Written by Troy Small, MVRHS Sophomore class 2007/08
Edward W. Brooke III was the first African American politician to be popularly elected to the US senate since Reconstruction, when he was elected as a Republican for Massachusetts. Before being elected into the senate, he was attorney general of Massachusetts although many in his party did not like that he was to enter the senate, he followed the advice of his mother: “keep fighting, if you work hard there is nothing you cannot do.”
Mr. Brooke was born on October 26th, 1919, and he grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood and went to a black school due to the segregation laws. Although growing up in the segregated south, Mr. Brooke never knew poverty or racial discrimination. In his own words, he lived in a “cocoon” sheltered from lynching and race riots that often occurred in that era. Nevertheless, segregation was no less real for him, but for him it was non-violent and more subtle. Mr. Brooke considers himself blessed to have been able to attend Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School because it was the top school for African Americans in Washington D.C. This school was considered to be just as good as any white school, and was the “best negro high school in America.” Following high school, he attended Howard University where he got his bachelor of science degree. After that he joined the military and was a decorated officer in the 366th regiment in Italy. In 1962, Mr. Brooke became the first African American to be elected as any states Attorney General when he was elected for Massachusetts and he would soon go down a road to become the first African American to join the senate in 1966.
Mr. Brooke spent a lot of time on Martha’s Vineyard mainly in the summer with his family. His presence gave the Island warmth and he showed many African Americans experiences that they will never forget. When he was younger, he would come in the summer and teach all the local African American children to swim at the Inkwell Beach. This was an experience that the children, who are now older, will never forget, and it made a difference in many peoples’ lives. The house he previously owned in Oak Bluffs on Nashawena Park is now a site on the African American Heritage Trail.
During his time in the senate, Edward Brooke strongly opposed the escalation of the Vietnam War, fought against the MIRV and ABM proposals that would have escalated Cold War nuclear arsenals, and was the impetus in bringing about improved relations between the U.S. and China that led to U.S. recognition of the Peoples’ Republic of China. He was also the first Republican senator to vote on the resignation of President Nixon after the incident at the Watergate Hotel. Mr. Brooke was reelected to the senate in 1972, and is the first African American to be re-elected by popular vote.
Mr. Brooke faced much adversity during his career in the senate from magazine articles to newspapers comparing him negatively to other Republicans. This did not demoralize him though as he focused on matters at hand such as his family and the good he could do for his country. He once recalled critics saying: “Brooke is a Republican in a Democratic state, he’s a Protestant in a Catholic state, and he’s Black in a White state, he’s a Carpetbagger!” Brooke said “I plead guilty to all of that, now go on out and vote for me.” He built a career that defied all expectations and crossed racial and political lines. He fought many times with conservative members of his party on issues of abortion and the resignation of President Nixon, both of which he supported. He lost his seat in the senate in 1978 because of blemishes on his record owing to his public divorce and rumors of financial impropriety.
Mr. Brooke was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 by President Bush and this was a great honor. Only 400 people have ever earned that medal. Edward Brooke trusted in his own ability and trusted in how this country has come and believed in how much more it has to achieve in terms of racial equality.