Edward W. Brooke, the Massachusetts senator who was the first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate after Reconstruction, died on Saturday at the age of 95.
The news was confirmed by Kirsten Hughes, chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, according to the Boston Globe.
A Republican, Brooke was a well known figure during the Civil Rights era. He won the GOP nomination for attorney general in 1962, becoming the first black person to hold that office in any U.S. state. “My God, that’s the biggest news in the country,” President Kennedy reportedly said when learning of Brooke’s election win.
Brooke's election to the Senate in 1966 ended 85 years without the presence of African-American congressional lawmakers. When he was sworn in, his fellow senators gave Brooke a standing ovation.
“I am not a civil rights leader and I don’t profess to be one,” he once said according to the Globe. “I can’t serve just the Negro cause. I’ve got to serve all the people of Massachusetts.”
As the state’s attorney general, Brooke developed a reputation for combating corruption. Once a senator, he made notable gains in the housing sector and was a key player in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1968. A year later, he wrote a bill that capped public housing rent at 25% of the resident’s income, a measure that became known as the Brooke Amendment.
Brooke’s public service earned him the NAACP’s Sprinarn Medal, the organization’s highest honor, in 1967. He was also awarded the nation’s highest civil honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2004, and he went on to earn the Congressional Gold Medal three years later. During the ceremony for the Congressional Gold Medal, President Obama said that Brooke “moved the arc of history.”
Brooke was born in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 26, 1919, to a comfortably middle-class family. His father was a longtime lawyer who served with the Veteran’s Administration. Both father and son graduated from Howard University. The younger Brooke’s service in the Army during World War II earned him a Bronze Star. While serving in Italy, he met his first wife Remigia. Brooke had been stationed at Fort Devens in Massachusetts during his time in the military and returned to the state to study at Boston University School of Law. He first ran for state representative in 1950 and won the Republican nomination in 1952.
Brooke, who was divorced in 1978, is survived by his second wife Anne Fleming. He is also survived by his children from his first marriage, Remi and Edwina, as well as his son Edward IV from his second marriage.