(Biography.com Editors 2016)
State attorney general Edward Brooke was the first African American to be popularly elected to the U.S. Senate, serving two terms.
Born on October 26, 1919 in Washington, D.C., Edward Brooke attended Howard University, served in WWII and received two law degrees from Boston University. His first attempts to enter Massachusetts politics failed, but after becoming state attorney general, in 1966 Brooke became the first African American popularly elected to the U.S. Senate. He served two terms and was known as a moderate, centrist Republican who advocated for fair housing and voting rights, among other items. Famed journalist Barbara Walters later revealed in 2008 that she and Brooke had an affair for many years. Brooke died at the age of 95 in Coral Gables, Florida, on January 3, 2015.
Background and Early Career
Edward William Brooke III was born on October 26, 1919 in Washington, D.C., the youngest of three siblings and only son of Helen Seldon and Edward W. Brooke II. The young Brooke grew up in a supportive, Episcopalian home and attended Dunbar High School before going on to Howard University. There he majored in sociology, graduating in 1941.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Brooke served in the Army during WWII. Eventually promoted to captain, he earned major distinction as someone who could connect with the citizens of Italy, where his unit was stationed, and also received a Bronze Star and Distinguished Service Award. Brooke would nonetheless criticize the starkly biased treatment of African-American soldiers within the military who’d nonetheless put their lives on the line for their home country.
Historical Senate Win
Upon returning to the states, Brooke followed in his father’s footsteps and went to law school, having already worked as a military court defender. Brooke attended the Boston University School of Law and by 1949 had earned two law degrees. Working as an attorney in the neighborhood of Roxbury, Brooke unsuccessfully ran for a state legislature seat in both 1950 and 1952, later followed by a failed bid to become secretary of state for Massachusetts in 1960.
Yet Brooke persevered and in 1962 was elected state attorney general as a Republican. (He had grown up in a Republican household, the party of most African Americans at the time of his upbringing due to the historical affiliation with President Abraham Lincoln.) Having established himself as a staunch opponent of governmental corruption, Brooke ran for Congress on the Republican ticket for the Senate and won, defeating Endicott Peabody, the Democratic ex-governor of the state. Brooke thus became the first African American to win a Senate seat by popular vote as well as serve in the Senate since the days of Reconstruction. He won reelection in 1972, and is thus the only black senator to win a Senate seat twice.
Brooke would come to be known as a moderate Republican whose interests would significantly differ from the more conservative elements of his party, yet he was also seen as not sufficiently leftist by others, including some members of the African-American community. He advocated for educational opportunities, fairer housing access for urban denizens, voting protections and for a woman’s right to choose. He would also come to be known as an opponent of President Richard Nixon, opposing his nominees to the Supreme Court and being the first Republican to call for the commander in chief’s resignation during the Watergate scandal.
Later Years and Death
Due to a divorce and accusations of financial wrongdoing (later cleared), Brooke did not win reelection to Congress in 1978. Upon leaving politics, Brooke took up law again and was later appointed chair of the Boston Bank of Commerce as well as the National Low Income Housing Coalition. He was eventually awarded the 2004 Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.
Brooke died at the age of 95 at his Coral Gables, Florida home on January 3, 2015.
Having met in Italy, Edward Brooke and Remigia Ferrari-Scaco wed in 1947 and had two daughters. The couple divorced quite bitterly however in 1978. Brooke then married Anne Fleming the following year, with the two having a son. Journalist Barbara Walters later revealed that during the ‘70s, she and Brooke were engaged in an affair, a relationship she kept secret as she felt it would have wrecked their careers.
Brooke was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002; after a radical mastectomy he was declared cancer free. He also became a spokesperson dedicated to raising awareness about male breast cancer, which disproportionately affects African-American men.
In 2007 Brooke released his well-received autobiography, Bridging the Divide: My Life.
Biography.com Editors. 2016. Edward Brooke - U.S. Senator, Attorney General, Lawyer - Biography. August 3. Accessed February 16, 2018. https://www.biography.com/people/edward-brooke-37418.