Brooke, Edward W.

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Brooke, Edward W.

October 26, 1919

The first popularly elected African-American member of the Senate when he entered that body in 1966, Edward William Brooke III served two terms as an independent Republican and distinguished himself as a proponent of civil rights legislation.

Brooke was born in Washington, D.C., to Edward William Brooke, a lawyer, and Helen Seldon Brooke. He gained his education first at Dunbar High School and later at Howard University, where he completed a bachelor of science degree in 1941, the same year in which his Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) obligations called him to active combat duty after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. During World War II Brooke served behind enemy lines in Italy and later defended soldiers in court-martial cases. This last experience inspired him to enter Boston University Law School on his return to the United States in 1945.

In 1962 Brooke won election as Massachusetts attorney general after three unsuccessful previous campaigns for public office. In that position he quickly attracted both local and national attention by aggressively prosecuting corrupt politicians and their cohorts outside of government. As a liberal Republican Brooke helped lead the failed opposition to the nomination of archconservative Barry Goldwater at the 1964 party convention. He remained neutral in the following general election.

In the senatorial elections in 1966 the voters of Massachusetts chose Brooke and his moderate program. After the ghetto riots of the following summer, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed the freshman senator to the President's Commission on Civil Disorders, a position that led him to champion and steer through Congress one of the commission's primary recommendations: the guarantee of open housing contained in the 1968 Civil Rights Act. Despite Brooke's advocacy of such legislation, he frequently encountered criticism from civil rights movement leaders when he disagreed with their positions on issues or their tactics.

Brooke supported Republican nominee Richard Nixon's victorious 1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns, notwithstanding the deep differences between the two men. They were on opposite sides of such issues as the pace of racial integration, the Vietnam War, economic policy, and the arms race. Their greatest conflict came, however, in 19691970, when Brooke helped defeat two successive Nixon nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court: Judges Clement F. Haynsworth, Jr., and G. Harrold Carswell. After these fights Brooke and his fellow senators unanimously approved Nixon's third proposed High Court member, Judge Harry Blackmun. Brooke won a landslide victory in his 1972 reelection bid, and in the wake of the revelations of the Watergate scandal he became the first Republican to call on President Nixon to resign. After Brooke lost his seat in an attempt for a third term in 1978, he returned to the practice of law, first in Boston and later in Washington, D.C.

Brooke also served on the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (19811983). During the 1990s he was criticized for alleged ethical lapses as a lobbyist for Massachusetts developers with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In 2003 Brooke was diagnosed with breast cancerrare among menand was treated for it. In 2004 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's top civilian honor for accomplishments in culture, politics, science, sports, and business.

See also Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Politics in the United States


Cutler, John Henry. Ed Brooke: Biography of a Senator. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972.

Gilbert, Marsha. "Edward W. Brooke: Former Senator Battles Breast Cancer." Ebony 58, 10 (August 2003): 7880.

steven j. leslie (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

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