BOSTON — Former U.S. Sen. Edward W. Brooke, a liberal Republican who became the first African American in U.S. history to win popular election to the Senate, died Saturday. He was 95.
Brooke died of natural causes at his home in Coral Gables, Fla., said Ralph Neas, Brooke’s former chief counsel. Brooke was surrounded by his family.
Many in the Japanese American community may remember Brooke as a member of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, a bipartisan federal panel established in 1980 to investigate the impact of Executive Order 9066 on civilians, particularly those of Japanese descent on the West Coast and Alaskan natives in the Pribilof and Aleutian islands.
The nine-member CWRIC held public hearings in 1981 in such cities as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., with more than 750 former internees, government officials and other witnesses giving testimony. Its 467-page report, “Personal Justice Denied,” released in December 1982, concluded that there was no military necessity for the mass internment, which it said was caused by “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”
The CWRIC’s recommendation for monetary compensation and an official apology for the victims became the basis for legislation that became the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.
Brooke’s passing follows that of commissioners Arthur Goldberg, former U.S. Supreme Court justice, in 1990; Arthur Flemming, former U.S. Commission on Civil Rights chairman, and former Sen. Hugh Mitchell (D-Wash.) in 1996; William Marutani, former Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge and the only Japanese American member of the CWRIC, in 2004; and Rev. Richard Drinan, former member of Congress, in 2007.
The commission was chaired by Washington lawyer Joan Bernstein with then-Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Long Beach) as vice chair. Father Ishmael Vincent Gromoff represented the Alaskan natives. Members were appointed by President Jimmy Carter and members of the Senate and House.
President Obama said in a statement, “Michelle and I were saddened to learn of the passing of former Sen. Edward Brooke. Sen. Brooke led an extraordinary life of public service, including his time in the U.S. Army. As the first African American elected as a state’s attorney general and first African American U.S. senator elected after Reconstruction, Ed Brooke stood at the forefront of the battle for civil rights and economic fairn
“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. We express our deepest sympathies to his wife Anne, children Remi, Edwina, Edward, stepdaughter Melanie, family, friends and the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement, “The passing of Sen. Brooke marks a great loss for our nation and the civil rights community. Our hearts and thoughts are with his friends and family during this difficult time. Sen. Brooke was the first African American popularly elected to the U.S. Senate, but more importantly, he was a gifted and effective lawmaker and strategist who shunned partisan politics and pushed for vital national and civil rights policies.
“A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Sen. Brooke fought to ensure that every community had a seat at the table. From championing the Fair Housing Act to working to end school segregation, he was a leading voice for equal opportunity and fairness and a vital advocate for ending discrimination in all of its forms. Recognizing this, in 1978, the civil and human rights community presented him with the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil and Human Rights Award, the community’s highest honor.
“Today, we honor Sen. Brooke’s memory and his long life of public service.”
Brooke served with distinction in the Senate for two terms, from Jan. 3, 1967, to Jan. 3, 1979. During his first term, he was appointed to the President’s Commission on Civil Disorders, where his work on discrimination in housing served as the basis for the 1968 Civil Rights Act.
Brooke began his career in public service as chairman of the Boston Finance Commission, where he established an outstanding record of confronting and eliminating graft and corruption. He proposed groundbreaking legislation for consumer protection and against housing discrimination and air pollution, and made state and national history in 1962 when he was elected attorney general of Massachusetts. He also served in the U.S. Army’s segregated 366th Infantry Regiment during World War II, attaining the rank of captain, and receiving a Bronze Star.