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Blog: Edward Brooke, African-Americans and the GOP

Edward Brooke, the first popularly elected African-American US Senator, was a Republican, and his principles on freedom, race, and politics remain a mainstay in the GOP to this day.

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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Paul Worsham February 23, 2013 at 05:03 PM
General Powell has been accused of many things, but "ignorance" is not one of them. Unless you count being gullible in accepting the word of Bush/Cheney that Saddam had "weapons of mass destruction". I think the General got it right in accusing the GOP of the 21st Century of being insensitive to the needs of minority communities.
jim February 23, 2013 at 07:17 PM
I once went into an eye exam, and didn't see all the numbers in those circles. Not my fault, nothing to be ashamed about, pretty common, I just miss some subtleties. I am partially colorblind, but still able to enjoy life as long as I don't seek work in a few fields. If you read this article and think it should be persuasive to minorities, you just miss some subtleties, nothing to be ashamed about. You should still be able to enjoy life as long as you don't seek to talk publicly on race. Pretty common. You may not even know you are a part of a problem, even though you come from a place of genuinely trying to help.
Arthur Christopher Schaper February 23, 2013 at 07:30 PM
President Obama is the "White Man's President" - the white vote got him elected, and the black vote he took for granted. Obama did not even bother to attend the 2012 NAACP meeting -- Romney did. If any party has been insensistive to the needs of minorities, it would be the Democratic Party. Welfarism is warfare on the family -- of all colors. Obama's policies have created double-digit unemployment for blacks, and 50% unemployment for black youth. Obama is very much the White Man's President, and Colin Powell's "dark vein of ignorance" was in full force during his "Meet the Press" interview.
Arthur Christopher Schaper February 23, 2013 at 07:31 PM
Why has the GOP done so poorly with minorities? They do not know their own history. I have spoken with many high-ranking operatives in the GOP, and they had never even heard of Edward Brooke, until now. Tim Scott -- African American in the US Senate -- and a Republican Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio -- Hispanics in the US Senate -- and Republicans Ben Nighthorse Campbell - former US Senator, Native American, a Democrat who became a Republican. Republicans have a greater record of turning Democrats into Republicans, too! The GOP needs to tell people the truth -- they have the record on civil rights -- while the Dems have the record on discrimination.
Arthur Christopher Schaper February 23, 2013 at 08:44 PM
Jim: I am sharing this information because: 1. I was impressed with the man. 2. I was impressed with his record, and too few know about it. 3. I was distressed by the errors and misconceptions from Colin Powell: his comments did indeed demonstrate a "dark vein of ignorance". I do not apologize for this comment. 4. I am interested in presenting the true story about civil rights, yet for too long the "record" has distorted the truth about the GOP and the policies which help all Americans. The truth and the record is more than an eye exam, sir. It's time to see things in their full clarity: with both eyes, left and right. Assuming the intentions of a writer or a speaker, when you already claim that have a "distorted" view, is a precarious position in the first place.
Rossmoor Resident February 24, 2013 at 04:19 AM
Interesting article, but how is it relevant to today’s politics? I lived in Massachusetts in the 1960s and remember Ed Brooke (and voted for him, too). I seriously doubt that he would associate himself with today’s Republican party, or vice-versa. Consider some of Brooke’s accomplishments and positions: • Co-author (with Walter Mondale) of the 1968 Fair Housing Act • Author of the “Brooke Amendment”, which limited the rent charged to low income tenants to 25% of income • Opposed attempts to shut down the EEOC • Author of the Equal Credit Act (for women) • Leading proponent of extending the Voting Rights Act • Leading advocate of Government funding for abortions(!) This sounds like the resume of a Democrat, but back then there was a moderate/liberal wing of the Republican party that attracted a lot of support. Remember George Romney & Nelson Rockefeller, both of whom Brooke supported for president in 1968? But today’s GOP would never accept someone with Brooke’s agenda. The article seems to be saying that Blacks and other minorities should support the Republican party because it used to support equal rights and other moderate/liberal policies. True, but so what? Today’s Republican party pays lip service to minorities, at best, but rejects much of what Ed Brooke stood for. Today’s moderates have nowhere to go but the Democratic party.
Rossmoor Resident February 24, 2013 at 05:36 AM
I lived in Massachusetts in the 1960s and remember Ed Brooke. First, a correction to the article. Brooke did NOT “defeat an incumbent Democrat for the Senate seat in 1966.” The incumbent senator – a Republican who had served for 22 years - did not seek re-election that year. Brooke ran against Endicott “Chub” Peabody, a Democrat who had been Governor. In today’s context, a Republican defeating a Democrat in Massachusetts sounds so unlikely that the Republican must have been truly extraordinary. But back then, many moderate/liberal Republicans held statewide office in “blue” states, elected with the help of moderate Democrat voters. Brooke was viewed by most voters as honest and decent, but somewhat bland and not especially capable. As Attorney General, he brought in a psychic to help solve the “Boston strangler” case, for which he was widely ridiculed. But Peabody was easy to defeat. First, he had that ridiculous nickname “Chub”, that he acquired at an upper-crust prep school. He was so unpopular that when he ran for re-election as Governor in 1964, he was defeated in the primary by his own Lt Governor! So, Brooke’s election was really a piece of cake. Race was a non-issue. He was the prototypical “oreo” – black on the outside, white on the inside. People didn’t really think of him as black, and he didn’t bring race into the election. And that didn’t hurt him because there were very few blacks in Massachusetts in 1966.
