Historic Brookley Field

From Private Field to Industrial Center

The Closure of Brookley Airbase

In 1963 the United States military underwent a review of their installations due to a planned “progressive reduction in employment.” This announcement produced a wave of anxiety throughout Mobile as Brookley had grown to be a major employer in the area, with over 16,000 civilians employed on the base and accounting for a third of Mobile’s gross product.[1] However, the sheer size of the base and the effect it would have on the surrounding area led some to believe that there was no way that the military would choose to close the base. The base leadership appear to have been unaware of the danger Brookley was in as they reported on November 19 that they were not among those to be closed.[2] However, just a day later it was made clear, Brookley was indeed heading for the chopping block and was slated for closure in 1969.[3]

Mobilians moved to action and worked to try to save the base with local business leaders forming action committees and coordinating with their congressmen and holding meetings.[4] One such congressman, Representative Jack Edwards, received hundreds of letters, currently housed in the McCall archives at the University of South Alabama, from his constituents urging him to continue working to save the base. These letters even suggested angles he could use to convince Secretary of Defence McNamara to reverse the decision to close the base. Some of course pointed out the thousands of employees at the base and the effect the closure would have on the local community, others wanted Congressman Edwards to point out the favorable location of Brookley Field, with it being the only air depot with such ready access to the sea as well as a rail connection.[5] However, these efforts were all for naught, there was little that could be done to reverse the closure of Brookley Field.

Some letters that Congressman Edwards received pointed out how many of the civilian employees at Brookley Field only needed a short amount of time left until they would be able to receive full retirement benefits, many having joined the Brookley workforce during the Second World War, and urged Congressman Edwards to work to at least delay the base closure until that time. They pointed out that few of those employees would want to forego earning those retirement benefits and so would naturally choose to transfer to another location rather than end their employment here in Mobile, thus they would be forced to sell their homes and take their wealth elsewhere rather than spend their money in the economy of Mobile. The public was so engaged in the effort that Congressman Edwards had to work to quell rumors that he was considering a proposal to actually expedite closing of some parts of the base to transfer those parts over to private industry.[6] The public was not ready to see what they believed to be an aiding hand to private businesses over the thousands of individuals working on the Brookley Field.

In the end, the attempts to save Brookley Field were ultimately unsuccessful. Delegations from Alabama met with little success, only returning with a promise of economics specialists being sent to Mobile for further discussion.[7] In the meantime, the closure gradually continued and jobs were cut and employees transferred or dismissed.[8] Congressmen continued to try to fight the closure, even trying to angle that the ramping up of the war in Vietnam shows the need for Brookley, but they had little success.[9] Mobile was left with little option but to consider its future and plan for the eventual closure of the base.

[1] Harvey H. Jackson III, “Mobile since 1945,” in Mobile: The New History of Alabama’s First City, ed. Michael V. R. Thomason, (Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2001) P.189-190

[2] “Hill Receives No Word On State Bases,” The Opelika-Auburn News, November 19, 1964, Page 1

[3] “Brookley AFB Only Post In State to Close,” The Opelika-Auburn News, November 20, 1964, Page 1

[4] “Mobile To Fight Closure,” The Selma Times-Journal, December 02, 1964, Page 1

[5] J. C. Walton to Jack Edwards, 1964, letter discussing transfers in the event of base closure, Jack Edwards Collection, McCall Archives, University of South Alabama.

[6] Carl A. Lawson to Jack Edwards, Dec 2, 1964, Letter Discussing Perceived Rush To Close Parts of Brookley, Jack Edwards Collection, McCall Archives, University of South Alabama.

[7] “Brookley Group Not Encouraged,” The Selma Time-Journal, December 09, 1964, Page 2

[8] “Brookley Workers Offered Transfer,” The Dothan Eagle, May 05, 1965, Page 14

[9] “State Senators Still Working For Brookley,” The Montgomery Advertiser, March 04, 1965, Page 24