First elected black senator mourned


Published: Sunday 4th January 2015 by The News Editor

Comments (0)

Edward Brooke, the first black person in US history to win popular election to the Senate, has died at 95.

The liberal Republican died of natural causes at his Florida home with his family at his side , said Ralph Neas, his former chief counsel.

Mr Brooke was elected to the Senate from Massachusetts in 1966, becoming the first black to sit in that chamber from any state since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era and one of only nine black politicians who have ever served there, including Barack Obama.

He said he was “thankful to God” that he lived to see Mr Obama’s election as the first black US president. And Mr Obama was on hand in October 2009 when Mr Brooke was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award from congress to honour civilians.

“Senator Brooke led an extraordinary life of public service,” Mr Obama said. “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.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell recalled his first impression of the newly-elected senator when Mr McConnell was a Senate staffer and described Mr Brooke as “a model of courage and honesty in office”.

“You could sense that this was a senator of historic importance,” he said. “Indeed, he was.”

A Republican in a largely Democratic state, Mr Brooke was one of Massachusetts’ most popular political figures during most of his 12 years in the Senate.

Democrat Deval Patrick, the state’s first black governor, remembered Mr Brooke for his unselfish public service.

“He carried the added honour and burden of being ‘the first’ and did so with distinction and grace,” Mr Patrick said. “I have lost a friend and mentor. America has lost a superb example of selfless service.”

Mr Brooke earned his reputation as a Senate liberal in part by becoming the first Republican senator to publicly urge President Richard Nixon to resign. He helped lead the forces in favour of the women’s Equal Rights Amendment and was a defender of school busing to achieve racial integration, a bitterly divisive issue in Boston.

But late in his second term, he 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.

In a Boston Globe interview in 2000, Mr 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,” he said.

In 2008, pioneering newswoman Barbara Walters said she had an affair with the then-married Mr Brooke in the 1970s, but it ended before he lost the 1978 election. She called him “exciting” and “brilliant”.

He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a White House ceremony in 2004. Five years later, when Mr Brooke received the congressional honour in Washington, he cited the issues facing congress – health care, the economy and the wars overseas – and called on politicians to put their partisan differences aside.

As he 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% of the population – the state that had also given the nation its only Roman Catholic president, John F Kennedy.

Somewhat aloof from the civil rights movement of the 1960s, especially the militant wing, Mr Brooke 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.”

The son of a Veterans Administration lawyer, Mr 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 the Second World War and later settled in Boston after graduating from Boston University Law School.

He is survived by his second wife, Anne Fleming Brooke, their son Edward, his daughters from his first marriage Remi Goldstone and Edwina Petit, stepdaughter Melanie Laflamme, and four grandchildren.

Published: Sunday 4th January 2015 by The News Editor

Comments (0)

Local business search