Former U.S. Sen. Edward W. Brooke, a liberal Republican who became the first black in U.S. history to win popular election to the Senate, died Saturday. He was 95. Brooke, who represented Massachusetts for two terms from 1967 to 1979, died of natural causes at his Coral Gables, Florida, home, surrounded by his family, said Ralph Neas, Brooke's former chief counsel.
Brooke was elected to the Senate in 1966, becoming the first black to sit in that branch from any state since Reconstruction and one of nine blacks who have ever served there — including Barack Obama. After Obama's presidential election in 2008, Brooke told The Associated Press he was "thankful to God" that he lived to see it. And with the president on hand in October 2009, Brooke received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award Congress has to honor civilians.
"Senator Brooke led an extraordinary life of public service," Obama said in a statement Saturday. "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."
Late in his second term, Brooke divorced his wife of 31 years, Remigia, in a stormy proceeding. Repercussions from the case spurred an investigation into his personal finances by the Senate Ethics Committee and a probe by the state welfare department and ultimately cost him the 1978 election. He was defeated by Democrat Rep. Paul E. Tsongas. Tsongas' widow, U.S. Rep. Nikki Tsongas, said Saturday that Brooke's career was "as courageous as it was historic."
Brooke was raised in a middle-class black section of Washington, attending segregated schools through his graduation from Howard University in 1941. He served in an all-black combat unit in World War II, and later settled in Boston after graduating from Boston University Law School. Brooke is survived by his second wife, Anne Fleming Brooke; their son Edward Brooke IV; his daughters from his first marriage, Remi Goldstone and Edwina Petit; stepdaughter Melanie Laflamme, and four grandchildren.