WASHINGTON: Politicians from both sides of the aisle mourned the death of “trailblazer” Edward Brooke, the first popularly elected black US senator. He was 95.
Brooke, who represented Massachusetts from 1967-1979 in the US Senate, championed laws to benefit the disadvantaged during his two terms.
President Barack Obama hailed his “extraordinary life of public service.”
“Ed Brooke stood at the forefront of the battle for civil rights and economic fairness,” said Obama, America’s first African American president in a statement.
“During his time in elected office, he sought to build consensus and understanding across partisan lines, always working towards practical solutions to our nation’s challenges.”
The Massachusetts Republican Party praised the “decorated war hero” as a “highly respected legislator responsible for shaping our nation’s laws and ensuring equal rights for all men and women.”
Born October 26, 1919, Brooke served in the US Army during World War II, fighting in Italy as part of the all-black 366th Infantry Regiment and earning a Bronze Star.
A liberal Republican who grew up in racially divided Washington, Brooke served in the 100-seat US Senate for two terms.
Before Brooke, other African Americans had served in the Senate but they were chosen by state legislatures rather than elected by popular vote.
During a ceremony awarding Brooke the highest civilian award in the US in 2009, Obama said he had “followed the trail” Brooke had blazed through the segregated United States.
Brooke was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and has received honorary degrees from more than 30 colleges and universities.
Brooke studied at Howard University in Washington and practiced law.
Before joining the Senate, he was the attorney general for Massachusetts. He was the first black person to hold a state attorney general post in the US.
“Senator Brooke’s accomplishments remind us that anything is possible in our country,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus also paid tribute to a man he called a “pioneer and an inspiration to many” through his life story and relentless commitment to public service.
Secretary of State John Kerry, a former Democratic senator, agreed.
“Ed Brooke: trailblazer, gentleman, public servant personified. Guts and integrity. God bless,” he wrote on Twitter.
After Brooke, Democrat Carol Moseley Braun was elected and served in the 1990s as the second African American US Senator. Obama was the third ever elected African American member of the Senate.
Following Obama, black senators Cory Booker, a Democrat, and Republican Tim Scott also won elections to the nation’s highest legislative body.
Booker was elected to the chamber in 2013. After being appointed to the post in 2013, Scott won a special election to hold his seat in 2014.
A “deeply saddened” Scott took to Twitter to say that Brooke “was a true trailblazer; those of us who followed cannot thank him enough.”
Former congressman Allen West said Brooke was a “fine role model and vanguard.”
Brooke is survived by his wife Anne, children Remi, Edwina, Edward, and stepdaughter Melanie, along with four grandchildren.
In September 2002, he was diagnosed with breast cancer, and subsequently underwent a double mastectomy. He later spoke publicly about a disease that many men are not aware of.