Black in the Day…A Senate First

November 8, 1966:

On this day Edward W. Brooke became the first Black person elected to the United States Senate by popular vote.

Edward William Brooke III was born on October 26, 1919, in Washington, D.C., to Edward William Brooke Jr. and Helen (Seldon) Brooke. He was the second of three children;[1] He was raised in a middle-class section of the city, and attended Dunbar High School, then one of the most prestigious academic high schools for African Americans.[2] After graduating in 1936, he enrolled in Howard University, where he first considered medicine, but ended up studying social studies and political science.[3] Brooke graduated in 1941, and enlisted in the United States Army immediately after the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor.[4]

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Brooke graduated from the Boston University School of Law after serving in the United States Army during World War II. After serving as chairman of the Finance Commission of Boston, Brooke won election as Massachusetts Attorney General in 1962. In 1966, he defeated Democratic Governor Endicott Peabody in a landslide to win election to the Senate. In the Senate, Brooke aligned with the liberal faction of Republicans. He co-wrote the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which prohibits housing discrimination. Brooke became a prominent critic of President Richard Nixon and was the first Senate Republican to call for Nixon’s resignation in light of the Watergate scandal. Brooke won re-election in 1972, but he was defeated by Democrat Paul Tsongas in 1978. After leaving the Senate, Brooke practiced law in Washington, D.C. and was affiliated with various businesses and non-profits.

 

“As the first African-American elected as a state’s attorney general and first African-American US senator elected after Reconstruction, Ed Brooke stood at the forefront of the battle for civil rights and economic fairness,” President Obama said. “During his time in elected office, he sought to build consensus and understanding across partisan lines, always working towards practical solutions to our nation’s challenges.”

Mr. Brooke served in the Senate from 1967 to 1979. Elected attorney general in 1962 and reelected two years later, he was the first African-American to hold that office in any state.

“As the first African-American elected as a state’s attorney general and first African-American US senator elected after Reconstruction, Ed Brooke stood at the forefront of the battle for civil rights and economic fairness,” President Obama said. “During his time in elected office, he sought to build consensus and understanding across partisan lines, always working towards practical solutions to our nation’s challenges.”

On June 20, 2000, a newly constructed Boston courthouse was dedicated in his honor. The Edward W. Brooke Courthouse is part of the Massachusetts Trial Court system, and houses the Central Division of the Boston Municipal CourtBoston Juvenile CourtFamily Court, and Boston Housing Court, among others.[33]

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Edward Brooke on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[34]

In September 2002, he was diagnosed with breast cancer and assumed a national role in raising awareness of the disease among men.[35]

On June 23, 2004, President George W. Bush awarded Brooke the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[36] That same year he received the Jeremy Nicholson Negro Achievement Award, acknowledging his outstanding contributions to the African-American community.[37]

Two days after his 90th birthday, Brooke was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal on October 28, 2009.[10]

On January 3, 2015, Brooke died at his home in Coral Gables, Florida, at the age of 95.[16][38][39][40] He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 8, Site 5190-5-RH.[41]

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