Edward Brooke dies: Grandson of slaves and first African-American senator dies, aged 95


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Edward Brooke, the first black US Senator ever elected by a popular vote, has died. Mr Brooke, who was 95, passed away of natural causes on Saturday at his home in Florida.

Mr Brooke represented Massachusetts in Congress from 1967 to 1979, and first won his seat by almost half a million votes at the height of the Civil Rights era. He remains one of just nine African-Americans to serve in the US Senate, including President Barack Obama.

The grandson of slaves, Mr Brooke grew up in a segregated Washington DC, and served in the US Army during World War Two. He later attended law school in Boston, where he was in the same fraternity as Martin Luther King Jnr.

He became Attorney General for Massachusetts in 1962, the first African-American to hold the post. Four years later, he was elected to the US Senate, where he earned a reputation as a liberal Republican unafraid to confront his own party. In 1974 he was the first Republican to call for President Richard Nixon’s resignation following the Watergate scandal. He fought for economic equality and civil rights, championing the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which banned racial and religious discrimination, and supporting the controversial bussing in of school pupils to achieve racial integration in Boston.

Richard Johnson, a doctoral student in US politics at Oxford University who was one of the last people to interview Mr Brooke, said, “He articulated a strong case that the origins of the Republican Party lay in a radical reformist tradition, not in laissez-faire capitalism.”

Though not a strident activist in the mould of some of his black contemporaries “Brooke was dedicated to the cause of civil rights”, Mr Johnson said,

He was elected in a state that was 97 per cent white, and talked about race in an inclusive way that is now common among black politicians.”

Mr Brooke cruised to re-election in 1972, but his 1978 bid for a third term was derailed by a messy divorce which led to an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee over “misstatements” about his finances during proceedings.

In 2002, Mr Brooke was diagnosed with breast cancer and became active in raising awareness of the disease in men. In 2009, as he accepted a Congressional Gold Medal, he urged Washington politicians, “It’s time for politics to be put aside”.

In a statement, President Obama said Mr Brooke “led an extraordinary life of public service”, adding: “Ed Brooke stood at the forefront of the battle for civil rights and economic fairness.”