The African American Senator of 1968: Edward Brooke

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).”

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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.

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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).

Dante Pittman

  1. “Edward Brooke: A Featured Biography.” U.S. Senate: Edward Brooke: A Featured Biography, 12 Jan. 2017,
  2. Nichols, John. “Edward Brooke and the Republican Party That Might Have Been.” The Nation, 29 June 2015,
  3. Feeney, Mark. “Edward W. Brooke, First African-American Elected to the US Senate since Reconstruction, Dies – The Boston Globe.”, 4 Jan. 2015,
  4. Martin, Douglas. “Edward W. Brooke III, 95, Senate Pioneer, Is Dead.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Jan. 2015,

Author: Dante' Pittman

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3 thoughts on “The African American Senator of 1968: Edward Brooke”

  1. Overall I really enjoyed this, and I like how you portrayed both sides of his persona, showing his yearning to stay out of the limelight and how it contrasted with his inherent fame as the first African American elected to the Senate by popular vote. I thought your analysis was really potent, and I think your post has balance between the multimedia and the text. I think my only critique would be to add some more analysis on how he relates to class concepts, maybe showing how his memory could be useful to the Republican party (often painted as primarily white) or how the paradox of his election is similar to vernacular vs dominant memory. Good job!

  2. Edward Brooke is probably one of my favorite political figures because he embodies the idea of putting the people you represent’s interests before those of the party and because of what he contributed to the Civil Rights Movement. All in all I admire how he balances the promotion of small government, civil rights, and a social safety net when needed. You wrote that he “defend[ed] his party affiliation by putting it in the context of the time he served,” and after watching the video I agree that this is true. I feel like we need to stop stereotyping the idea that minorities have to identify with a specific political party simply because of their race or ethnicity. While I don’t personally identify with the Republican Party I consider myself a moderate conservative and am often chastised for not aligning with left-wing ideals because that is apparently the norm. I think this is why Senator Brooke managed to transcend race and managed to cross the political aisle to move legislation forward, because he believed in “problem solving, not bound by ideological … or party constraints.” I agree with the above comment though that you should have included more concepts from the class! But overall nice post and great video!

  3. I really enjoyed this article and its emphasis on Edward Brooke’s significance particularly during a very racially charged time period. This article truly made me think and reflect on the positions of power. Oftentimes, minorities are led and publicly represented by those who can be labeled as the majority, but it seems like this occurrence with Senator Brooke would definitely be out of norm for a time like 1968. I appreciated the attention that was brought to Brooke’s party affiliation. This led me to question how the political parties have changed over time since 1968 and how their boundaries of affiliation have led some to change parties. I am left truly curious which party Senator Brooke would have considered himself as if he were still alive to speak for himself today.

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