He supported civil rights bills, refused to sign the segregationist "Southern manifesto" in 1956 and helped write the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned racial segregation.
His congressional longevity was an issue for him and other long-serving Democrats who were swept from office in 1994. Brooks also had alienated gun owners for supporting a ban on assault weapons and abortion opponents for his support of abortion rights.
Brooks married Charlotte Collins in 1960 and the couple had three children, Jeb Brooks, Kate Brooks Carroll and Kim Brooks, and two grandchildren, Matthew Carroll and Brooke Carroll.
Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman in McAllen contributed to this report.
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