The first African American to be elected by popular vote to serve in the U.S. Senate has passed away at the age of 95. Edward Brooke (R-MA) was the first black Senator to win an election after the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913, allowing for the direct election of U.S. Senators. His victory came over a half century after the 17th amendment passed. Two previous black Senators were chosen by the Mississippi state legislature during reconstruction in the 1870s.
Brooke won his U.S. Senate race in 1966 in Massachusetts. At the time, only about two percent of the state’s residents were black. He easily defeated former Democratic Governor Endicott Peabody. In 1972, Brooke easily won re-election. Brooke defeated Democrat John Droney by a lopsided margin, even as Massachusetts was the lone state to support Democrat George McGovern over Republican Richard Nixon for president. Brooke lost his senate seat six years later to Paul Tsongas (D).
Brooke was awarded a Bronze Star for heroic service in the Army infantry during World War II. The NAACP awarded him a Spingarn Medal (its highest honor) in 1967. Brooke was a critic of troop escalation during the Vietnam War. He was also the first Republican Senator to call upon Richard Nixon to resign over the Watergate cover-up.
His greatest achievement in the U.S. Senate was probably securing passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (better known today as the Fair Housing Act), which provided federal enforcement to outlaw discrimination in housing. He worked with Minnesota Democrat Walter Mondale to get the bill through the Senate. Later, he authored the Brooke Amendment which capped public housing rent at a fourth of the renter’s income.
Brooke was a Republican moderate at a time when the party still had a moderate wing. President Obama once said of Edward Brooke that he “moved the arc of history”. He was not just the first African-American Senator to be elected by popular vote. He was also one of the last Republican Senators who was more a patriot than a partisan. His legacy will not be forgotten, but Senator Brooke the person will be missed. RIP Senator.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.