Attaining firsts were hallmarks in Sen. Edward Brooke?s remarkable political odyssey, but they were not among his most cherished milestones.? More than being the first African American to hold an office, he preferred to be seen as an elected official who served all of the people.? And that he did and now in no way can argue against such achievements.? Brooke, 95, died Saturday morning, Jan. 3, at his home in Coral Gables, Fla.?
Among Brooke?s many distinctions was his election to the Senate in 1967.? A Massachusetts Republican, he was the first African American ever popularly elected to the U.S. Senate.? Hiram Revels and John R. Lynch, two Blacks in the Reconstruction Congress, were appointed by their state legislatures.
Prior to his congressional victory, Brooke was elected the attorney general of Massachusetts in 1962 and re-elected two years later.? He was the first African American to hold this position in any state.
These firsts were acknowledged by President Obama in his salute to Brooke.? He ?stood in the forefront of the battle for civil rights and economic fairness,? the president said in a statement.? ?During his time in elected office, he sought to build consensus and understanding across partisan lines, always working toward practical solutions to our nation?s challenges.?
Brooke?s senatorial position may have hindered his ability to participate directly in issues singularly important to Black Americans, in which he represented as such a promising official that the NAACP gave him the prestigious Spingarn Medal in 1967.?? In 1970, after African American students were attacked on the Jackson State University campus, the Congressional Black Caucus invited Brooke to join them to investigate the matter.? He refused, choosing to conduct his own independent study of the incident, which included meeting privately with Mississippi?s reactionary governor.?
A year later, the CBC staged a boycott of President Nixon?s State of the Union Address, and once again Brooke refused to participate, and this may have been a bit more understandable given his party affiliation.
Though Rep. Charles Rangel had just been elected to office after defeating Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., he joined the CBC members in the boycott.? Later that year in March, Brooke, according to Rangel, set up a meeting with President Nixon and the group presented him with sixty recommendations, including a demand for him not to kill the Office of Economic Opportunity.
Gov. Deval Patrick said that Brooke was a great statesman in keeping with other giants in Massachusetts history such as John Quincy Adams, Henry Cabot Lodge, and the Kennedys.? ?I have lost a friend and mentor,? he told the Boston Globe.? ?America has lost a superb example of selfless service.?
Born Edward William Brooke III on Oct. 26, 1919, his father, Edward W. Brooke Jr., was a lawyer with the Veterans Administration.? He was proud that he had never experienced any form of prejudice and racism, like so many African Americans.
After graduation from Howard University in 1941, he served in the U.S. Army, saw combat in Italy, was awarded the Bronze Star, and was promoted to captain.? While he was stationed in Italy he met his future wife Remigia Ferrari-Scacco, whom he married in 1947.
A year later, in 1948, Brooke had his law degree from Boston University School of Law where he was editor of the law review.? He hung his shingle in Roxbury. In 1950, he won the Republican nomination for state representative as he did two years later, but lost both times in the general election.
The setbacks convinced him that the political arena would have to wait awhile and for the next eight years he focused on building his law practice.? He was active in the American Veterans of World War II, and here he demonstrated his ability to work across racial and ethnic lines.?
Back in the political arena, Brooke won the Republican nomination for secretary of state in 1960.? But once again he was defeated by a Democrat as were so many other Republican office seekers during the ascendancy of John Kennedy in the state and elsewhere.
Despite the defeat, his popularity grew, so much so that he was soon appointed chair of the Boston Finance Commission.? This was ideal position for him to show his mettle in law as he uncovered corruption in a number of city agencies.
His first major political triumph occurred in 1962 when he became the state?s attorney general, a victory even hailed by President Kennedy.? Two years later he was re-elected and his leadership in the quest to arrest the Boston Strangler certainly didn?t hurt his increased recognition.
Brooke was now on the precipice of national acclaim when he bested Gov. Endicott Peabody in the Senate race in 1966.? As a Senator he was significantly involved in several monumental bills, including the Civil Rights Act of 1968.? He was a key player on the open-housing amendment.
He retired from office in 1979, the same year he married Anne Fleming.? Though he was no longer in political office, now and then the spotlight found him in less than honorable circumstances.? A government investigation alleged he reaped considerable funds from developers seeking rent subsidies from HUD, but he was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.
In 2002, diagnosed with breast cancer, a rare disease for men, he underwent a double mastectomy.? Two years later came some good news when he was awarded the nation?s highest civilian honor; the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 2009 the Congressional Gold Medal.
If in his quiet moments he accepted these honors as he had done with the number of?? ?firsts,? they would have been placed beside his Bronze Star with typical aplomb.?????????