Brooke, Edward 1919–

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Edward Brooke 1919

Former U.S. Senator, lawyer, consultant

At a Glance


Beneath the photograph of Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke that adorned the May 1978 issue of First Mondai;, the magazine of the national Republican Party, ran the caption, Ed Brooke of MassachusettsIntegrity and Independence in the U.S. Senate. Brooke was indeed a star, a revered statesman whose many electoral triumphs offered a model of how blacks could rise through the white-dominated ranks of mainstream politics. The conventional wisdom of the day was that Brooke, more than any other black figure on the political scene, had the potential to capture the highest elected offices in the United States. The man who had defied the odds to become an influential senator might one day run for president.

Several weeks after the magazine tribute, however, a scandal erupted that would undermine Brookes reputation and cost him his Senate seat. What he claimed was an honest bookkeeping error in his finances quickly snowballed into charges of deceit, cover-up, and misrepresentation. In the past, he had survived criticism: liberals called him too conservative, conservatives called him too liberal, and militant blacks painted him as an Uncle Tom and a sell-out. But now the core of his political life, his credibility, was shattered, and he lost a reelection bid that should have been his for the asking. Edward Brooke, who built his reputation by exposing graft and corruption, now faced the stigma of being forced out of the Senate by a scandal of his own. His political achievements, however groundbreaking, would forever be eclipsed by the tale of his demise.

Edward William Brooke was born October 26, 1919, in Washington, D.C., the youngest child of Helen (Seldon) Brooke and Edward W. Brooke, an attorney reviewer for the Veterans Administration. The middle-class family resided mostly in black neighborhoods, but for a time lived in a white area so rigidly segregated that blacks were permitted to pass through only if they had a note from a white person.

Despite the divisiveness embodied in the legally sanctioned, discriminatory Jim Crow laws of the day, Brookes world view was not shaped by racism. I was a happy child, he was quoted as saying in John Henry Cutlers Ed Brooke: Biography of a Senator. It would make a better story if some white man had kicked me or yelled nigger, but it just never happened. I grew up segregated, but there was not much feeling of being shut out of anything. While other black leaders, who had been victims of racism, embraced the civil rights crusade as their sole political

At a Glance

Born Edward William Brooke III, October 26, 1919, in Washington, D.C.; son of Edward W. (an attorney) and Helen (Seldon) Brooke; married Remigia Ferrari-Scacco, 1947 (divorced; 1978); married Anne Fleming, 1979; children: (first marriage) Remi Cynthia, Edwina Helene; {second marriage) Eric. Education: Howard University, B.S., 1940; Boston University, LL.B., 1948, LLM., 1949. Politics: Republican.

Established private law practice, Roxbury, MA, 1948; Boston Finance Commission, chairman, 1961-62; Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Attorney General, 1963-67; U.S. Senate, Washington, DC, Senator, 1967-79; Csaplar & Bok, Boston, counsel, 1979; OConnor & Hannan, Washington, D-C, partner, 1979; Bear & Stearns, New York, NY, limited partner, 1979. Member of the board of directors, Boston Bank of Commerce (chairman), Meditrust Inc., and the Opera Company of Boston, all Boston, MA; Grumman Corp., Bethpage, NY; and Washington Performing Arts Society, Washington, DC. Author of The Challenge of Change: Crisis in Our Two-Party System, Little, Brown, 1966. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1942-45; attained rank of captain; awarded Bronze Star.

Member: Boy Scouts of America National Council; Boys Clubs of America National Board; American Bar Association; Massachusetts Bar Association; Boston Bar Association; American Veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam; Spingarn Medal Committee National Low-Income Housing Coalition (chairman); Administrative Conference of the U.S.

Selected awards: More than 30 honorary degrees; Charles Evans Hughes award, National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1967; Spingarn Medal, NAACP, 1967.

Addresses: Office OConnor & Hannan, 1919 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20006.

focus, Brooke, having been spared this victimization, would always refuse to define himself in terms of his race, and thus viewed politics through a much broader ideological lens.

Graduated from Dunbar High School, arguably the best public school for blacks in the country, Brooke entered the predominantly black Howard University. He studied medicine, intending to become a physician, but realized after failing organic chemistry that he had been drawn to the science profession not because of an intellectual passion or aptitude, but for the prestige it offered blacks. He found himself more at home in the fields of literature, political science, history, economics, and art. After serving as a combat officer in World War II, during which he distinguished himself as a defense counsel in court marshal proceedings, Brooke entered Boston University Law School, from which he graduated in 1948.

