Edward W. Brooke III, who in 1966 became the first African-American elected to the United States Senate by popular vote, winning as a Republican in overwhelmingly Democratic Massachusetts, died on Saturday at his home in Coral Gables, Fla. He was 95.
Ralph Neas, a family spokesman, confirmed the death.
Mr. Brooke won his Senate seat by nearly a half-million votes in 1966 and was re-elected in 1972. A skilled coalition builder at a time when Congress was less ideologically divided than it is today, Mr. Brooke shunned labels, but he was seen as a centrist. His positions and votes were consistently more liberal than those of his increasingly conservative Republican colleagues.
He opposed the expansion of nuclear arsenals, pushed for improved relations with China and championed civil rights, the legalization of abortion and fair housing policies. He urged Republicans to match the Democrats in coming up with programs to aid cities and the poor.
“Where are our plans for a New Deal or a Great Society?” he asked in a 1966 book, “The Challenge of Change: Crisis in Our Two-Party System.”
He was a thorn in the side of his party’s leader, President Richard M. Nixon. He successfully led the fight against two Nixon Supreme Court nominees whose positions on civil rights were called into question. When Nixon became entangled in the Watergate scandal, Mr. Brooke called for the appointment of a special prosecutor. He was the first Republican senator to demand Nixon’s resignation.
“His presence in the Senate in those years was absolutely indispensable,” said Mr. Neas, who was chief legislative assistant to Mr. Brooke and later president of the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way. “There were repeated battles during those years. Even some Democrats were retreating on the Senate floor on issues like school desegregation and abortion rights, and Senator Brooke was the one who often single-handedly took on the radical right.”
Still, he disappointed liberals by opposing a program to recruit teachers to work in disadvantaged areas. He sought to deny federal aid to New York City during its financial crisis and resisted changing Senate rules to make filibusters against civil rights legislation easier to stop.
On the issue of the Vietnam War, Mr. Brooke, a decorated combat veteran, was torn, moving from dove to hawk, then back to dove. He was a forceful speaker, often described as gentlemanly and charming, and meticulous about his appearance, sometimes changing clothes three times a day.
His political career began collapsing in 1978. What Mr. Brooke thought would be an amicable divorce from his first wife, the former Remigia Ferrari-Scacco, turned bitter and was played out in the news media, resulting in an admission by Mr. Brooke that he had made a false statement under oath in a deposition.
He lost his bid for a third term to Representative Paul E. Tsongas, a Democrat, who received 55 percent of the vote. Mr. Brooke described the experience as “the lowest point in my life.”
Cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee four months later, he was nevertheless devastated. “Why did it happen?” he said in an interview with The Boston Globe in 2000. “I don’t know. I’ve asked my God that many times. ‘Why, why, why, dear God?’ ”
Mr. Brooke was twice elected attorney general of Massachusetts, the first African-American to be elected attorney general of any state. When President John F. Kennedy heard the news in 1962, on the same day that his brother Edward was elected to the United States Senate, he said, “That’s the biggest news in the country.”
In 1964, as President Lyndon B. Johnson led a Democratic landslide, Mr. Brooke was re-elected attorney general by more votes than any other Republican in the nation. In 1968, he was at the top of many lists of possible Republican vice-presidential candidates. By his own and others’ accounts, he turned down cabinet posts and a seat on the Supreme Court.
The only previous black senators, Blanche K. Bruce and Hiram R. Revels, both Republicans, were elected not by voters but by the Mississippi Legislature in the 1870s.
Mr. Brooke never presented himself as a black politician and grew tired of being called “first this, first that,” he said. He represented all the people of Massachusetts, he said, and wanted no part of being “a national leader for the Negro people.”
Edward William Brooke III was born on Oct. 26, 1919, in Washington. He was the third child and only son of the former Helen Seldon and Edward W. Brooke II, a lawyer for the Veterans Administration and a Republican, as most blacks were then.
He grew up in “a cocoon,” he wrote in his autobiography, “Bridging the Divide: My Life” (2007). He had a stable home, firm religious guidance — he was an Episcopal altar boy — and a good education, attending Dunbar High School, a prestigious black school in Washington.
Surrounded by middle-class blacks, he wrote, he rarely encountered direct racial discrimination, although when the Washington opera was closed to blacks his mother took him to the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Mr. Brooke earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Howard University in 1941. A reservist during college, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant after Pearl Harbor in 1941 and joined the all-black 366th Combat Infantry Regiment.
