Friday, February 23, 2024

MTSU professor brings to life an instrumental but little known senator and civil rights activist through research


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Featured Photo Courtesy of United States Congress

Story by Addison Conley

Although he was an instrumental figure in the Civil Rights Movement, most Americans have never heard of Senator Edward W. Brooke. Dr. Jordan Alexander is looking to change that.

 As one of the youngest lecturers in MTSU’s History Department, Dr. Alexander is conducting his own research on the life and political career of Senator Brooke. He is looking to give Brooke the credit he deserves for his important work behind the scenes during the civil rights movement.

Senator Edward W. Brooke was an African American senator from Massachusetts who made essential contributions to government, including the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Brooke was not involved in marches or sit-ins like Dr. King and Malcom X, but while these protests were taking place, Brooke fought for civil rights as the only Black American in the U.S. Senate. Dr. Alexander said he positions Brooke as a “subtle revolutionist” within the civil rights movement.

“He’s not known, but he believed that he could really affect change within the federal government,” said Dr. Alexander.

Senator Brooke was the first popularly elected Black senator after Reconstruction, serving two terms in the U.S. Senate from 1967 to 1979. To many Americans at the time, Brooke was an anomaly. He was against the grain as a Black member of the Republican Party, but he was a strong advocate for civil rights. 

The Democratic Party in Massachusetts at the time was corrupt, and Brooke believed the party ignored the needs of Black Americans, women, and anyone seeking to go against the status quo and challenge government corruption. Although the Republican Party was not perfect, Brooke felt it was the lesser of two evils. His parents were Republican, and Brooke admired the “virtues of duty and self-help” of the Republican party, said Dr. Alexander in an article for Wiley Press.

“Brooke decided that a career in the Senate would allow him to create stronger civil rights legislation, serve as an advocate for Black Americans, reform the federal government from within, and ensure the national Republican coalition’s return to its historical status as the party of the common American citizen,” wrote Dr. Alexander.

Brooke used his position in the U.S. Senate to push back against the white southern Democrats that opposed civil rights, even going against the conservative white Republicans in his own party. He believed that compromise was essential to making effective change in the government and made connections with everyone, despite their race and ethnicity.

“In order for us to actually make this democracy work for everybody, you have to be willing to look past these differences,” said Dr. Alexander.

As a World War II veteran, Brooke understood the importance of working with a diverse group of people. He was so determined he even opposed his own president. When President Nixon nominated two racist White southerners to the Supreme Court, Brooke convinced his fellow senators to vote against and stop their nominations.

His work on the Fair Housing Act of 1968 helped ensure equal access to housing for all American citizens, and in his previous tenure as Massachusetts’ attorney general, he oversaw the amicus curiae brief during the Supreme Court’s test case regarding the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“Brooke was definitely at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. He didn’t like to be considered a civil rights leader, but that’s what he was,” said Dr. Alexander.

Dr. Alexander said he hopes that his research will show people that there are many unknown Black Americans throughout history who have made massive impacts on this country, and his goal is to help them be recognized as the important figures that they are. 

He is in the process of turning his dissertation research on Senator Brooke into a book. The book is not yet published, but his article “Striving for Civil Rights: Senator Edward W. Brooke, President Richard Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’ and the Supreme Court” can be found on the Project MUSE website.

Addison Conley is an academic research reporter for MTSU Sidelines.

To contact News Editor Kailee Shores and Assistant News Editor Alyssa Williams, email

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