Edward W. Brooke, the first African American to be elected to the US Senate by popular vote, died today at the age of 95.
Mr. Brooke, a Republican from Massachusetts, served in the Senate from 1967-1979. Elected attorney general in 1962 and reelected two years later, he was the first African American to hold that office in any state. His death was confirmed by Kirsten Hughes, chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party.
“Massachusetts has a history of sending giants to the United States Senate, great statesmen like Quincy Adams, Webster, Cabot Lodge, and Kennedy. We count Ed Brooke among them,” said Governor Deval L. Patrick. “He carried the added honor and burden of being ‘the first’ and did so with distinction and grace. I have lost a friend and mentor. America has lost a superb example of selfless service. Diane and I extend our deepest condolences to the Brooke family.”
“I knew Ed Brooke way, way back. I guess there aren’t many of us left,” said Francis X. Bellotti, a former state attorney general and lieutenant governor. “I always liked him and I had a great deal of admiration for what he accomplished. He blazed a trail and became really one of a kind.”
Brooke was given a standing ovation during his swearing in to the Senate, and was offered several cabinet posts by Richard Nixon, including secretary of Housing and Urban Development, secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, and ambassador to the United Nations. Said Reader’s Digest in 1967, Brooke “is plainly on a path that goes beyond whatever personal summit he may reach.” His achievements “will be as much a standard of a whole society’s progress as they will be the measure of an individual who happens to be Negro.”
Brooke was born on October 26, 1919 and graduated from Howard University in 1941. During World War II, he served in the Army infantry. He rose to the rank of captain, saw combat in Italy, and was awarded a Bronze Star. He married Remigia Ferrari-Scacco in 1947.
In 2002, Brooke was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. In 2004, he was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. in 2009, two days after turning 90, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Brooke, President Barack Obama said at the ceremony, “moved the arc of history.”
He is survived by his wife and three children.
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