C.D. Brooks taping a broadcast in 1974. His “Breath of Life” was billed as the first black religious television program.
By SAM ROBERTS
JULY 6, 2016
C. D. Brooks, a leading Seventh-day Adventist evangelist who delivered the church’s message to millions as the founding speaker of the Breath of Life media ministry, died on June 5 in Laurel, Md. He was 85.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, the Seventh-day Adventist Church said.
For six decades, Mr. Brooks conducted an evangelical campaign that was credited with converting tens of thousands and establishing 15 congregations in cities across the country.
He spent 23 years broadcasting on “Breath of Life,” billed as the first black religious television program. Black Entertainment Television began distributing the program in 1989, aiming at blacks in the United States and the Caribbean.
The church says it has about 1.2 million members in its North American Division, about 37 percent of whom are black.
Mr. Brooks spoke at President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration; served as a pastor in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ohio; and converted hundreds in mass baptisms during campaigns in Washington, Brooklyn and Barbados.
He retired from the Breath of Life ministry in 1997 for health reasons, but continued to preach. In 2013, he was named chaplain of the church’s North American Division.
In the biography “C. D.: The Man Behind the Message” (2013), the authors, Harold L. Lee and Benjamin Baker, chronicled the spiritual awakening of a North Carolina farm boy who appeared destined for a career as a dentist until he attended a tent meeting run by E. E. Cleveland, an Adventist evangelist and civil rights leader who pioneered mass baptisms.
“Instead of repairing other people’s mouths, God has used Elder Brooks’s mouth to proclaim the eternal truths of the Word of God and thus repair people’s entire minds and bodies in preparation for the new earth,” Ted N. C. Wilson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist church, wrote in the foreword.
C.D. Brooks in 2008.
“Charles had thought that in his career as a dentist he was going to fight tooth decay,” the authors added. “Now, a higher power had determined that he would fight truth decay.”
Charles Decatur Brooks was born in Greensboro, N.C., on July 24, 1930, the 10th child of Marvin Brooks and the former Mattie Reaves, Methodists who had a 40-acre farm just outside of town.
Six months after he was born, after nearly dying from surgery, his mother said she had a vision and heard a voice urging her to keep the biblical commandments. From then on, she began observing the Sabbath from midnight Friday to midnight Saturday.
When Charles was 10, and his mother had read “The Great Controversy” by Ellen G. White, a founder of the church, the family began worshiping in an Adventist congregation.
Soon after he graduated from high school, Mr. Brooks lingered alone at the end of a tent meeting, he recalled, when “an overmastering impression came from the Lord that said to me, ‘This is what I want you to do, and I will help you to make truth clear.’”
When he told his mother about the message, he said, “Mother said these words to me: ‘Son, when you were born, I gave you to the Lord. Now He’s calling you.’”
He enrolled in Oakwood College (now Oakwood University), a historically black Adventist school in Huntsville, Ala., and in 1952, a year after graduating, ran his first evangelistic crusade, in Chester, Pa.
He is survived by his wife, the former Walterene Wagner, whose father was a stalwart of black Adventism, along with two children, Charles D. Brooks II and Diedre Tramel; two sisters, Theresa Birden and Elois Brooks; and three grandchildren.
In 1971 Mr. Brooks became a general field secretary of the General Conference, the church’s worldwide administrative body, which is headed by a president. He served in that job until 1996. He became the speaker for “Breath of Life” in 1974.
Mr. Brooks continued to lead evangelistic meetings, having done so on six continents.
“I didn’t want to go to Antarctica,” he said, “because there was no one to preach to.”
Correction: July 7, 2016
An earlier version of this obituary misstated the maiden name of Mr. Brooks’s wife and omitted the given name of his son. His wife is the former Walterene Wagner, not Wager, and his son is Charles D. Brooks II, not D. Brooks II.