Edward William Brooke III (October 26, 1919 – January 3, 2015) was an American Republican politician. In 1966, he became the first African American popularly elected to the United States Senate.[note 1] He represented Massachusetts in the Senate from 1967 to 1979.
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 Paul Tsongas in 1978. After leaving the Senate, Brooke practiced law in Washington, D.C. and was affiliated with various businesses and non-profits.
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; 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. After graduating in 1936, he enrolled in Howard University, where he first considered medicine, but ended up studying social studies and political science. Brooke graduated in 1941, and enlisted in the United States Army immediately after the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor.
Brooke was commissioned as an officer, served five years in the Army, saw combat in Italy during World War II as a member of the segregated 366th Infantry Regiment, and earned a Bronze Star Medal. In Italy Brooke met his future wife Remigia Ferrari-Scacco, with whom he had two daughters, Remi and Edwina. Following his discharge, Brooke graduated from the Boston University School of Law in 1948. "I never studied much at Howard," he reflected, "but at Boston University, I didn't do much else but study." His papers are stored at Boston University's Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center.
In 1950 he ran for a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. Brooke won the Republican nomination, but lost the general election. Brooke made two more tries for office, including one for secretary of state, but lost both races. The loss in the secretary's race (to Kevin White, a future mayor of Boston) was particularly close. Republican leaders took notice of Brooke's potential.
Governor John Volpe sought to reward Brooke for his effort, and offered him a number of jobs, most judicial in nature. Seeking a position with a higher political profile, Brooke eventually accepted the position of chairman of the Finance Commission of Boston, where he investigated financial irregularities and uncovered evidence of corruption in city affairs. He was described in the press as having "the tenacity of a terrier", and it was reported that he "restore[d] to vigorous life an agency which many had thought moribund." He parlayed his achievements there into a successful election as Attorney General of Massachusetts in 1962; he was the first elected African-American Attorney General of any state. In this position, Brooke gained a reputation as a vigorous prosecutor of organized crime and corruption, securing convictions against a number of members of the Furcolo administration; an indictment against Furcolo was dismissed due to lack of evidence. He also coordinated with local police departments on the Boston strangler case, although the press mocked him for permitting an alleged psychic to participate in the investigation. Brooke was portrayed in the 1968 film dramatizing the case by William Marshall.
In 1966, Brooke defeated former Governor Endicott Peabody with 1,213,473 votes to 744,761, and served as a United States Senator for two terms, from January 3, 1967, to January 3, 1979. The black vote had, Time wrote, "no measurable bearing" on the election as less than 3% of the state's population was black, and Peabody also supported civil rights for blacks. Brooke said, "I do not intend to be a national leader of the Negro people", and the magazine said that he "condemned both Stokely Carmichael and Georgia's Lester Maddox" as extremists; his historic election gave Brooke "a 50-state constituency, a power base that no other Senator can claim." A member of the moderate-to-liberal Northeastern wing of the Republican Party, Brooke organized the Senate's "Wednesday Club" of progressive Republicans who met for Wednesday lunches and strategy discussions. Brooke, who supported Michigan Governor George W. Romney and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller's bids for the 1968 GOP presidential nomination against Richard Nixon's, often differed with President Nixon on matters of social policy and civil rights. In 1967, Brooke was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.
By his second year in the Senate, Brooke had taken his place as a leading advocate against discrimination in housing and on behalf of affordable housing. With Walter Mondale, a Minnesota Democrat and fellow member of the Senate Banking Committee, he co-authored the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing. The Act also created HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity as the primary enforcer of the law. President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law on April 11, one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Dissatisfied with the weakened enforcement provisions that emerged from the legislative process, Brooke repeatedly proposed stronger provisions during his Senate career. In 1969, Congress enacted the "Brooke Amendment" to the federal publicly assisted housing program which limited the tenants' out-of-pocket rent expenditure to 25 percent of their income.
During the Nixon presidency, Brooke opposed repeated Administration attempts to close down the Job Corps and the Office of Economic Opportunity and to weaken the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—all foundational elements of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.
In 1969, Brooke spoke at a Wellesley College's commencement against "coercive protest" and was understood by some students as calling protesters "elite ne'er-do-wells" Then student government president Hillary Rodham departed from her planned speech to rebut Brooke's words, affirming the "indispensable task of criticizing and constructive protest," for which she was featured in Life magazine.
