President Obama And Sen. Brooke; Two Black Firsts Meet

President Barack Obama and Sen. Edward Brooke. i i

President Barack Obama is thanked for his remarks by Sen. Edward Brooke at a Capitol Hill ceremony at which the former senator was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal Gerald Herbert/AP Photo hide caption

itoggle caption Gerald Herbert/AP Photo
President Barack Obama and Sen. Edward Brooke.

President Barack Obama is thanked for his remarks by Sen. Edward Brooke at a Capitol Hill ceremony at which the former senator was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal

Gerald Herbert/AP Photo

At the U.S. Capitol Wednesday two men who've made American history as the African Americans to attain what was previously unheard of political success occupied the same historic space, the Rotunda for an award ceremony.

Sen. Edward Brooke, the first African-American to be popularly elected to the Senate, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress' highest civilian honor. (Two other blacks served in the Senate before him during Reconstruction but they were appointed by Mississippi state legislators.)

Brooke, now 90, served in the Senate from 1967 to 1979. A moderate Republican who was the last of his party to represent Massachusetts, he was heralded by the first African American man to occupy the White House.

Obama said:

It is a great privilege to be here today as we confer the Congressional Gold Medal on a man who's spent his life breaking barriers and bridging divides across this country — Senator Edward Brooke.

It sounded like Obama could've been talking about himself.

Meanwhile, Brooke sounded a little like Rodney King when he urged lawmakers to put their differences behind them. Turning towards Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, Brooke said:

"We've got to get together. We have no alternative. There's nothing left. It's time for politics to be put aside on the back burner."

NPR's Nina Totenberg reported on the ceremony on All Things Considered.

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