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Sen. Edward William Brooke Receives Congressional Gold Medal
By Crystal CranmoreNNPA Special Correspondent
Cheers and applause filled the U. S. Capitol Rotunda on Oct. 28. It was an emotional moment as nearly 500 people witnessed "the Obama of the 20th century" receive the highest honor Congress can bestow--the Congressional Gold Medal.
The grandson of a slave, former Sen. Edward William Brooke III grew up not too far from the Capitol in a then-segregated Ledroit Park. He faced racism as he fought in a segregated army during World War II as a soldier in the 336th Infantry. But toward the end of the tumultuous 60s, Brooke would step over the boundaries of segregation and become the first African-American elected to the U. S. Senate by popular vote in 1967. At the Gold Medal ceremony, two African-American men, President Barack Obama and Senator Edward Brooke, sat on the stage with other leaders of the House and Senate. The crowd's attention focused on President Obama as he gave his speech. The nation's first African-American president, he reflected the journey this country has taken over the past two centuries.
"Ed was unfazed when people pointed out he was Black, Protestant, Republican and a carpetbagger from the South," said President Obama. "They saw how hard he fought for them, just about everyone he encountered."
Sen. Brooke, who served as a Republican senator from Massachusetts, also commented on the advances the country has made, delightfully making note of the fact that the Speaker of the House was a lady.
The crowd cheered as Senator Brooke said, "Don't think it'll be long before a lady is president."
The 90-year-old senator continued to allure the crowd with his sense of humor as he told the story of how he learned he was going to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
"I was in shock. I was in awe, but you could be sure I was pleased," he said. Good friends of the late Ted Kennedy, Senator Brooke remembered receiving the telephone call from Mr. Kennedy that congress was working on passing a bill that would award the senator the medal.
Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) recalled that Jackie Robinson once said, "a life is not important except for the impact it's had on another...and that is the type of life Ed has lived."
"Massachusetts elected Ed not because of his race but as Martin Luther King had hoped, the content of his character," Kerry said.
Brooke's works were many.
He was involved when Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Otto Kerner to analyze the riots that were spreading throughout the sixties, and was on former president Ronald Reagan's panel to investigate those same riots. Senator Brooke was also involved when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was enlisting people to join the cause for civil rights. Sen. Brooke opposed three of former president Richard Nixon's Supreme Court nominees and was the first senator in either party to call for Nixon's resignation.
Â "It took a man like you to become the Obama of the 20th century," said Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. "The hurdles you jumped were so high."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that "some played on bigotry for political gain. But Brooke saw what was best in American and strove to represent it. You have honored the principles and values of our country," he said.
In a room fully integrated with Blacks and Whites, the event was a gentle reminder of the accomplishments that the country has made. Senator Brooke was proud to receive the honor and thanked the Kennedy family that sat in the front row for their love and support throughout the years.
"Politics is not a bad thing," said Brooke. "When used properly it could do good things." Senator Brooke took the opportunity to explain to the audience that this country still has much more growing to do.
"There is nothing congress can't do that it can't correct," he said.
The audience continued to applaud as Senator Brooke offered to give his own prized medal up if Congress would pass the D.C. House Voting Rights Act, a bipartisan legislation that would bring congressional voting representation to DC residents for the first time ever.
"He was a model back in his day and even today we see he still has the power to bring people together," said Sen. Mitch McConnel (R- Mass). "And that is a legacy to be proud of."