s go have pizza together,’” she said.
Brooks continued her education after graduating from TCU with a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology. She got her master’s degree at TCU and received her doctorate in education from Texas Woman’s University. She served as an education administrator at schools in Tarrant County for many years, served on TCU’s alumni board and is married to Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks.
She said she thinks recent university actions and the initiative’s work are a positive change for TCU, and she sees a difference when walking around campus.
“I see more people and students of color,” she said. “For me, this is great, but I see it as kind of the beginning.”