John Kerry Speaks at Memorial Service for Former Sen. Edward Brooke

Secretary of state honors the passing of the first African American to be popularly elected to the United States Senate.
12:34 | 03/10/15

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Transcript for John Kerry Speaks at Memorial Service for Former Sen. Edward Brooke
Senator Markey. Sooners cut. Senator Warner and members congress. Governor Patrick. And all the members'. Brockman. Good morning to loans that privilege for me. To do share some thoughts about it book. And I want you to think back half a century. Imagine a room in the 1960s. Weather. All the leading Massachusetts politicians gathered. Kennedy yet McCormack. O'Neill. Pull me. Brought. Among them one figure. Stands out as the courageous representative of an embattled minority. Ed Brooke. Alone. Undaunted. The only at the stupid. Imagine another room. The chamber of the United States. Shortly after noon on January 10 1967. A man of consummate dignity. Strides down the center I'll. Legislators rise and applaud the gallery cheers. The first. African American popularly elected to the senate. Takes his seat. In that moment at Brooke was not just pioneer. He was an advance scout. Probing the soul of our country. 26 years would pass. The for a second African American would be elected. Imagine a young man that raised in Washington. Joining the army immediately after college and Pearl Harbor. Later deploying to Italy. As part of a segregated infantry the tonight. There are lieutenant Brooke. Watched an anguished uses bodies were sent each morning to attack a heavily fortified German position. In the opulence. The young soldiers soon became convinced that his men were being used. As cannon thought. By racist commanders. He proposed shift in tactics. And operations stage later in the day with the enemy would be sleeping. The answer came back. The kernel would never send the boy to do a man's job. Brooke persist. And the operation that he organized finally went ahead catching the enemy by surprise. And driving them from them now. His battalion suffered 1300. Casualties. At 127 medals. Among them a bronze star for at Brooke. It's reward. Was to be dismantled. And its personnel scatter to places where many. Could neither sit at a lunch counter nor vote. That's where we were back then. And we must never forget that as much as tight cap and Marshall. Ed brook to the African Americans who joined in the fighting fascism. We're part of the greatest generation. And we owe them and it palpable that. But this was just the beginning in that Brooke stirred. As a legislator senator Brooke. Was always on the cutting edge. Championing a woman's right shoes. Taking on the tobacco industry when smoking was still considered to be pretty cool. Initiating a program to help minority business people create jobs. Guaranteeing women. Equal access to cut. And offering an amendment that to this day enables tens of thousands of people each year to qualify for public housing. And thereby escape shelters. Or the streets. Ed Brooke steered by his own compass my friends. He had a sense of direction. That clearly was defined. In the chaos of war. When President Nixon asked the senate to confirm Supreme Court nominee whose supporters argued and I'm not making this up. That mediocrity deserve representation. Ed Brooke. Looked his party's leadership in the eye and said no. And did the say it on to other exit nominees. He also differed from the president by being right about the Vietnam War. And voting to end get the position that matters to lot. Of constituents. In Massachusetts including this. M and ideologues. Tried to gut civil rights voting rights laws. Ed Brooke used every instrument in the legislative tool box to stop. Declaring that liberties that took a century or more secure. Must never again be denied. Found that as President Obama reminded us so eloquently and powerfully in Selma on Saturday. Remains is timely now as ever. For all of his career. At Brooke was his own man. As attorney general. He was relentless and cracking down on corruption which. In Massachusetts in the early 96 is provided what we might call it target rich environment. His electoral triumphs. Were astonishing in a state it was only 2%. Black. Where school desegregation at the time was an explosive issue. And where the face of prejudice. Might appear. Either ugly with a anger. Or thinly maps like code words. In one early race that he narrowly lost. His opponent Kevin White. Claim to see no hidden message and campaign bumper stickers that read simply. Vote white. Repeatedly eight. Ed Brooke was searched by the political establishment not to run for higher office. To instead bide his time until Massachusetts was quote unquote. Ready. Indeed in 1962. When he ran for attorney general his opponent was the formidable Elliot Richardson. A man was deep connections to what we're socially and financially the upper excellence of the commonwealth. But at Brooke didn't back down. And because he didn't. A straight line can be drawn between his electoral victories. And out of another African American this time the national arena some four decades later. I was in high school. When Ed Brooke first ran for statewide office. Attracting so many democratic voters to the Republican primary that our party have to work for months afterward re registry. And I've met head. Early on 1971. And iris protests against the war. But I really didn't know youth until after I arrived in Washington this center. In my early years in the senate he would come by occasionally and talked about the job by the events of the day. And whenever I saw him. I was struck by his warm it's kindness. Is interest in what I was doing. Is a charismatic man. With a genuine laugh and a resonant voice. And a ready willingness. To talk to anybody and answer their questions especially mine. One topic we discussed was the parallels. After all we had both gone directly from college to war. The law school. To a prosecutor's office. Then spent many years. As the junior senator from Massachusetts. We had each won and lost elections and guess what we both agree that waiting is a lot. Believe me. Few public statements are harder to deliver the neck concession speech after a closely contested even bitter race. In 1978. I'll never forget I was indelibly struck. By how ads remarks. Set a new standard. For grace. Amid Kate. He congratulated his opponent pay tribute to allies who would he said carry on his work. He was flanked by one great source of strength. His mother. And alluded to a second insane. When I was down in the valley I didn't cry. I cried out. And you gave me the strength to move on. Early on the sprouts on introduced me to Helen brought. Hoot during my years in the senate embraced me as much as anyone in the city. Mother Brooke loved her family and her church. She loved to have a good time she taught her son how to be successful politician. Always thanked people she said and make them feel special. That advice stop. As one colleague observed when Ed Brooke looked at you you felt he was not only thinking about view and only you. But he probably hadn't thought about any one else in weeks. Fifteen years ago. The court house just across from my own district office in Boston. Was named after had brought. The tribute to the man and a great reminder. All of his love for the long. In Massachusetts. Three charter schools are dedicated to his memory. And many of their students made the journey from the land of the sudden foot snow drifts to be here with us today. There are also many students from Dunbar up is high school alma mater. Senator Brooke. Shunned the title of TrailBlazer but. That's what he wants. He inspired thousands of young people of every race to enter public service. Some criticized him for not being more outspoken or for not being enough of this enough of not trying to mold him. Into their expectations. But he was all that's true to himself. He fought ceaselessly. With determination from the floor but minority is for women and for what he felt was right. He was the embodiment of a style of legislating that that you substance over rhetoric. And public needs of Republican judges. And he knew that government wasn't the enemy. Government is us. Bipartisanship. To him. Was never four letter over. So we are privileged. Privileged to be here. Family. Friends admirers. In celebration and Thanksgiving for this remarkable man. In recent years as at Brooke receive the highest civilian honors our nation can bestow. The congressional go about. The presidential medal of freedom. He reminded us. That the work to which he had dedicated his own best efforts. Remains unfinished. Ed Brooke understood the ebb and flow of life. He endured great cost. And enjoyed exuberant triumphs. Saw the valleys and the mountain tops. And he would be the first to tell us that he lived a fool and blessed life. For him and for that. We will always be grateful.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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