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How Sen. Edward Brooke Broke Barriers

Brooke was the first black secretary of state for Massachusetts and the first black senator from the state since Reconstruction.

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Senator Edward W. Brooke is an important figure in black history and a role model for young African Americans. He was the first black senator from Massachusetts to be elected by the people. Throughout his political career, he worked hard to promote the cause of civil rights.

Brooke’s Beginnings

Brooke was born in Washington, D.C. on October 26, 1919. His father, Edward Brooke Jr., was an attorney with the Veterans Administration.

Shortly after earning his bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1941, Brooke joined the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant and fought in World War II. He was stationed with the segregated 366th Infantry Regiment at Fort Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts.

While stationed in the U.S., Brooke often defended black soldiers in military court. He did not have legal training, but he became a known as a skilled defender and a “soldier’s lawyer.” In 1948, he earned his law degree, at which time he decided to establish his own law practice in Roxbury, a predominantly black community.

Brooke Starts His Political Career

Edward W. Brooke

Brooke decided to run for office for the first time in 1950. He ran for a seat in the Massachusetts state House of Representatives, but he lost. After his second attempt at winning political office, he went back to practicing law. As he continued his work over the years, he made a life for himself and became well known in the community.

In 1960, Brooke decided to re-enter the world of politics, running for Massachusetts secretary of state. Unfortunately, he lost again. But he did much better than he had before, and the governor appointed him chairman of the Boston Finance Commission. His job was to find corruption in the city’s agencies. He excelled at his job and grew in popularity.

First Victories and a Long Career

Brooke finally managed to win his first election in 1962 when he ran for the state attorney general, becoming the first African American to occupy that position. After serving two terms as attorney general, Brooke decided to run for the U.S. Senate in 1965. On the campaign trail, he courted votes from both sides of the political divide despite receiving criticism for speaking out against militant civil rights activists.

In November 1966, he won the election and began serving as senator. He was the first black man elected to the Senate since the Reconstruction Era.

After Politics

After losing his third re-election effort, Brooke decided to leave the world of politics and returned to practicing law. In 2002, he was diagnosed with breast cancer and used his platform to promote awareness of the disease in men. He passed away in Florida on Jan. 3, 2015.

Race Relations & Media Affairs Correspondent at and A self-confessed news and political junkie, Jeff’s writing has been featured in Small Business Trends, Business2Community, and The Huffington Post. Born in Southern California and having experienced the 1992 L.A. Riots up close and personal, Jeff’s insights are informed by his experiences as a black man and a conservative.

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