Trailblazing African-American Senator Gets Top Honor

Edward William Brooke III was the first African-American to win popular election to the U.S. Senate. A Republican, he represented Massachusetts for two terms, from 1967 to 1979. And yesterday Brooks received the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony held in the Capitol Rotunda. It is the highest honor Congress can grant.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now an honor for another public servant. Edward William Brooke III was the first African-American to win popular election to the U.S. Senate. A Republican, he represented Massachusetts for two terms, from 1967 to 1979.

Yesterday, he received the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony held in the Capitol Rotunda. It's the highest honor Congress can grant. President Barack Obama, only the nation's third elected black senator, was on hand to celebrate, and he noted Brooke's determination.

President BARACK OBAMA: At a time when so many doors of opportunity were closed to African-Americans, others might have become angry or disillusioned. They might have concluded that no matter how hard they work, their rises would always be limited, so why bother? But not Ed Brooke.

MARTIN: Brooke grew up in a segregated neighborhood in Washington, D.C., close to the Capitol. He went on to serve in World War II, in the segregated Army. Upon his return, he could not find work in a mainline law firm in Boston. So he started his own firm. He said racism among his Senate colleagues was very real.

Mr. EDWARD WILLIAM BROOKE III (Former Republican Senator, Massachusetts): I left the Senate prayer meetings because I thought there was so much hypocrisy, because they said one thing in the prayer meeting and then went out on the floor and said something exactly the opposite.

MARTIN: While serving in the Senate, he was known for his bipartisan approach.

Pres. OBAMA: Few have matched his reach across the aisle from working with Birch Bayh to protect Title IX so girls can compete on a level playing field to sponsoring the Fair Housing Act with Walter Mondale and small business legislation with Ted Kennedy.

MARTIN: It's a theme Senator Brooke stressed in his own remarks yesterday.

Mr. BROOKE: We can't worry that you all can't get together. 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.

(Soundbite of applause)

MARTIN: That was Edward William Brooke III, former United States senator from Massachusetts, winner of the Congressional Gold Medal.

(Soundbite of music)

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