In 1966, Edward Brooke III became the first African-American United States Senator elected by popular vote.
Brooke was born in Washington, D.C. on October 26, 1919. He entered Howard University, graduating in 1941. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Brooke entered the U.S. Army and fought in World War II. His service and time in combat later earned him the Bronze Star award.
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After five years in the military, Brooke entered the Boston University School Of Law and remained in the state to hammer out his political career. Brooke’s first foray into politics was a failed House of Representatives bid in 1950.
Running in both the Democratic and Republican primaries, Brooke won on the Republican ticket, thus cementing his political affiliation for years to come.
Then Massachusetts governor John Volpe hired Brooke for a series of jobs, which eventually led to his election as the state and the nation’s first Black Attorney General. According to published accounts, President John F. Kennedy said it was the “biggest news in the country” despite it being the same day his brother Edward won a U.S. Senate seat.
As a liberal Republican who identified with centrist politics, Brooke was able to cross party lines in order to govern accordingly. Brooke shunned political labels, focusing on housing discrimination, championing civil rights and challenging his party to match Democrats in creating social programs.
Brooke won elections in both 1966 and 1972. However, he lost a bid for a third term in 1978 amid a bitter divorce from his Italian first wife, Remigia Ferrari-Scacco, whom he met while in the military. The media coverage gave Democratic opponent Paul Tsongas the fuel needed to win 55 percent of the vote.
Brooke published an autobiography in 2007 titled “Bridging the Divide: My Life,” which detailed his middle-class upbringing in Washington and his educational and professional journey. Brooke was also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, serving as the first chairman for the fraternity’s World Policy Council think tank in 1996.
In 2008, veteran newswoman Barbara Walters shared in her memoir that she and the then married Brooke had a secret romance in 1973.
After his 1979 divorce, Brooke married Anne Fleming. Brooke is survived by Fleming and their son, Edward. Brooke also had two children from his previous marriage, Remi Brooke Goldstone and Edwina Brooke Petit.
Sen. Brooke died in 2015 at the age of 95.
PHOTO: Public Domain
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