Brooke, Edward William, III

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BROOKE, Edward William, III

(b. 26 October 1919 in Washington, D.C.), lawyer and liberal Republican politician who made history in 1966 when he became the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate by popular vote.

Brooke is the youngest of three children and the only son of Edward William Brooke, Jr., an attorney with the Veterans Administration, and Helen Seldon, a homemaker. Raised in a middle-class household in the self-contained African-American community of segregated Washington, D.C., he grew up relatively unscarred by white prejudice. Handsome, personable, and athletic, Brooke was a popular figure at Dunbar High School, the most prestigious black high school in the country, and at all-black Howard University, from which he graduated in 1936. As a premed student at Howard, he grew bored with his course of study, and he had abandoned the idea of becoming a surgeon by the time he received his B.S. degree in 1941.

Shortly after the United States entered World War II, Brooke was inducted into the U.S. Army and commissioned a second lieutenant in the all-black 366th Combat Infantry Regiment. Sent to northern Italy in 1944, he attained the rank of captain, participated in an attack on a heavily fortified artillery battery and was awarded the Bronze Star. Having learned to speak Italian, Brooke also served as liaison officer to local partisans fighting behind enemy lines in the Po Valley. At the war's end, he met Remigia Ferrari-Scacco, the daughter of a Genoese businessman, whom he married on 7 June 1947. They had two daughters.

Brooke developed a serious interest in law when he was assigned to defend soldiers from his regiment at courts-martial proceedings. In 1946, following his discharge, he enrolled at Boston University Law School. Functioning in a predominantly white world for the first time, Brooke became editor of the law review. He earned his LL.B. degree in 1948, and his LL.M. a year later. After passing the bar examination in 1948, Brooke opened a one-man practice in Roxbury, a racially mixed Boston neighborhood. In 1950 his friends convinced him to run for state representative. He "cross-filed" (a practice no longer allowed) as a candidate in both the Republican and Democratic party primaries, and won the Republican nomination, but lost the general election even though he captured more votes in his district than any earlier African-American candidate. After another setback as a Republican legislative candidate in 1952, Brooke did not seek public office for eight years.

As part of an effort by party leaders to bring more diversity to the Massachusetts Republican ticket in 1960, Brooke was nominated for secretary of state. Although he was defeated, his energetic campaign garnered over one million votes, an impressive total for a candidate running statewide for the first time, and in a state that was 98 percent white. In 1961 Republican governor John A. Volpe appointed Brooke chairman of the Boston Finance Commission, a body charged with investigating city finances and administration. At a time when government scandals dominated the headlines in Massachusetts, Brooke held highly publicized hearings, exposed malfeasance in a number of city departments, and established a reputation as a fighter of corruption.

In 1962 Brooke challenged and upset Elliot L. Richardson, a pillar of the Boston Brahmin establishment, in a tight, often bitter race for the Republican nomination for state attorney general. He then won election over Democrat Francis E. Kelly by nearly 260,000 votes out of 2.1 million cast. The only victorious member of his ticket, Brooke became the first African American elected to a major statewide office in the United States.

As attorney general, Brooke gained greater stature as a crusader against public corruption. Over the next four years, he became a familiar visage on television, announcing developments in his large-scale investigation of crime in state government and proposing remedies for corruption-tainted agencies. Before he left office, Brooke had secured more than one hundred indictments against eighty individuals and corporations. He had also obtained major convictions against loan company executives and state regulators for a bribery scheme to raise interest rates, and against a judge and two others for larceny of public funds from the Boston Common underground garage project.

On the national stage, Brooke joined fellow moderate Republicans in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the nomination of Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, a hard-line conservative who had voted against the recently passed Civil Rights Act, as the party's candidate for president in 1964. After the effort fizzled at the Republican National Convention, Brooke withheld his support from the national ticket, a position that—along with his record in office—gained him strong approval from the Bay State electorate. He won reelection by a margin of over 797,000 votes, while Goldwater lost Massachusetts to President Lyndon B. Johnson by more than 1.2 million votes.

