Edward W. Brooke


Name Edward W. Brooke
Born October 26 1919
Died January 3 2015
Birth Location Washington, DC

Two term United States senator and member of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC). Edward W. Brooke (1919– ) was one of two former senators on the CWRIC and the only African American.

Brooke was born in Washington, D.C., was the son of a government lawyer who worked for the Veterans Administration, and was raised in what he called "a cocoon," a segregated but solidly middle class African American neighborhood. He attended Dunbar High School, graduating in 1936, and went on to Howard University, from which his father and sister had both graduated. He graduated with a degree in sociology in 1941 and joined the army in early 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Having been in the ROTC in college, he entered as a lieutenant. Serving in the segregated 366th Combat Infantry Regiment, he experienced the full brunt of discrimination for the first time, as his unit was kept out of combat for much of the war. He did eventually see combat in Italy and was promoted to captain. He also discovered that he enjoyed and excelled at defending fellow soldiers in military tribunals.

After his discharge, he attended Boston Law School, graduating with his LL.M. in 1950 and going on to practice law in Boston. He first ran for the state legislature in 1950 and again in 1952, winning the Republican primary, but losing in the general election. He ran for secretary of state in 1960, losing narrowly. He was elected attorney general in 1962, becoming the first African American in the country to hold such a position and was reelected in 1964. As AG, he gained fame for his prosecution of organized crime figures and for the Boston Strangler case. In 1966, he won election to the U.S. Senate, becoming the first African American senator since reconstruction and won reelection in 1972. He was known for co-authoring the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Though he supported Richard Nixon in 1968, he led the successful opposition to two Nixon Supreme Court nominees, Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell, both white Southerners who had supported segregation. He was defeated in his bid for a third term by Paul Tsongas and left office in 1979.

Appointed to the CWRIC in 1981 by the senate, Brooke's personal experience with discrimination predisposed him to being sympathetic to accounts of Japanese Americans who had been incarcerated. "From personal experience I knew the sting of inequitable treatment," he wrote in his autobiography. "But I was not prepared for the agonizing testimony about what our government did to its Japanese American community."[1] He was also familiar with the exploits of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team from his time in the military in another segregated unit. After the hearings, he was among the commissioners who advocated monetary reparations.

After leaving office, he practiced law in Washington, D.C. Much feted in later life, he was the recipient of 34 honorary degrees, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009. A courthouse in Massachusetts is also named after him. He died at the age of 95 at his home in Florida on January 3, 2015.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Andres, James Arnold. "Brooke, Edward (1919– ). BlackPast.org. http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aah/brooke-edward-1919.

Brooke, Edward W. Bridging the Divide: My Life. New Brunswick, N.J. Rutgers University Press, 2007.

"Hon. Edward Brooke." The HistoryMakers.com, http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/hon-edward-brooke-39.

Murray, Alice Yang. Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Footnotes

  1. Edward W. Brooke, Bridging the Divide: My Life (New Brunswick, N.J. Rutgers University Press, 2007), 276.