A politician, in 1950 Brooke ran for the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Oddly, state law allowed him to run as both a Democrat and a Republican — he decided to let voters decide which party he should adopt. He lost the Democratic primary but won the Republican, and kept that party affiliation after losing in the general election. He served four years as the Attorney General of the state, and in 1966 he was the first African-American to win popular election to the U.S. Senate.
The Senate needed to make a few accommodations: Brooke got it to allow Negroes to use the Senate swimming pool — and its barber shop. Brooke was a moderate Republican: he supported anti-poverty programs, bolstering Social Security, and increasing the minimum wage. He co-authored the Fair Housing Act. Still, he was mentioned as a possible running mate for Richard Nixon’s re-election (and again when Gerald Ford ran for president). Brooke was the first Republican Senator to call for Richard Nixon’s resignation after Watergate broke, because the president “lost his effectiveness as the leader of this country, primarily because he has lost the confidence of the people.” A decorated (Bronze Star) veteran of World War II, he was of mixed mind regarding the Vietnam War, but eventually sponsored a resolution calling for the U.S. to withdraw. Brooke was reelected once, but lost a bid for a third term after a messy divorce. After retiring from politics in 1979, he practiced law, and served as Chairman of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and Chairman of the World Policy Council. In 2004 Brooke was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush, and in 2009 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Brooke, who survived a 2002 bout of breast cancer (and became a national spokesman to raise awareness that men could indeed get that disease), died at his home in Florida on January 3. He was 95.
Author’s Note: Only five African-Americans have been popularly elected to the U.S. Senate, including Barack Obama. The Rev. Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first black Senator, appointed by the Mississippi legislature in 1870 to fill a seat left vacant by the Civil War. In 1874, the Mississippi legislature elected Blanch Bruce to a full term in the Senate. Bruce was a black man fathered by a white man — his mother was his father’s slave.