Brooke died Saturday
By Frederick H. Lowe
Former U.S. Sen. Edward W. Brooke, the first popularly elected African American to serve in the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction, died Saturday at his home in Coral Gables, Fla.
Sen. Brooke, a Republican, who served the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from 1967 to 1979, was 95 years old.
Before Brooke was elected to the U.S. Senate, he was Massachusetts Attorney General, and in that capacity, he coordinated the capture of Albert DeSalvo, a serial killer dubbed by the press as the Boston Strangler because he strangled women with their stockings after raping them.
DeSalvo murdered 11 women, including one black woman, in Boston, Cambridge, Lynn, Lawrence and Salem during the early and mid-1960s, according to Brooke’s autobiography “Bridging The Divide: My Life, published in 2007 by Rutgers University Press.
Brooke devotes a chapter in the book to the Boston Strangler titled “The Strange Case of the Boston Strangler.” He reluctantly hired Peter Hurkos, a Dutch clairvoyant, to help search for the Boston Strangler because police had no productive leads.
Actress Doris Day and actor Glenn Ford, who were making a movie about the Boston Strangler, persuaded Hurkos to work with the police. Hurkos’ work did not lead police to DeSalvo. His eventual capture came from George Nasser, an inmate at Bridgewater State Prison. Nasser, a cell mate of DeSalvo, said DeSalvo claimed he was the Boston Strangler.
Brooke rejected a $125,000 offer to play himself in the 1968 movie “The Boston Strangler,” starring Henry Fonda and Tony Curtis, because did not like the script, which depicted him as hard drinking and swearing a lot.
The First Black U.S. Senators
Brooke was not the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate. That honor goes to Hiram Rhodes Revels, who served in the U.S. Senate from Mississippi from 1870 to 1871. He was followed into the U.S. Senate by Blanche K. Bruce, who also represented Mississippi, from 1875 to 1879. Bruce and Revels, however, were elected to the U.S. Senate under different circumstances than Brooke.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787 stipulated that only members of state legislatures could vote on whom to send to the U.S. Senate. In 1913, states’ voters began directly electing senators under the 17th Amendment, fashioned after the Oregon Plan, named for the state.
During his senate career Brooke fought for low-income housing, earning the title “Mr. Housing.” He co-authored with Sen. Walter Mondale (D., Minn.) the landmark 1968 Fair Housing Law, championed civil rights, and was a vocal and early advocate of improving relations with Communist China.
He was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to serve on the Kerner Commission that investigated racial tensions in the wake of widespread violence during the civil rights struggle, according to a statement released by Ralph G. Neas, Brooke’s former chief counsel.
“He vigorously challenged three of President Richard Nixon’s Supreme Court nominees and as Nixon became more deeply embroiled in the Watergate scandal, Sen. Brooke was the first Republican senator to call publicly for the president’s resignation on Nov. 4, 1973 — nine months before President Nixon stepped down. Sen. Brooke supported passage of the Panama Canal Treaty and worked tirelessly on behalf of nuclear disarmament,” Neas said.
President Barack Obama said Brooke stood in the forefront of the battle for civil rights and economic reforms. In 2009, President Obama awarded Brooke the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award Congress has to honor civilians.
Brooke also called to attention to male breast cancer after he was diagnosed with the disease, which is often overlooked by physicians when it occurs in men.
Brooke’s Economic Ideas are Rejected
After he left office, some African Americans mocked him. In one incident that occurred in Gary, Ind., at economic development conference during the 1980s, which I attended, Brooke was scorned for making a viable suggestion for black-economic development.
Brooke was the featured speaker. He urged blacks to take over an industry to control jobs. Someone in the audience shouted, “Which one?” Brooke thought for a minute and said the fried chicken industry. A heavyset black woman sitting a few rows in front of me started laughing. Several other black women joined her.
Brooke was right, but his idea died amidst the laughter within a few seconds. Asian Indians control Subway sandwich shops. Vietnamese control nail salons, Koreans control the dry cleaning industry, KFC controls fried chicken and Hispanics control lawn care. Meanwhile, the black unemployment rate continues to go up although the nation’s economy is creating more jobs.
Born in Washington
Brooke was born in Washington on Oct. 26, 1919, where he graduated from Howard University. He is survived by Anne Fleming Brooke, his wife of 35 years, a son, two daughters and several grandchildren.
A service honoring Sen. Brooke will held Saturday at the National Cathedral in Washington. D.C. Senator Brooke’ funeral arrangements are being coordinated by McGuire Funeral Home in Washington, D.C.