Edward Brooke, the Massachusetts Republican who was the first African-American U.S. Senator ever to be elected by the popular vote, died on Saturday at the age of 95.
Ralph Neas, a former aide, confirmed that Brooke died of natural causes at his home in Coral Gables, Florida, with his family by his side.
Brooke was serving as Attorney General of Massachusetts when he was elected to the Senate in 1966, winning as a Republican in a Democratic state—and as a black man in a country consumed by racial unrest.
He was one of only nine black Senators in the history of the United States, including President Barack Obama.
The Guardian reports:
A Republican in a largely Democratic state, Brooke was one of Massachusetts’ most popular political figures during most of his 12 years in the Senate.
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 told ABC News that Nixon had “lost the confidence of the country and I don’t know of anything he could do to turn it around”.
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.
Brooke became known for standing by his convictions, even when they deviated from those of his party or his peers.
The New York Times writes:
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.
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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.
.... 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.
Despite troubles late in his political career and a messy divorce that became public, Brooke nonetheless held the respect of his peers throughout his life. The Times continues:
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.
Brooke's achievements broke critical barriers in the U.S., but he never presented himself as a black politician, the Times said. Still, he was aware of the obstacles that remained.
The Times continues:
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.”