On Jan. 10, 1967, Ed Brooke was sworn in as the junior senator from Massachusetts, the first African-American to win popular election to the upper chamber of Congress.
Brooke was then the commonwealth’s attorney general, famous for his coordination of the hunt for the Boston Strangler. He had run against former Gov. Endicott ‘Chub’ Peabody, who had an impeccable civil rights record.
The candidates were civil – and pretty much silent on the subject of race. Brooke distanced himself from black nationalist Stokely Carmichael, who had delivered fiery speeches in Boston and Cambridge. “I was asking the voters to rise above all that,” Brooke said.
In the run-up to the election, Brooke supported policies unimaginable to most of today’s politicians: an increase in Social Security benefits, extension of Medicare to young people, a negative federal income tax (for poor people) and improvements to the War on Poverty. He wanted to end the War in Vietnam; Peabody supported it.
Today it’s amazing to consider Brooke ran as a Republican. He beat Peabody by 300,000 votes.
Ed Brooke won re-election in 1972. A nasty divorce cost him a third term, as he was defeated by Lowell Congressman Paul Tsongas.
In 2002, Brooke was diagnosed with breast cancer, and he has since worked to raise awareness of the disease among men. In 2007, Barbara Walters revealed she had an affair with Brooke for several years during the 1970s. At 94, he is now the oldest living U.S. senator.