The regiment was assigned to guard duty in Italy; combat was reserved for whites. “An insult to our dignity,” Mr. Brooke wrote. Put in charge of special events, he brought opera and the heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis to his troops.
After black troops were allowed to serve in combat, Mr. Brooke became a scout assigned to go behind enemy lines to aid Italian partisans. He rose to captain and received the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantryman Badge. But the sting of segregation in the armed forces left him eager to leave the Army. “In some respects,” he said in an interview, “the German prisoners of war fared better than Negro soldiers.”
After his discharge, Mr. Brooke enrolled at Boston University School of Law, where he became an editor of the Law Review. He also corresponded with Ms. Ferrari-Scacco, an Italian woman he had met during the war, and she came to Boston. They married in 1947.
A year after Mr. Brooke began practicing law in the predominantly black Roxbury section of Boston, he returned to Boston University to earn a master’s degree in law.
In 1950, persuaded by friends, he ran for state representative in both the Democratic and Republican primaries, as was legal then. He won the Republican nomination but was buried in a Democratic landslide in the general election. He ran and lost again in 1952.
In 1960, Mr. Brooke won the Republican nomination for Massachusetts secretary of state, becoming the first black to be nominated for statewide office in Massachusetts. He was defeated by the Democrat, Kevin H. White, whose campaign issued a bumper sticker saying, “Vote White.”
The new governor, John Volpe, a Republican, appointed Mr. Brooke chairman of the Boston Finance Commission. He turned what had been an ineffectual post into a crusading one, uncovering a scandal involving the illegal disposal of public land.
Two years later, in 1962, Mr. Brooke won the Republican nomination for attorney general by a razor-thin margin over Elliot L. Richardson, a future attorney general of the United States. In the general election, the campaign of his Democratic opponent, Francis E. Kelly, hired blacks to drive through white suburbs yelling that they planned to move in as soon as Mr. Brooke won.
Mr. Brooke was the only statewide Republican winner.
In 1963, Mr. Brooke fought civil rights groups that were calling on students to boycott school to protest segregation in Boston. He said it was his job to enforce state laws, which required children to go to school.
In 1964, Mr. Brooke refused to support the Republican presidential nominee, Barry M. Goldwater, or to be photographed with him. Mr. Brooke said he was serving not just his conscience but also the best interests of the party, which he believed should be more liberal.
Massachusetts voters were hardly put off by his liberal views: In 1966, he handily defeated his Democratic opponent in the Senate race, former Gov. Endicott Peabody.
On the opening day of Congress in 1967, Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts’ senior senator, escorted Mr. Brooke down the Senate’s center aisle to a standing ovation. When Mr. Brooke got his first haircut on Capitol Hill, he integrated the Senate barbershop.
After losing to Mr. Tsongas, Mr. Brooke resumed private law practice in Washington and became chairman emeritus of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In 1988, he was investigated for using his influence to win a client millions of dollars in federal subsidies for rehabilitation of low-income housing. An aide pleaded guilty to charges in the case, but Mr. Brooke was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.
Mr. Brooke was divorced from his first wife, Remigia, in 1979. She died in 1994.
Mr. Brooke was divorced from his first wife, Remigia, in 1979. She died in 1994.
He is survived by their daughters, Remi Cynthia Brooke Goldstone and Edwina Helene Brooke Petit, and four grandchildren. Mr. Brooke married Anne Fleming in 1979, and she survives him, as does their son, Edward. In May 2008, the television newswoman Barbara Walters revealed in a memoirthat she and Mr. Brooke had begun a clandestine romance in 1973. After telling him in a letter that she would divulge the affair in her book, he wrote back “a very nice note,” Ms. Walters said.
In 2004, Mr. Brooke was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush, whose administration he frequently criticized over the war in Iraq, the antiterrorism legislation called the USA Patriot Act, and its opposition to same-sex marriage.
In September 2002, Mr. Brooke learned that he had breast cancer, a diagnosis that about 1,500 American men receive every year. After a double mastectomy, he was declared cancer free. He then spoke out to warn men — particularly black men, who are statistically more susceptible — about the danger of breast cancer.
Although Mr. Brooke had sought to de-emphasize his race, he remained concerned about racial progress.
“My fervent expectation,” he wrote in his autobiography, “is that sooner rather than later, the United States Senate will more closely reflect the rich diversity of this great country.”