As his party's best vote-getter and a figure of growing national repute, Brooke was the logical choice of Republicans to replace the incumbent U.S. Senator Leverett Saltonstall when he announced he would not seek a fifth term in 1966. The overwhelming favorite from the outset, Brooke ran a nearly flawless campaign. Addressing the racial tensions of the 1960s in a characteristically moderate tone, he denounced the confrontational tactics of both the Black Power advocate Stokely Carmichael and the white segregationist Lester Maddox. On the thorny issue of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Brooke adopted a mildly dovish position, favoring a negotiated settlement of the war. His defeat of Democratic former governor Endicott Peabody by over 438,000 votes made him the first African-American U.S. senator since Reconstruction. Brooke—whose 1966 book The Challenge of Change: Crisis in Our Two-Party System called upon Republican leaders to embrace large-scale government programs for rehabilitation of the poor, education, and urban renewal—fit comfortably into his party's liberal wing in the Senate. He took a particular interest in foreign affairs and housing issues. On the former, he promoted increased aid to underdeveloped countries, and on the latter, he sponsored a 1969 amendment that limited to 25 percent the amount of income public housing tenants had to pay for rent. Although he also cosponsored an open housing amendment (with Democrat Walter Mondale of Minnesota) that became the basis for the landmark Fair Housing Act of 1968, Brooke was never considered a leading civil rights figure in Congress.

In 1968 Brooke supported the bid of New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller for the Republican presidential nomination, but, in contrast to 1964, he endorsed and campaigned with the party's eventual nominee, Richard M. Nixon. Nonetheless, Brook did become disenchanted with what he regarded as the divisive "law and order" rhetoric of Nixon and running mate Spiro T. Agnew. Following Nixon's election, Brooke was offered the ambassadorship to the United Nations and other posts, but preferred the independence of the Senate. He exhibited that independence in 1969 by strongly opposing Nixon's Safeguard antiballistic missile (ABM) system and his nomination of southern conservative Clement Haynsworth to the Supreme Court.

Brooke was easily reelected in 1972 (while Nixon lost Massachusetts, the only state he did not win in that year's presidential election), but his political career ended in defeat in 1978, following revelations that he misrepresented his finances in a deposition during divorce proceedings. Brooke and his first wife divorced that year, and in 1979 he married Anne Fleming, with whom he had a son.

Brooke saw himself as a politician who happened to be black, rather than as a black politician, and generally eschewed the role of civil rights leader. In the 1960s, he was most important as a symbol, and indeed an embodiment, of the ability of talented middle-class African Americans to gain mainstream acceptance.

Brooke's papers are deposited in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. A memoir, Edward W. Brooke: A Senator's Life in Black and White, is forthcoming. Early biographical efforts are John Henry Cutler, Ed Brooke: Biography of a Senator (1972), and Elinor C. Hartshorn, "The Quiet Campaigner: Edward W. Brooke in Massachusetts" (Ph.D. diss., University of Massachusetts, 1973). Bryant Rollins, "Life Story of Ed Brooke," a sixteen-part series in the Boston Globe (27 June–12 July 1965), discusses Brooke's early years. Short accounts of his life and career are in Stephen Hess and David S. Broder, The Republican Establishment: The Present and Future of the G.O.P. (1967); Alec Barbrook, God Save the Commonwealth: An Electoral History of Massachusetts (1973); Nelson Lichtenstein, ed., Political Profiles: The Johnson Years (1976); and Eleanora Schoenebaum, ed., Political Profiles: The Nixon-Ford Years (1979). Important articles include Edward R. F. Sheehan, "Brooke of Massachusetts: A Negro Governor on Beacon Hill?," Harper's Magazine (June 1964); John F. Becker and Eugene E. Heaton, Jr., "The Election of Senator Edward W. Brooke," Public Opinion Quarterly 31 (fall 1967); Judson L. Jeffries, "U.S. Senator Edward W. Brooke and Governor L. Douglas Wilder Tell Political Scientists How Blacks Can Win High-Profile Statewide Office," PS: Political Science and Politics 32 (Sept. 1999); and Sally Jacobs, "The Unfinished Chapter," Boston Globe Magazine (5 Mar. 2000).

Richard H. Gentile

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