While running a one-man private practice that handled land conveyances, accident cases, divorces, and, in one instance, murder, Brooke was convinced by two army buddies to enter politics in the hopes of improving living conditions in Roxbury, an increasingly black section of Boston. Realizing that getting elected would be difficult, Brooke ran in both Democratic and Republican primaries in 1950, a strategy called cross-filing that was then legal. At the same time, Francis Rusell wrote in National Review, his political instinct sent him to the Republicans, warning him that he would get nowhere in the pre-empted Massachusetts Democratic lists, which were controlled by an entrenched political machine. He lost the Democratic nomination and won the Republican, but was defeated in the general elections. Two years later, having built a stronger campaign organization, Brooke won the Republican representative nomination only to lose again.

In both races, Brooke endured whispered criticism of his marriage to Remigia Ferrari-Scacco, a white woman he had met in Italy during World War II, and the deadly support of the Communist Party, who automatically endorsed minority candidates without regard to their positions. After the campaign, Brooke turned down the job of executive secretary of the Governors Council, a post traditionally held by blacks, saying he wanted to be elected on his ability and that he was an independent thinker who would disappoint those who expected all blacks to fall neatly into one ideological camp.

For the next eight years, Brooke built up his law practice and increased his civic activity, developing a political voice that people compared to that of the legendary former mayor of Boston, James Michael Curley. In 1960 he ran as the Republican candidate for Secretary of State, becoming the first black in Massachusetts to be nominated for a statewide office. He garnered over one million votes, but lost to his Democratic opponent by fewer than 12,000 votes. As a reward for Brookes support, newly elected Republican Governor John Volpe appointed him chairman of the Boston Finance Commission, a watchdog agency that, in the eyes of many, had many years earlier lost its bark and bite. Under Brooke, the Commission made headlines at a dizzying rate, uncovering graft and corruption throughout the municipal fire, real estate, and building departments.

In 1962, with polls showing him among the most popular political figures in Massachusetts, Brooke sought the Republican nomination for Attorney General, the second highest office in the state. At a wild Republican convention, Brookes supporters wrestled the nomination for their candidate from Elliot Richardson, a millionaire blueblood lawyer on whom political odds-makers had bet. Brooke beat his opponent by nearly 260,000 votes, and in so doing became not only the only Republican to win statewide election that year, but the first black in modern U.S. political history elected to such a high state office.

Brooke cut an unusual figure for statewide office in Massachusetts. In a state that was 98 percent white, two-thirds Democrat, and overwhelmingly Catholic, Brooke was black, Republican, and Protestant. He was, he said, an American first, a Republican second, and a black incidentally. Im not running as a Negro, he once said. I never have. Im trying to show that people can be elected on the basis of their qualifications and not their race. Much as John F. Kennedy had comforted the nation by saying his Catholicism was irrelevant to his duty as president, so did Brooke pacify Massachusetts by repeatedly claiming race and religion played no part in his designs to strengthen law enforcement in the state.

In his two terms as Massachusetts Attorney General, Brooke won unrivaled popular support for his diligence as a crime buster willing to take on the big wigs. He and his staff brought indictments against high-ranking politicians, including a former governor, two speakers of the House, members of the Governors Council, and a public safety commissioner, and vigorously spearheaded the prosecution of companies that had engaged in conspiracy, bribery, and perjury. He pushed legislation reducing air pollution, protecting consumers, and untangling election complexities.

Though an ardent supporter of civil rightsone of his first acts was to file a brief supporting the Fair Housing Law, which banned renting discrimination in the stateBrooke proved that he was independent of mainstream black organizations. In 1963 he fought the NAACP and other civil rights groups who had called for a student boycott of school to protest segregation in Boston. Brooke withstood the militant black leaders charges that he had sold out to the white establishment, saying his job was to enforce the states laws, which required children to attend school. Brooke was quickly establishing a reputation as an independent man of principle.

In the early and mid-1960s, Brooke grew more interested in the national political scene, bemoaning the deterioration of the two-party system that he believed central to democracy in the United States. While other Republican leaders, lamenting the stranglehold on power that Democrats enjoyed at the federal and state levels, sharply lambasted the liberal policies of their opponents, Brooke laid the blame squarely at the feet of the Republicans.

