On April 8, 1954, Helen Brooke wrote a plaintive letter to Mamie Eisenhower, one mother to another: Was there anything the First Lady could do to get her son, Edward, unclassified as a "security risk," so that he could get the job as assistant US attorney in Boston the Justice Department had offered and then rescinded after an FBI investigation concluded he had consorted with Communists?
I too am the mother of a son who also served his country in World War II. His office placed him in a relatively safe position - yet when the going got tough, he volunteered to go to the front lines and get prisoners and plan and participate in attacks upon the enemy. My son, placed love of his country above that of self. Mrs. Eisenhower, my son, Edward Brooke, a former Lieutenant and later promoted to Captain is now a practicing lawyer in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He is a fine upright young man who has been reared in a Christian home, educated in the principles of Democracy and schooled in daily living of the Golden Rule.
Imagine the shock and heart break that he and his wife and his father an I have felt in learning that he has been classified as a "security risk."
I don't know what can be done and I certainly don't want to add to your already heavy duties as First Lady (and a very fine one), but as one mother to another I beg you to please give me some consolation and help. Won't you please give me some advice or direct me to the proper source for such advice. I am heart broken over this whole sordid affair. ...
May God Bless you and your illustrious husband and may he grant that such heart break as now mine may never be yours.
Mamie never wrote back. Instead, the White House handed the letter over to the FBI, where J. Edgar Hoover then wrote the mother of the future US senator from Massachusetts that, yes, the FBI had investigated her son, but the results were confidential and that it was the Justice Department that made the decision whether to hire him, not the FBI.
The letters are among hundreds of documents that the FBI released last week from its files on Brooke, who was awarded a Bronze Star in Italy and eventually became the first Black attorney general in Massachusetts and the first Black US Senator in the country after Reconstruction.
The files start with dozens of memos and other documents detailing the bureau's futile attempts to figure out who was making harassing phone calls to Brooke in his apartment in Washington's Watergate complex in 1974 - the bureau only installed a tap after the calls had stopped. And they detail FBI investigations into death threats against Brooke and Ted Kennedy and into what might have been dealings with shady characters on the edges of the Boston underworld and with a retired Staten Island ferry Brooke and a partner had bought in the early 1960s to ply the waters between Puerto Rico and and the Virgin islands - allegations that ultimately came to naught.
But buried near the end of the files are the documents that started the FBI's file on Brooke, dating to 1953, when the Justice Department had offered him a post as an assistant US attorney in Boston, where he had moved after the war, and where he graduated Boston University Law School and settled in Roxbury with his wife, whom he had met in Italy during the war. In 1950, he had even run for state representative, although he had lost.
Before he could take the Justice job, the FBI conducted a routine investigation. And the memos from the Boston bureau are filled with recommendations from local lawyers who knew him and endorsed him completely for the position, saying he was a hard worker, smart and of good repute.
But the memos began to take a harsher tone when agents spoke to their local informants, identified only by letters and numbers, from T-2 all the way up to T-30. Brooke, they said, knew people who were members of the Communist Party. One such man was even spotted working in Brooke's campaign office one day. Another, the publisher of a local Black paper, had endorsed Brooke in the paper.
The memos do note that there was no evidence that Brooke himself was ever a member of the party - although his name did show up on a mailing list of the National Lawyers Guild, which the FBI considered a front. In fact, the files show he seemed to go out of his way to reject any endorsements from Boston "liberals" or what the FBI considered other fronts when he ran for state representative in 1950 and 1952, losing both times, but that they coalesced around him anyway, because, as Whites, they felt the "Negro" candidate needed their help.
But this was 1953 - when Joe McCarthy and his anti-Communist hysteria were still on the rise (the Army/McCarthy hearings that started his downfall - at the hands of a lawyer from Boston - were not until the spring of 1954). In its own zeal to ferret out Communists and fellow travelers, the FBI relied on informers who couldn't get basic facts right (one memo includes the conclusions of an informer who couldn't recall what Brooke had run for, or when, but that he thought Brooke lost) and discounted other sources who contradicted the informers (such as a local lawyer who supported Brooke and said he'd never saw the guy with Communist leanings in Brooke's office).
Take, for example, informant T-22, about whose reliability Hoover had a question. That was based on an initial report from an agent in Boston that he or she was of "unknown reliability." After Edgar's teletype, however, the agent wrote back that the informant was, in fact, of "known reliability."
And what T-22 told the agent was that Brooke had a good reputation, had run a clean campaign in 1952, and that if had gotten any Communist or "progressive" support, it was not because Brooke had sought it. And he didn't know of any connection between Brooke and Lawrence Shubow, the guy another informant had spotted in Brooke's campaign office, but it wouldn't surprise him if that guy had supported Brooke out of "political opportunism," but, yes, the guy either leaned Red or was an outright Communist, T-22 wasn't sure.
T-22's comments were in a Jan. 12, 1953 "airtel" from a Boston agent to Washington that began:
Boston Informants T-17 T-4, T-18, T-6, T-19, T-20, and T-21, all of known reliability, who are familiar with some phases of Communist Party activity, advisted they had no information concerning LAWRENCE SHUBOW and the Applicant, nor between LILYAN SHUBOW and applicant.
Boston Informant T-16, of known reliability, advised that Applicants name has been used periodically among Communist Party circles. The Informant stated he did not know the significance of the name and could not elaborate on it.
The file does not include a final memo from the FBI to the Justice Department stating what should be done with Brooke's pending job offer, but as his mother's letter shows, it was rescinded.
The Army-McCarthy hearings began April 22, two weeks after Mrs. Brooke wrote Mamie Eisenhower.
On June 29, 1960, Chuck Colson, in his pre-Nixon, pre-convict days as an aide to then US Senator Leverett Saltonstall, visited a top FBI official. The senator, he told the guy, was facing a tough re-election battle that fall and was looking for help from Brooke - in exchange for which Saltonstall would help him become the state's first Black Secretary of State. But the Republican senator was bothered - a former Justice Department had tipped him off about the 1953 investigation and warned Saltonstall any association with Brooke could prove "embarrassing," and he told Colson, who went over to the FBI headquarters.
The FBI official gave Colson the same story as Hoover had given Brooke's mother - that the bureau only reported and that the Justice Department decided. And then, in a memo on the meeting, the official added:
Bureau files reflect that our investigation of Brooke in 1953 revealed that his name was on the mailing list of the National Lawyers Guild and that he was known to communists and communist sympathizers in the Boston area. One informant reported that the then Treasure of the Communist Party advised Brooke that she would give him a "clean bill of health" is she was contacted by the FBI. Brooks was not appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney ...
Brooke didn't become secretary of state - losing in 1960 to Democrat Kevin White. In 1962, though, Brooke won election as attorney general. In 1966, he succeeded Saltonstall, who retired that year in part to make way for Brooke.