BOSTON -- Senator John Kerry honored former Senator Edward Brooke at a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony in Washington, DC today. Brooke served as a Republican Senator from Massachusetts from 1967 to 1979.
Below are Kerry's remarks as prepared for delivery:
In one of his first sermons after finishing his studies at Boston University, Martin Luther King Jr. observed: "The thing that we need in the world today is a group of men and women who will stand up for right and be opposed to wrong, wherever it is -- a group of people who have come to see that some things are wrong, whether they're never caught up with, and some things are right, whether nobody sees you doing them or not."
Before his mission was cut tragically short 14 years later, Dr. King met countless men and women who he enlisted in the cause -- but one who became his confidante was Edward William Brooke III, whose journey we honor today.
Like so many of us, Ed was moved by the eloquence and actions of Dr. King. But there were also times when Dr. King was moved by Ed, especially when Dr. King -- himself conflicted - sought Ed's counsel on the Vietnam War before taking his own moral stand against the conflict.
Ed came to this Capitol in 1967, but his journey here really began in 1962 when he was elected the first African American attorney general of Massachusetts. President John Kennedy remarked, "That's the biggest news in the country."
Well, there was bigger news ahead - and not because of Ed's race, but because of the job he did as Massachusetts' attorney general. He was a vigorous prosecutor of organized crime, and he worked closely with local police departments to solve the case of the Boston Strangler.
Massachusetts elected Ed to the U.S. Senate, not because of the color of his skin, but as Dr. King hoped, because of the content of his character.'
The man Massachusetts sent to the Senate was known for his independence, a public servant whose compass was guided not by Party, but by conscience He was one of the first advocates of legislation to provide affordable housing. And when it was especially difficult, he stood up for affirmative action, desegregation, privacy rights, minority business development, an increase in Social Security benefits and the extension of the Voting Rights Act.
Shortly after the assassination of his friend, Dr. King, in 1968, Ed became the first to propose a national holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader. He said "it would be fitting to pay our respects to this noble figure by enduring public commemoration of his life and philosophy." It took 15 years for the rest of America to catch up with Ed Brooke.
It wasn't the only time. Ed broke with President Nixon over his "Southern Strategy" and its unsavory appeals to racial prejudices - he knew that it was wrong to win an election but lose your conscience. He opposed three of President Nixon's Supreme Court nominees. He voted to impose a time table on President Nixon to withdraw American troops from Vietnam. He introduced the legislation for the appointment of a Watergate special prosecutor. He was the first Senator in either party to call for President Nixon's resignation. And he counseled President Ford against pardoning the ex-president.
Ed demonstrated the same kind of independent thinking as a member of the historic Kerner Commission, which President Johnson appointed in 1967 to investigate the causes of race riots that had occurred that year. The commission warned that America was "moving toward two societies -- one black, one white -- separate and unequal."
And after leaving the Senate, Ed served on the panel President Reagan appointed to investigate the damage inflicted on Japanese America citizens who were placed in internment camps at the outbreak of World War II. In 1982, the panel recommended reparations and a formal apology, and five years of delays, Congress finally passed a resolution doing just that.
I proudly sit in the Senate seat once occupied by Ed Brooke. And in 2005, I had the privilege of writing the Senate resolution awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Jackie Robinson, himself a trail blazer who once said that "a life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
That is the kind of life Ed Brooke has lived -- a life lived in service to the struggle for equal opportunity, to the great work of making more perfect our union.
In his autobiography, Ed wrote this: "It is my fondest hope that some readers of this book, reflecting on my role in our nation's long political struggle for equality, opportunity, and justice in America, may be moved to continue that battle in their own lives and their own eras. The torch must be passed from generation to generation if America is ever its full promise."
As we look around this Rotunda today, we say to Ed: your great hope is coming true -- the torch is being passed to a generation that has learned from your example of doing what is right, "whether nobody sees you doing them or not," as Dr. King said. It is your example and your journey that we honor today.