Senate Democrats

Reid Remarks At Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony Honoring Senator Edward Brooke

Washington, DCSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following remarks this morning at the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony at the U.S. Capitol to honor former U.S. Senator Edward Brooke.  Senator Brooke was the first African American to be elected by popular vote to the United States Senate, where he represented Massachusetts.  Below are Senator Reid’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
“November 6, 1962, was a special day for President John F. Kennedy.
“It was the day his brother Ted won his old seat in the United States Senate – a seat he would hold for the next 46 years, until just two months ago – a seat from which he would greatly improve the lives of his fellow Americans.
“But on that election night, President Kennedy took particular notice of another result from that same ballot.  The people of the President’s home state had elected Edward Brooke to be its attorney general, making him the first African American to hold statewide office in Massachusetts, and the first African American to serve as any state’s attorney general.
“President Kennedy exclaimed. ‘That’s the biggest news in the country.’
“Today is another meaningful day for our nation.  We gather under this hallowed dome to present Senator Edward Brooke with the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest civilian award presented by the legislative branch – two-and-a-half years after Senator Edward Kennedy introduced the bill that would make this event possible.
“As we honor Senator Brooke, we are honored to be joined by Mrs. Vicki Kennedy, who is with us this morning.
“We are also honored to be joined by:
·       President Obama;
·       distinguished Members of Congress;
·       Edmund Moy, the Director of the United States Mint;
·       Senator Brooke’s wife, Anne;
·       his son, Edward;
·       and all of you.
“I mentioned earlier Senator Brooke’s first electoral win, as Massachusetts’ Attorney General in 1962.  The road to that office was as rocky as his state’s northern coast.
“When Brooke announced that he would seek that job, state party officials did everything they could to dissuade him.  They offered him a judgeship; he said no.  They offered him the role of lieutenant governor; he said no.  They told him he couldn’t win; he said, I can.  There was no dissuading Edward Brooke.
“He had good reason not to take no for an answer.  Four years later, and again six years after that, the people of Massachusetts sent Edward Brooke to represent them in Washington.
“The soldier who fought fascism, the lawyer who fought corruption, the attorney general who fought violence, the candidate who fought his doubters became a remarkably successful Senator who fought for equality, for transparency and for peace.
“We are proud of what he – the grandson of a slave – accomplished in this building built by slaves.  He stood up to Supreme Court nominees who rejected Civil Rights.  He stood up for citizens who faced discrimination when they sought a place to call home.  His cause was the cause of the poor, the elderly, the disenfranchised and Americans of every color.
“Yes, we are proud of his credentials – but we are equally proud of his courage and his character.  It was hardly easy for a Republican in a strongly Democratic state, a Protestant in a largely Catholic state and an African American in an overwhelmingly white state.  Today we honor him not only for succeeding – we also honor him simply for trying.
“He tried, and in doing so said to a soldier named Colin Powell that it was okay to try to reach for a higher rank.
“He tried, and in doing so said to a lawyer named Eric Holder that it was okay to try to pursue justice at the highest level.
“He tried, and in doing so said to a state Senator from Chicago that it was okay to try to become just the third African American ever popularly elected to the United States Senate.  And he said it was okay to try to lead a nation.
“It is because Senator Brooke encouraged so many futures that we honor him alongside so many who shaped our past.  We have given this Congressional Gold Medal to George Washington, to Thomas Edison, to Jonas Salk and to Elie Wiesel.  They are in good company now that Senator Edward Brooke has joined the club.
“Congratulations, Senator Brooke.”