WASHINGTON (CNN) — Edward Brooke–the first African-American to be popularly elected to the U.S. Senate–passed away Saturday, according to family spokesman Ralph Neas and the Massachusetts Republican Party. Brooke was 95.
Brooke served in the Senate from 1967-1979 and has often been heralded by both parties as a trailblazer. He is the only African-American to be elected to a second term and was the first black Republican elected to the Senate since Reconstruction.
President Barack Obama hailed Brooke as someone who led “an extraordinary life of public service.”
“As the first African-American elected as a state’s Attorney General and first African-American U.S. Senator elected after reconstruction, Ed Brooke stood at the forefront of the battle for civil rights and economic fairness. During his time in elected office, he sought to build consensus and understanding across partisan lines, always working towards practical solutions to our nation’s challenges,” the President said in a statement Saturday night.
Brooke grew up in a racially divided Washington, D.C. and after graduating college he served in the Army during World War II later receiving a Bronze Star. After his military service, he moved to Massachusetts and attended law school. Later he would enter politics — first winning the position of Massachusetts attorney general in 1962. Four years later he ran for the Senate and won.
“Massachusetts has a history of sending giants to the United States Senate, great statesmen like Quincy Adams, Webster, Cabot Lodge, and Kennedy. We count Ed Brooke among them. He carried the added honor and burden of being ‘the first’ and did so with distinction and grace. I have lost a friend and mentor. America has lost a superb example of selfless service. Diane and I extend our deepest condolences to the Brooke family,” Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, said in a statement Saturday.
Leaders of both parties Saturday honored Brooke honoring his career and praising his lasting legacy.
“He was never partisan or wedded to party interests,” civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) recounted. “He was a champion for whatever he believed was right. He was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and added an important open-housing requirement to the act. He also crafted the Brooke Amendment a year later which capped the financial responsibility of public housing applicants to no more than 25 percent of a poor person’s income.”
“America mourns the loss of a trailblazer who will always be remembered as a model of courage and honesty in office: Senator Edward W. Brooke. Senator Brooke’s accomplishments remind us that anything is possible in our country. It’s a proud legacy that paved the way for others. And it’s a proud legacy that will live on into history,” incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.
“Massachusetts has a history of sending giants to the United States Senate, great statesmen like Quincy Adams, Webster, Cabot Lodge, and Kennedy. We count Ed Brooke among them. He carried the added honor and burden of being ‘the first’ and did so with distinction and grace. I have lost a friend and mentor. America has lost a superb example of selfless service.” Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, said in a statement Saturday.
While in the Senate he played a key part in the passage of civil rights and low-income housing bills earning him the title “Mr. Housing.”
“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,” Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Kirsten Hughes said Saturday.
He took some liberal positions while he served his two terms in the Senate and at times opposed three of President Richard Nixon’s Supreme Court nominees.
Sen. Tim Scott, of South Carolina, the only black Republican serving in the Senate, said he was “deeply saddened” by the news Saturday, on his Twitter account.
“Deeply saddened by the loss of Senator Edward Brooke. He was a true trailblazer; those of us who followed cannot thank him enough,” Scott tweeted.
The popular Brooke faced some controversy at the end of his Senate tenure after a probe of his personal finances following a divorce. “It was just a divorce case,” he told the Boston Globe in a 2000 interview. “It was never about my work in the Senate. There was never a charge that I committed a crime, or even nearly committed a crime.”
Brooke passed away early Saturday morning at his home in Florida of natural causes according to Neas.