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Proudly for Brooke: Race-Conscious Campaigning in 1960s Massachusetts

  • Richard Johnson (a1)

Scholars have credited the victory of Edward Brooke, America's first popularly elected black U.S. senator, to a “deracialized” or “color-blind” election strategy in which both the candidate and the electorate ignored racial matters. This article revises this prevailing historical explanation of Brooke's election. Drawing from the historical-ideational paradigm of Desmond King and Rogers Smith, this paper argues that Brooke was much more of a “race-conscious” candidate than is generally remembered. Primary documents from the 1966 campaign reveal that Brooke spoke openly against racial inequality, argued in favor of racially targeted policies, and called for stronger racial equality legislation. In addition, this paper argues that Brooke's appeals were not targeted primarily to the state's small black population but to liberal whites. Far from ignoring race, internal campaign documents and interviews with campaign staff reveal that Brooke's campaign strategists sought to appeal to white desires to “do the right thing” by electing an African American candidate. Internal polling documents from the Brooke campaign and newspaper commentaries further demonstrate that a proportion of the white electorate cited Brooke's race as the reason for supporting his candidacy. This paper suggests that Brooke's election was extremely well timed—coming soon after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act but before the urban riots of the “long hot summer of 1967”, the King assassination riots, and anti-busing riots in Boston. The first half of Brooke's 1966 campaign slogan “Proudly for Brooke: A Creative Republican” signals the race-conscious dynamics of his candidacy.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Richard Johnson, Department of Politics, Philosophy, & Religion, Lancaster University, Lancaster, LA1 3DY, United Kingdom. E-mail:
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