Subtle Revolutionist: The Life and Political Career of Senator Edward W. Brooke

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Alexander, Jordan O'Neal
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Middle Tennessee State University
In the second half of the twentieth century, Edward W. Brooke became one of the best known and respected African American political leaders in the nation. He stood against the national pattern, when many black politicians and voters turned Democratic during FDR’s New Deal and then strongly endorsed President Harry S. Truman’s decision to desegregate the military in 1948. The old, moderate strand of the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, appealed to Brooke, who sought to protect civil rights and perceived the Republican Party as the most consistent way to achieve that goal. In so doing, Brooke ignored the direction of his party since the early twentieth century. He knew these patterns but remained wedded to the Republican Party. Brooke believed that he could achieve more for civil rights within the party than without. For Brooke, Republican Party membership was more than a tool to ensure re-election in a state where black Americans only comprised two percent of the population. As a Republican, he shaped the civil rights legislative agenda. Brooke has fallen so far out of the dialogue of mid–twentieth century civil rights leaders because that was a banner he felt uncomfortable wearing. Therefore, assessments of Brooke and civil rights been in the wrong direction. He did not seek to be a civil rights hero—thus those looking for heroes and heroines ignore him—instead he advocated a third path, one of bipartisanship, cooperation and enlightened policymaking. This dissertation pursues these answers through an analysis of the late senator’s commitment to government reform, bipartisanship and protection of civil rights during his tenure in Congress from 1967 until 1979.
American history, Black history, Public policy