Brooke was a leader of the bipartisan coalition that defeated the Senate confirmation of Clement Haynsworth, the President's nominee to the Supreme Court. A few months later, he again organized sufficient Republican support to defeat Nixon's second Supreme Court nominee Harrold Carswell. Nixon next nominated Harry A. Blackmun, who was confirmed and later wrote the Roe v. Wade opinion.
Despite Brooke's disagreements with Nixon, the president reportedly respected the senator's abilities; after Nixon's election he had offered to make Brooke a member of his cabinet, or appoint him as ambassador to the UN. The press discussed Brooke as a possible replacement for Spiro Agnew as Nixon's running mate in the 1972 presidential election. While Nixon retained Agnew, Brooke was re-elected in 1972, defeating Democrat John J. Droney by a vote of 64%–35%.
Before the first year of his second term ended, Brooke became the first Republican to call on President Nixon to resign, on November 4, 1973, shortly after the Watergate-related "Saturday night massacre". He had risen to become the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee and on two powerful Appropriations subcommittees, Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS) and Foreign Operations. From these positions, Brooke defended and strengthened the programs he supported; for example, he was a leader in enactment of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which ensured married women the right to establish credit in their own name.
In 1974, with Indiana senator Birch Bayh, Brooke led the fight to retain Title IX, a 1972 amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965, which guarantees equal educational opportunity (including athletic participation) to girls and women.
In 1975, with the extension and expansion of the Voting Rights Act at stake, Brooke faced senator John Stennis (D-Mississippi) in "extended debate" and won the Senate's support for the extension. In 1976, he also took on the role of supporter of wide-scale, legalized abortion. The Appropriations bill for HHS became the battleground over this issue because it funds Medicaid. The Anti-abortion movement fought, eventually successfully, to prohibit funding for abortions of low-income women insured by Medicaid. Brooke led the fight against restrictions in the Senate Appropriations Committee and in the House–Senate Conference until his defeat. The press again speculated on his possible candidacy for the Vice Presidency as Gerald Ford's running mate in 1976, with Time calling him an "able legislator and a staunch party loyalist".
Brooke went through a divorce late in his second term. His finances were investigated by the Senate, and John Kerry, then a prosecutor in Middlesex County, announced an investigation into statements Brooke made in the divorce case. Prosecutors eventually determined that Brooke had made false statements about his finances during the divorce, and that they were pertinent, but not material enough to have affected the outcome. Brooke was not charged with a crime, but the negative publicity cost him some support in his reelection campaign, and he lost to Paul Tsongas.
After leaving the Senate, Brooke practiced law in Washington, D.C., partner O'Connor & Hannan; of counsel, Csaplar & Bok, Boston. He also served as chairman of the board of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In 1984 he was selected as chairman of the Boston Bank of Commerce, and one year later he was named to the board of directors of Grumman.
In 1992, a Brooke assistant stated in a plea agreement as part of an investigation into corruption at the Department of Housing and Urban Development that Brooke had falsely answered questions about whether he or the assistant had tried to improperly influence HUD officials on behalf of housing and real estate developers who had paid large consulting fees to Brooke. The HUD investigation ended with no charges being brought against Brooke.
In 1996, Brooke became the first chairman of the World Policy Council, a think tank of Alpha Phi Alpha, an African-American fraternity. The Council's purpose is to expand the fraternity's involvement in politics, and social and current policy to encompass international concerns. In 2006 Brooke served as the council's chairman emeritus and was honorary chairman at the Centennial Convention of Alpha Phi Alpha held in Washington, D.C.
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 Court, Boston Juvenile Court, Family Court, and Boston Housing Court, among others.
On June 23, 2004, President George W. Bush awarded Brooke the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That same year he received the Jeremy Nicholson Negro Achievement Award, acknowledging his outstanding contributions to the African-American community.
And he introduced and passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which leveled the playing field for women seeking access to credit and loans.
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|Attorney General of Massachusetts
|Party political offices|
|Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Massachusetts
1966, 1972, 1978
|United States Senator (Class 2) from Massachusetts
Served alongside: Ted Kennedy
Harry F. Byrd Jr.
|Oldest living United States Senator
July 30, 2013 – January 3, 2015