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Ed Brooke, trailblazing U.S. Senator, succumbs

By Hazel Trice Edney
On January 12, 2015

Brooke was the first African American elected to the Senate since Reconstruction.

( – Edward Brooke, the first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction, died Saturday. He was 95.

Black politicians and educators around the nation this week saluted Brooke, a trailblazing moderate Republican. Brooke was elected in 1966 and served through 1978 when he lost his re-election bid amidst a controversial ethics investigation. His prized issues included health care, the economy, and wars overseas.

Brooke also fought for bi-partisanship and sought to hold the Republican Party accountable to Black people.

In a 2004 interview with this reporter, then Washington Correspondent for the NNPA News Service, Brooke sharply criticized top African Americans in the Bush administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, at the Republican National Convention in New York that year.

“I applaud Rice and Powell’s appointments and I think most African Americans applaud them as well. But when you’re talking bread-and-butter issues, when you’re talking jobs and health care, you have to balance that. What are they doing for the millions of African Americans who are suffering?” he asked. “From the tax programs, the war, and the disproportionate number of African Americans going to war, when you look at it that way, they can’t expect to receive African-American votes just because of a few Black appointments.”

Brooke remained a loyal Republican, but said in that interview, “The Republican Party has not done what it should have done to attract African American. The party of Lincoln is not the party of Lincoln today. Unfortunately, African Americans still view the Republican Party as opposed to the issues that are most important to African Americans.”

Brooke also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 and received the Congressional Medal of Freedom in 2009.

“Senator Brooke led an extraordinary life of public service, including his time in the U.S. Army. As the first African-American elected as a state’s Attorney General and first African-American U.S. Senator elected after reconstruction, Ed Brooke stood at the forefront of the battle for civil rights and economic fairness,” said President Obama in a statement. “During his time in elected office, he sought to build consensus and understanding across partisan lines, always working toward practical solutions to our nation’s challenges.”

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Financial Services Committee, credited Brooke for making “the critical connection between the challenges facing minorities and the challenges facing low-income families.”

“Mr. Brooke was a trailblazer,” she said, “inspiring countless leaders who followed him to transcend partisan differences and find common-sense solutions to the problems facing our nation, including the passage of the bipartisan Fair Housing Act which, even today, works to ensure equal housing opportunity for all people.”

Both Democrats and Republicans applauded him upon his death.

“Today, our party and our nation have lost a statesman and a trailblazer,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Co-Chairman Sharon Day in a statement.

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Brooke “earned the respect of those who served beside him. He was a statesman in the truest sense, possessing a commitment to public service which is all too rare to find in this day and age.”

Brooke was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, but died of natural causes.

A native of D.C., Brooke graduated from Howard University in 1941. He served in an all-Black combat unit in World War II and later settled in Boston after graduating from Boston University Law School, the Associated Press reported.

Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick described Brooke as “an activist who was willing to reach across party lines and use his power and influence to serve the underserved.”

His survivors include his second wife, Anne Fleming Brooke; their son Edward Brooke IV; his daughters Remi Goldstone and Edwina Petit; stepdaughter Melanie Laflamme, and four grandchildren.

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