Rossmoor Resident February 24, 2013 at 06:07 AM
Here’s an anecdote about Ed Brooke for political trivia junkies like myself. In 1969, Senator Brooke was the invited commencement speaker at Wellesley College (a tony private women’s college near Boston). The focus of his address was that young people should defer to the wisdom of their elders. In particular, college students had no right to protest the Viet Nam war (as a lot were doing in 1969) because they couldn’t possibly understand the issues. In other words, adopting the metaphor of this article, young adults should quietly sit in the back of the bus and wait until they had earned the “right” to come forward. The designated student speaker, who had campaigned for Brooke as president of the Wellesley Young Republicans, took exception to his remarks, tossed her prepared speech and ad libbed a spirited rebuttal. Basically, she said that because young men were doing most of the dying in Viet Nam, they had every right to protest the war. She got a standing ovation and made Senator Brooke look out-of-step and quite foolish. And who was this 21-year old with the chutzpah to take on a US Senator and the smarts to humiliate him? You might have heard about her - Hillary Rodham
Arthur Christopher Schaper February 24, 2013 at 08:15 PM
"So, Brooke’s election was really a piece of cake. Race was a non-issue. He was the prototypical “oreo” – black on the outside, white on the inside. " I have never read such damning pablum. Shame on you! I thought that we were supposed to reckon people based on the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Part of the reason I promoted this piece was to put away such empty comments, to stop allowing the issue of color to be the final determinant for which party has done better for "minorities". For all of your experience, sir, it would appear that you have aquired very little wisdom. Once again, shame on you!
Arthur Christopher Schaper February 24, 2013 at 08:18 PM
Brooke's agenda would not be my agenda in every way. So what? The GOP has a big tent, as should the Democratic Party. US Senator Scott Brown's agenda was not mine, either, but I was glad that someone who did more than pay mere lip service was serving in the US Senate, and from the Northeast, no less. One thing is for sure -- the notion that the GOP is hostile to minorities, and the Democratic Party supports them, is a lie. Senator Brooke's legacy, along with Tim Scott, Artur Davis, and others confirms this record.
MFriedrich February 24, 2013 at 09:25 PM
We still cant seem to get over hundreds of years of racism and apartheid. Im convinced that eventually we will overcome these generalizations as the older generation of segregationists finallly die off and their preconceived notions of what race is doing what in society dies with them. In 15 years the demographics of the US will be completely and forever changed, and with it considerable changes to foreign and domestic priorities. This is a horror show for some, and threatening to their sensibilties, but it will not be stopped. Too much attention is being paid to the extreme liberals and conservatives at the edges. What really matters are the changing views of those in the American center. They are of all races and of many creeds. They also work, have families, own homes and businesses and pay taxes.
fact checker February 26, 2013 at 04:16 PM
Great story. Thanks for sharing Alan.
Arthur Christopher Schaper February 28, 2013 at 07:36 PM
Racism is endemic to fallen human nature. It takes more than good laws and good arms to give man the righteous spirit to say "No!" to racism and "Yes!" to peace.
Dan Avery March 24, 2013 at 05:35 PM
In 1964 Johnson signed the Civil Rights Voting act and the southern racists in the democratic party, the Dixiecrats, began to move to the Republican Party. By 1980, that exodus had completed. And then the Republicans invented that great president Ronald Reagan. Edward Brooke was in office from 66-78. The Republican Party after Reagan is nothing like the Republican Party Brooke found so attractive. The Republican party today would never offer up President Nixon's version of health care. Nor would it bring the EPA into existence as Nixon did. You're trying to sell me an orange and by calling it an apple. No thank you. It's pretty clear the Republican Party is desperate for minority votes. They shouldn't have vilified minorities. Too bad. We are bound to see more of this bait and switch, shoddy logic as they Republicans try to keep from drowning in the raw sewage of their own Rhetoric.
Arthur Christopher Schaper March 28, 2013 at 05:44 PM
"We'll have those n--ggers voting for us for the next two hundred years." -- Lyndon Baines Johnson. Johnson killed the Civil Rights legislation in the 1950s, when he was Senate Majority Leader. "And then the Republicans invented that great president Ronald Reagan." No, forty-plus states, Dems and GOP and Independents galore elected him in 1980. In 1984, forty-nine states and a massive majority of voters elected Reagan. He was not invented. He was inspired!
Dan Avery March 28, 2013 at 06:18 PM
Arthur, Johnson may have killed a version of that bill in the 50's, but he signed another version into law in 1964 and then said to an aide "We have lost the south for an entire generation." He underestimated the racists hold on the South, clearly. I never said Reagan wasn't elected by a majority of this country and then re-elected. Hell these morons elected Nixon, Cliton and Bush twice too. What I said was "Republicans invented that great president Ronald Reagan." If you think making a deal with Iran to hold the hostages until after the election makes one inspired...if you think running guns from the basement of the White House is a mark of greatness... It's interesting you chose to pick on a throw away line of mine, rather than try to refute my claim that you're asking me to buy an orange but selling me an apple. I would have tried to refute that the Republican party hasn't changed. Operative word there is "tried."
Tree Party March 29, 2013 at 12:59 AM
The Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 was passed by Congress in 1986, and was VETOED by Ronald Reagan. Congress overrode the veto 78-21 in the Senate and 313 to 83 in the House. Yeah; Reagan was inspired....

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