Edward W. Brooke, former U.S. Senator, Oak Bluffs resident, dies at 95

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Senator Edward W. Brooke

Longtime Oak Bluffs seasonal resident, Edward W. Brooke, a Republican who was elected Massachusetts Attorney General and was the first African-American to be elected to the US Senate since Reconstruction, died Saturday. He was 95.

Former Massachusetts Senator Brooke represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate from 1967–1978. He was the Commonwealth’s attorney general from 1963–66.

For 27 years he owned a spacious home in Oak Bluffs and was frequently in residence both on and off season. He was often to be seen playing tennis, a favorite pastime, on the court behind his home on Nashawena Park in Oak Bluffs.

At dedication ceremonies on June 20, 2000, the new Massachusetts Trial Court in Boston was named the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse. It was the first state courthouse in the country to be named for an African American and the only Massachusetts courthouse named for a living person.

The following is a statement from the Mass GOP Chairman, Kirsten Hughes in response to the death of Senator Edward Brooke: As we mourn the loss of Senator Edward W. Brooke, we reflect on his multitude of accomplishments and his extraordinary service to both our Commonwealth and our nation. Any one of his single accomplishments would be remarkable, and yet Senator Brooke could lay claim to so many milestones. A decorated war hero, this Massachusetts Republican was a highly respected legislator responsible for shaping our nation’s laws and ensuring equal rights for all men and women. The Massachusetts Republican Party is proud to have had Senator Brooke as one of our party’s leaders, and we extend our deepest condolences to his family.”

What made him such a figure of racial progress wasn’t his emphasizing race but transcending it, the Boston Globe said in an obituary published today. One of his most-publicized actions as attorney general was ruling illegal an NAACP-sponsored boycott of Boston public schools. “I am not a civil rights leader and I don’t profess to be one,” he once said. “I can’t serve just the Negro cause. I’ve got to serve all the people of Massachusetts.”

Mr. Brooke 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. While in Italy, he met Remigia Ferrari-Scacco. They married in 1947.

He attended Boston University School of Law and graduated in 1948. Mr. Brooke set up a one-man practice in Roxbury, the Globe reported.

For the next eight years, Mr. Brooke concentrated on his law practice. He became active in the American Veterans of World War II (now Amvets), where he demonstrated his ability to appeal across racial lines, becoming the organization’s state commander and national judge advocate.

In November 1962, Mr. Brooke was elected state attorney general. “My God, that’s the biggest news in the country,” President Kennedy said when informed of Mr. Brooke’s victory.

In 1966, Mr. Brooke sailed into the Senate, easily defeating his Democratic opponent, former Governor Endicott Peabody, winning by more than 400,000 votes. Mr. Brooke’s most notable achievements in Washington came in the field of housing. He was instrumental in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1968, whose key component was an open-housing amendment sponsored by Mr. Brooke and US Senator Walter Mondale, a Minnesota Democrat, the Globe reported.

A year later, he authored the so-called Brooke Amendment, which capped public housing rent at 25 percent of the resident’s income.

Brian Lees, a former state Senate Republican leader who was an aide to Mr. Brooke at the end of his US Senate tenure, told the Globe, “He really believed in the art of compromise. One of the things he said to me always was, ‘Just remember that there are two sides to every issue.’ He was a very strong Republican, but believed you had to work together to get things done. He was disturbed by what is happening in Washington now, that people aren’t sitting down and working things out.”

After leaving office, Mr. Brooke joined a Washington law firm. He also served on several corporate boards and was chairman of the Boston Bank of Commerce.

In 1979, he married Anne Fleming, who survives him. In addition to his wife and two daughters, from his first marriage, Remi and Edwina, he leaves a son from his second marriage, Edward IV. Mr. Brooke’s first wife died in 1994.