Edward Brooke was the first popularly elected African-American US Senator, and a Republican. Brooke defeated an incumbent Democrat for the Senate seat in 1966, a watershed year for Republicans. He represented Massachusetts from 1966 to 1978, even though today Massachusetts has very few high-ranking Republicans in office.
Brooke's legacy as a loyal Republican exposes the "dark vein of ignorance" in former General Colin Powell's remark on "Face the Nation" about minorities and the Republican Party. The insights and the legacy of this former Attorney General and US Senator give a better glimpse into the truth, too long ignored and distorted, of the Republican Party, a story which more African-Americans deserve to know and believe, and thus feel welcome in the GOP.
In a telling interview about his history in politics, Brooke shared why he was a Republican. He won the Republican party's nomination for office, not the Democrat's, in Massachusetts. He favored the GOP because they had desegregated the Massachusetts National Guard. The GOP was more progressive on civil rights. They also rejected the media-hounding of McCarthyism. His account highlights that Republicans have been progressive on civil rights and women's rights long before the Democratic Party. The first female Congressperson, Jeannette Rankin, was a Republican, too.
"I have always believed a man or a woman should do what he can do for himself", Brooke shared, a central tenet of individual liberty. He added that the party must recognize that people cannot do some things for themselves. Not once has the Republican Party neglected the needs of the most needy, but government intervention on taxpayer dime does not do the most good, often times. "I don't like huge government", Brooke signaled, a consistent conservative stance of the GOP in general. An independent problem-solver, not an ideologue, Brooke was one of first Republicans in Washington to ask President Nixon to resign in the wake of the Watergate Scandal.
Regarding the vast majority of blacks as Democrats, Brooke commented that he never isolated myself from black politicians. "I believe that most blacks are Democrats because they represent Democratic districts". The culture of those constituencies is the definitive issue, not race—more likely because of Democratic dominance in urban areas, a demographic which Republicans need to focus on more.
On winning the senate seat, Brooke shared that the Massachusetts Governor also wanted to run in 1966, as did many other Republicans, but Brooke had established a community network of support, and thus he had the most powerful political organization in the state. Brooke's previous record of public service included his leadership role in the Boston Strangler case, still ongoing, as the Attorney General who brought together the rest of the state's district attorneys. His savvy on community connections is much needed in the GOP today. Humble and appreciative, Brooke praised his staff of young lawyers and investigators, plus the faith and the confidence of the Massachusetts voters.
Brooke's tenure also saved the the state millions of dollars, a resume of trust with the public trust, which is so essential to Republicans, not Democrats. "You can believe in Brooke!" was his campaign slogan. Where did this confidence come from? The very party that nominated him for the senate had never denied him a nomination before. "Eight times I went to them [the GOP], eight times I won the nomination, even when I won the bitter primary fight in 1978." It's the Republican Party, not the Democratic Party, that supported the first popularly-elected African-American US Senator.
About race, Brooke stated clearly that it was not an issue to him. He lived out the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King preached about. He was willing to reach out to Democrats, but he did not want to be elected because of his skin. He wanted the vote because voters believed that he could do the job better than the other candidate. He never succumbed to a "reality" that race was a defining mater. "I was not talking [o voters] as a white man, I was not talking as a black man. I was talking as a man."
To young black people, Brooke stressed the importance of a work ethic. "There are no shortcuts to glory, no frills and ruffles, no shortcuts to success." Republicans support and rejoice when people get on their feet and run, rather than sit and depend, a mentality pervasive among Democratic leaders.
Rejecting the fearful advice of his grandmother to "remember his place" as a black man, Brooke tells African-American youth:
"You're place is anywhere you want it to be. It's left up to you. You make that decision."
The Democratic Party tells men and women their place, their value, based on race. In the Republican Party, minorities get to choose their place. While Democrats in the South were telling blacks to sit in the back of the bus, Republicans then and now invite African-Americans to the front, and if they choose, they can own the bus, because free markets make free people, and free people prosper in free enterprise.
The legacy of Edward Brooke represents the true stance of the GOP and African-Americans.