U.S. Senator Edward W. Brooke III dies at 95
October 26, 1919 – January 3, 2015
The first African American elected to the U.S. Senate post reconstruction
By Sylvia Wingfield and Mark Pratt
BOSTON— Former U.S. Sen. Edward W. Brooke, a liberal Republican who became the first black in U.S. history to win popular election to the Senate, died Saturday. He was 95.
Brooke died of natural causes at his Coral Gables, Florida, home, said Ralph Neas, Brooke’s former chief counsel. Brooke was surrounded by his family.
Brooke was elected to the Senate in 1966, becoming the first black to sit in that branch from any state since Reconstruction and one of nine blacks who have ever served there — including Barack Obama.
After Obama’s presidential election in 2008, Brooke told The Associated Press he was “thankful to God” that he had lived to witness the historic accomplishment. But it was the president who remembered Brooke with praise Saturday.
“Senator Brooke led an extraordinary life of public service,” Obama said in a statement. “As the first African-American elected as a state’s Attorney General and first African-American U.S. Senator elected after reconstruction, Ed Brooke stood at the forefront of the battle for civil rights and economic fairness.”
A Republican in a largely Democratic state, Brooke was one of Massachusetts’ most popular political figures during most of his 12 years in the Senate.
Brooke earned his reputation as a Senate liberal partly by becoming the first Republican senator to publicly urge President Richard Nixon to resign. He helped lead the forces in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment and was a defender of school busing to achieve racial integration, a bitterly divisive issue in Boston.
He also lent his name to the Brooke amendment to the federal housing act, passed in 1969, which limited to 25 percent the amount of income a family must pay for rent in public housing.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Saturday described Brooke as “a model of courage and honesty in office.”
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, the state’s first black governor, said: “I have lost a friend and mentor.” Secretary of State John Kerry, a former U.S. senator from Massachusetts, said Brooke showed “remarkable political courage.”
Late in his second term, Brooke divorced his wife of 31 years, Remigia, in a stormy proceeding that attracted national attention.
Repercussions from the case spurred an investigation into his personal finances by the Senate Ethics Committee and a probe by the state welfare department and ultimately cost him the 1978 election. He was defeated by Democrat Rep. Paul E. Tsongas.
Tsongas’ widow, U.S. Rep. Nikki Tsongas, said Saturday that Brooke’s career was “as courageous as it was historic.”
In a Boston Globe interview in 2000, Brooke recalled the pain of losing his bid for a third term.
“It was just a divorce case. It was never about my work in the Senate. There was never a charge that I committed a crime, or even nearly committed a crime,” Brooke said.
In 2008, pioneering newswoman Barbara Walters said she had an affair with the then-married Brooke in the 1970s, but it ended before he lost the 1978 election. She called him “exciting” and “brilliant.”
Brooke received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a White House ceremony in 2004. Five years later, Brooke received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award Congress has to honor civilians. He cited then the issues facing Congress — health care, the economy and the wars overseas — and called on lawmakers to put their partisan differences aside.
“We’ve got to get together,” Brooke said, turning his eyes to Senate GOP Leader McConnell. “We have no alternative. There’s nothing left. It’s time for politics to be put aside on the back burner.”
As Brooke sought the Senate seat in 1966, profiles in the national media reminded readers that he had won office handily in a state where blacks made up just 2 percent of the population — the state that had also given the nation its only Roman Catholic president, John F. Kennedy.
He beat Democrat Endicott Peabody, a former governor who also supported civil rights, by a 3-to-2 margin despite predictions of a “white backlash” against him.
Commenting on Brooke’s election and other developments that day, Martin Luther King Jr. said that “despite appeals to bigotry of an intensity and vulgarity never before witnessed in the North, millions of white voters remained unshaken in their commitment to decency.”
Brooke had parlayed his probes of local corruption into a successful run for state attorney general in 1962 when he became the highest ranking black elected official in the nation. He won re-election as attorney general in 1964 even though Democrats dominated other races.
Somewhat aloof from the civil rights movement of the 1960s, especially the militant wing, he said blacks had to win allies, not fight adversaries. But he also said of civil rights leaders: “Thank God we have them. But everyone has to do it in the best way he can.”
He had refused to endorse Sen. Barry Goldwater for president in 1964, commenting later, “You can’t say the Negro left the Republican Party; the Negro feels he was evicted from the Republican Party.”
The son of a Veterans Administration lawyer, Brooke was raised in a middle-class black section of Washington, attending segregated schools through his graduation from Howard University in 1941. He served in an all-black combat unit in World War II, and later settled in Boston after graduating from Boston University Law School.
Brooke was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and went public the following year, saying he wanted to encourage men to perform self-examinations and advocating that insurance companies cover male mammograms.
Brooke is survived by his second wife, Anne Fleming Brooke; their son Edward Brooke IV; his daughters from his first marriage, Remi Goldstone and Edwina Petit; stepdaughter Melanie Laflamme, and four grandchildren.
There have been only 5 African Americans who were seated in the U.S. Senate, post reconstruction, elected by popular vote
From 1789 to 1913, when the Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, senators were elected by state legislatures. Beginning with the 1914 general election, all U.S. senators have been chosen by direct popular election.
Hiram Revels, a native of Fayetteville, North Carolina, settled in as an adult in Mississippi. On January 20, 1870, the Mississippi state legislature voted 85 to 15 to seat Hiram Revels (Republican) in Albert Brown’s former seat. In 1861, Democrat Albert Brown vacated Mississippi’s U.S. Senate seats when the state seceded from the United States. Revels took his seat in the Senate, after contentious debate. Senate Democrats were determined to block the effort. The Democrats claimed Revels’ election was null and void, because he was not a U.S. citizen until the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868 and was therefore ineligible to become a U.S. Senator. Revels would serve in office from February 25, 1870 through March 4, 1871.
Blanche Kelso Bruce was the second African American to serve in the United States Senate and the first to be elected to a full 6 year term. Blanche Bruce was born near Farmville, Virginia of an enslaved African woman and the white slave owner. Bruce escaped to Kansas during the Civil War. He would relocate after the war to Mississippi where he held several offices. In January 1874, the Mississippi state legislature nominated Bruce U.S. Senator nearly unanimously on February 4, 1874. He would remain in office from March 4, 1875 – March 4, 1881.
Edward William Brooke, III was the first African American elected to the Senate by popular vote. He was elected attorney general of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1962 and then reelected in 1964. Brooke would be elected as a Republican to the United States Senate in 1966, taking office on January 3, 1967. Brooke would be reelected in 1972 and remain in office until January 3, 1979.
It would be from 1979 to 1999 until another African American would be seated as a U.S. Senator. Carol Moseley Braun would be elected the second African American Senator, the first from Illinois. Carol Moseley Braun would serve one term in office from January 5, 1993 – January 3, 1999.
Once again there would be a gap of African American representation in the U.S. Senate from 1999 until 2005.
Barack Obama would run for Senate seat after Republican Peter Fitzgerald decided to retire. Obama would go on to beat Alan Keyes (Republican) by receiving 70% of the vote. He would serve as Senator from January 3, 2005 to November 16, 2008. He would be succeeded by Roland Burris once he took office as President of the United States.
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Video: President Obama honors Senator Edward William Brooke October 28, 2009
Video: Interview of Senator Carol Moseley Braun regarding her run for the U.S. Senate
Video: Interview with Senator Carol Moseley Braun regarding her time in the U.S. Senate