By Bill Coleman, Worcester Community Activist
US Senator Edward William Brooke III – 1919 – 2015
I had prayed the day would never come that I would announce the passing of United States Senator Edward W. Brooke III. In 1976 and forever after I have been a loyal aide to the Senator.
Our country has lost a political giant. A family has lost a father, a wife has lost a husband and we have lost a friend.
Edward William Brooke III, was a United States Senator serving the Commonwealth Massachusetts from his historic election on Tuesday, November 8, 1966 and taking office on January 3, 1967.
Prior to winning his Senate seat Senator Brooke was the Attorney General of Massachusetts from January 3, 1963 to January 3, 1967. He was the first Black American elected Attorney General in our country’s history. As Attorney General he was noted for training many top lawyers who were part of his office who would fight white collar crimes, political corruption along with ending the ravage of the Boston Strangler. The lawyers of Attorney General Brooke’s office became the most powerful and prominent in the nation.
Senator Brooke was a true trail blazer. He grew up in our Nation’s Capital of Washington the District of Columbia. A district reflective of our segregated nation and its segregated times.
The Senator would often say he was insulated from the harsh reality of racism because of the affluent black community he grew up in. He served his Episcopal Church as an altar boy and was a mischievous and very smart student at Paul Laurence Dunbar Public High School.
Senator Brooke was born on Sunday October 26, 1919 to his father, Edward W. Brooke Jr. a government lawyer and his Mother Helen (Seldon) Brooke a school teacher. Senator Brooke’s family was middle class which afforded them the opportunity to send him to the best schools available in the black community.
After graduation from High School Senator Brooke enrolled into Howard University and studied social and political science upon graduating in 1941 and after the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor he like many patriotic American’s enrolled into the United States Army.
Senator Brooke was assigned to the US 366th, a segregated infantry regiment. Senator Brooke served for five years in World War II as an American officer in Italy earning a Bronze star. The Senator told me he was wounded in a fight with German soldiers while fighting, a family took him in and nursed him back to health while hiding him from German Troops searching for American soldiers. This chance encounter let to the soldier meet his first wife, Remigia Ferrari-Sacco with whom he had two daughters: Remi Cynthia and Edwina Helen. When I worked for the Senator and Mrs. Brooke would call he would only speak to her in Italian.
After the service Senator Brooke went on to graduate from Boston University School of Law where he was editor of the Law Review. After starting a law practice in the black communities of Boston, Senator Brooke was encouraged to run for State Representative. The Senator growing up in Washington D. C where no one have the right to vote for any elective office welcomed the challenge. He took out papers for the Democratic and Republican parties.
Back in 1950 you could run in both primaries. Senator Brooke lost the Democratic primary and won the Republican but lost the general election. He would repeat his efforts in 1952 and not win. He won the Republican nomination for statewide office in 1960 for Massachusetts Secretary of State. He lost this election to future Boston Mayor and Democrat Kevin White who’s gave out bumper stickers saying, “Vote White”.
In spite of the blunt racists overtones of that election, the Senator caught the eye and respect of Republican Governor John Volpe who offered the Senator many judicial positions in his administration. Senator Brooke accepted the Chairmanship of the Boston Finance Commission and stopped the illegal disposal of public properties a common practice of its day.
In 1963 Senator Brooke won the Republican nomination for Attorney General defeating Elliot Richardson and Democrat Francis E. Kelly who was rumored to hire blacks to drive through white neighborhoods yelling they were moving in once Brooke was elected. The Senator would overcome many attacks that were racially motivated against him before he was elected to the United States Senate.
In 1964 Senator Brooke refused to endorse Republican Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater or have his picture taken with him for his lack of support of any civil rights legislation. As Attorney General Senator Brooke had one of the highest political approval ratings of any politician in Massachusetts history. Senator Brooke won reelection in 1964 as Attorney General with the highest vote plurality in the country for any Republican running for public office.
In 1966 Senator Brooke won the Republican nomination for United States Senate and went on to defeat a former Governor Democrat Endicott Peabody by with more than 400,000 votes.
There were times Senator Brooke would face criticism from many sides of the civil rights struggle. His election to public office in a state with a less than five present black population was unprecedented. Looking back to those times there were very few elected officials of color and we had yet to pass the voting rights act of 1964.
In 1976 as a student at Worcester State University I was awarded an appointment in the Washington office of Senator Edward W. Brooke.
I had gone to Washington in October of 1975 to interview with then Republican Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Hugh Scott. The meeting went well and Senator Scott asked if I had met Senator Brooke while attending college in Massachusetts. I had not I said but knew about his political star was on the rise. Then he recommended I seek an appointment in his office also.
After leaving the interview and while walking through the Capitol Rotunda before my eyes walking toward me was Senator Brooke. I froze in place and said to him Hello Senator Brooke I go to Worcester State College my name is William Coleman and I want to work for you here is my resume which I pulled out from my suit jacket. His smile put me at ease and off he went to cast a senate vote.
It would be months before I heard from the Senators Office. Then one day I was called to the President’s Office of Worcester State College. President Joseph Orze said, Bill you must call Senator Edward Brooke’s office. He sat me at his desk and gave me his phone and the number to call. The phone rang and I heard Senator’s Brooke’s Office staff state, how can I help you. I introduced myself and was transferred to the Senator’s private line and heard his deep booming voice as he said congratulations you have an appointment here in Washington. The phone call went on I was in a state of shock and joyful. I told President Orze and jumped for joy as he said Bill make us proud.
1976 was the country’s bicentennial year and Washington was abuzz with activity. We had a Queen’s visit, Gerald Ford was President and life was grand to work with Senator Edward W. Brooke III.
I am still in touch with many former staff members notably former State Representative Albert Gammal and Senator’s Brooke’s Chief Legislative Aide Ralph Neas.
Senator Brooke encouraged all of us to make our country better and get involved in our community. He believed in me which I will treasure for the rest of my life. For his Wife Anne his son Edward IV his daughters and grandchildren and our country, I say thank you for your service.