In The Challenge of Change: Crisis in Our Two-party System, Brooke rebuked the Republican leadership for the strategic error of not targeting the votes of young, urban, and minority citizens, and for fielding out-of-touch, arch conservative candidates like Barry Goldwater, whose failed 1964 presidential bid, in Brookes view, devastated any promising relationship between the party and the electorate. Brooke argued that the party, suffering from intellectual cowardice, had for too long tried to sell itself merely by criticizing the opponents. Like the generals of World War I, these [Republican] leaders have become wedded to the tactics of defense in an age of political offense, he wrote. Where are our plans for a New Deal or a Great Society? Where are our alternatives?

The day after Massachusetts Republican Senator Leverett Saltonstall announced his retirement in 1965, Brooke launched his campaign for the U.S. Senate. Once again, his candidacy turned on the question of whether a black could win in Massachusetts. But Brooke, in his repudiation of militancy, both in Republican and civil rights circles, had amply demonstrated his independent stripes, an invaluable asset in a state fiercely proud of its independence. In the general election Brooke beat former governor Endicott Peabody, who had the support of the states popular Senator Edward Kennedy, and became the first black to serve in the Senate since 1881 and the first ever to be elected to that body. On the opening day of Congress in 1967, Brooke, escorted by Kennedy, walked down the aisle of the Senate chamber and was greeted by a standing ovation.

In his tenure as Senator, Brooke supported a host of liberal programs, including anti-poverty legislation, strengthening of the Social Security program, and increasing the minimum wage and Medicare funding. Indeed, because of his voting record, politicians of all persuasions believed him to be a Democrat masquerading as Republican. It was not unusual for political organizations to rate him more liberal than Kennedy, considered one of the Senates pillars of liberalism. Yet Brooke consistently frustrated those camps that maneuvered to claim him.

Conservatives cringed when he supported Panama Canal treaties and federally financed abortions for poor women, and liberals screamed when he endorsed the Johnson administration war policy in Vietnam. Although he strove for party unity, Brooke did not hesitate to criticize three of President Richard Nixons nominations to the Supreme Court. Nixon reportedly offered cabinet posts and the Ambassadorship to the United Nations to Brooke, but, in the eyes of some observers, the Senator was holding out for a position on a national ticket.

Brooke was one of the most respected Senators in Congress when he began his campaign for a third term in 1978, but he soon found himself caught in a storm of allegations of financial impropriety fueled by acrimonious divorce proceedings with his wife. Brooke faced several charges: misrepresenting his assets to shelter money in a divorce settlement, improperly transferring funds from his mother-in-laws account so that Medicaid could pay her nursing home bills, and failing to report loans to the Senate Ethics Committee. Though he was never convicted of any crime, the stain on his reputation cost him dearly at the polls, and he lost his seat to Congressman Paul Tsongas.

Brooke left the Senate and began to work as a consultant and lawyer for law firms in Washington, D.C., Boston, and New York, and a lobbyist for causes he supported. Brookes appeared before his former colleagues to voice support for Federal grants to help the poor purchase fuel oil, and joined with feminist activist Gloria Steinem to form a pro-abortion political group called Voters for Choice. He also served as a consultant for real estate developers seeking rent subsidies from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and it was this work that brought charges of influence peddling in 1989 and again in 1992.

The Boston Globe reported in 1989 that a HUD audit showed Brooke making $183,000 from the developers under investigation, but by 1992 the only indictments brought in the case were against Brookes former aide, Elaine Richardson. Brooke called the allegations outrageous, and denied any ties to the Reagan administration. I dont know where I got all of this influence all of a sudden, Brooke told the Boston Globe.

No longer connected with Washington politics, Brooke lives quietly in Virginia with his second wife Anne and his son Eric and describes himself as a retired country gentleman. Despite the controversies that marred his reputation, an associate of Brookes said that he is living on top of the world.



Brooke, Edward, The Challenge of Change: Crisis in Our Two-party System, Little, Brown, 1966.

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


Boston Globe, May 11, 1989, p. 89; August 5, 1989, p. 6; November 21, 1992, p. 3.

Ebony, October 1984, p. 58.

Jet, January 30, 1984, p. 36.

National Review, February 2, 1973, p. 159.

Newsweek, June 19, 1978, p. 34.

New York Times, November 22, 1992, p. 34.

Political Science Quarterly, Summer 1990, p. 219.

Wall Street Journal, August 21, 1992, p. 8.

Isaac Rosen

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