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] No other senator of African heritage was elected until Democrat Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois in 1993. As of 2014 Brooke was the only African-American Senator to serve multiple terms. He was elected to the Senate as a Republican from Massachusetts, defeating former Massachusetts governor Democrat Endicott Peabody in a landslide. He served for two terms, and was defeated byPaul Tsongas in the 1978 senate election.
Brooke was the last Republican Senator elected from Massachusetts until Scott Brown was elected to fill the unexpired term of Brooke's former colleague Ted Kennedy in 2010. He was the oldest living former Senator from July 30, 2013 (afterHarry F. Byrd, Jr.'s death) until January 3, 2015, when he passed away. At the time he was one of eleven living ex-Senators that were at least ninety years old and was one of only thirty ever to have reached ninety-five years of age.
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; the Brookes' firstborn died at age 3 before Edward III was born.He was raised in a middle class section of the city, and attended Dunbar High School, then one of the most prestigious 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. He graduated in 1941, and enrolled in the United States Army immediately after the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor.
Brooke spent five years as an officer in the Army, seeing combat in Italy during World War II as a member of the segregated 366th Infantry Regiment, earning a Bronze Star. 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. 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, isolating himself from a potential future in the Democratic Party. Brooke then made two more tries for office, including one forsecretary of state, but lost both races. The loss in the secretary's race (to future Boston Mayor Kevin White) was particularly close, and highlighted Brooke's potential to Republican Party leaders.
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 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 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 stated "I do not intend to be a national leader of the Negro people", and the magazine stated that he "condemned bothStokely Carmichael and Georgia's Lester Maddox" as extremists; nonetheless, his historic election gave Brooke "a 50-state constituency, a power base that no other Senator can claim." In 1967, he served on the President's Commission on Civil Disorders. He was a member of the moderate wing of the Republican Party and organized the Senate's "Wednesday Club" of progressive Republicans who met for Wednesday lunches and strategy discussions. Brooke, who had supportedMichigan Governor George W. Romney and then 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.
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, and 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 his or her income. By the 1990s, the percentage had gradually increased, but the principle of limiting the housing 'burden' of very-low income renters survives in statute, as of 2008.
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 was a leader of the bipartisan coalition that defeated the Senate confirmation of the President's nominee to the Supreme Court, Clement Haynsworth. A few months later, he again organized sufficient Republican support to defeat Nixon's second Supreme Court nominee Harrold Carswell. Nixon then turned to Harry A. Blackmun, later the author of 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 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 theWatergate-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 identified with; for example, he was a leader in enactment of the Equal Credit Act which ensured married women the right to credit of their own.
In 1974, with Indiana senator Birch Bayh, he led the fight to retain Title IX, a 1972 amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965, that guarantees equal educational opportunity 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. 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".
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 pro-life 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.
In Massachusetts, Brooke's support among Catholics weakened due to his stance on abortion, and during the 1978 re-election campaign, the state's bishops spoke in opposition to his leading role, in spite of the equally pro-choice position of his Democratic opponent. In addition, he was challenged in the Republican primary by a conservative talk show host, Avi Nelson.
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 and served as chairman of the board of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In 1984 he became 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 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, he became the first chairman of the World Policy Council, a think tank of Alpha Phi Alpha whose purpose is to expand the fraternity's involvement in politics, and social and current policy to encompass international concerns. 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., in 2006.
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.
In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Edward Brooke on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
In September 2002, he was diagnosed with breast cancer and, since then, has assumed a national role in raising awareness of the disease among men.
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. On April 29, 2006, the Massachusetts Republican Party awarded the first annual "Edward Brooke Award" to former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card at their 2006 State Convention.
Two days after his 90th birthday, Brooke was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal on October 28, 2009.
On January 3, 2015, Brooke died at his home in Coral Gables, Florida, at the age of 95 from natural causes.
In 2008, Barbara Walters wrote in her memoir Audition that she and Brooke had an affair lasting several years during the 1970s, while Brooke was married to his first wife. Walters said that they ended the relationship to protect their careers from possible scandal. Brooke did not publicly comment on the claim during his lifetime.
Awards and honors
- Presidential Medal of Freedom
- Congressional Gold Medal. At his 2009 Congressional Gold Medal Acceptance speech, Brooke scolded policymakers for excessive partisan bickering.
- Bronze Star Medal