Senator Edward Brooke embodied the divisions within the country as a senator in 1968. Winning election in 1967, Brooke represented Massachusetts in the Senate as a Republican during the tumultuous year of 1968 (1). At the time of election, “Brooke was the only African American to ever be elected to the US Senate by a popular vote.” This distinction made Brooke the type of figure that stood out from the rest of the delegation. As a senator, Brooke showed “ardent support for civil rights”, while maintaining a “deep skepticism about the Vietnam War (2).”
The Massachusetts senator was a racial peculiarity. “Mr. Brooke’s eminence had a paradoxical aspect. What made him such a figure of racial progress wasn’t his emphasizing race but transcending it. He had no choice: The year he was elected attorney general, only 2 percent of Massachusetts voters were black (3).” During a time when racial division was an ultimate high in 1968, Brooke continued his strategy of not perpetuating race, but rather focusing on issues and legislation to help his constituents and African Americans.
One example of this impact was the Civil Rights Act of 1968. “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, the key component of which was an open-housing amendment sponsored by Mr. Brooke and US Senator Walter Mondale, a Minnesota Democrat.” (3) The crossover appeal and moderate tendencies allowed the senator to reach across party lines to legislate from a moderate position.
Senator Brooke is perhaps the most unique figure of 1968. While he worked hard to keep a low profile, his prominence could not be contained. As the only African American in the United States Senate, he naturally drew attention. However, he used his prominence, not to bloviate, but to work to achieve significant, legislative progress. Today, some question Senator Brooke’s affiliation to the Republican Party, but Brooke’s defends his party affiliation by putting it in context of the time he served.
As a senator in the year of 1968, Senator Brooke is characterized as a quiet giant that operated under national spotlight. In his passing in 2015, he was remembered for his grand contributions during a time of intense national division (4).
- “Edward Brooke: A Featured Biography.” U.S. Senate: Edward Brooke: A Featured Biography, 12 Jan. 2017, www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/Featured_Bio_Brooke.htm.
- Nichols, John. “Edward Brooke and the Republican Party That Might Have Been.” The Nation, 29 June 2015, www.thenation.com/article/edward-brooke-and-republican-party-might-have-been/.
- Feeney, Mark. “Edward W. Brooke, First African-American Elected to the US Senate since Reconstruction, Dies – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com, 4 Jan. 2015, www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/01/04/edward-brooke-first-african-american-elected-senate-since-reconstruction-dies/oRou5Pz1NyxIiX1ExZ9w6K/story.html.
- Martin, Douglas. “Edward W. Brooke III, 95, Senate Pioneer, Is Dead.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Jan. 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/us/edward-brooke-pioneering-us-senator-in-massachusetts-dies-at-95.html.