Former U.S. Sen. Edward W. Brooke, a liberal Republican who became the first African-American in U.S. history to win popular election to the Senate, died Saturday. He was 95.

Brooke died of natural causes at his Coral Gables, Florida, home, said Ralph Neas, Brooke’s former chief counsel. Brooke was surrounded by his family.

Brooke was elected to the Senate in 1966, becoming the first African-American to sit in that branch from any state since Reconstruction and one of nine blacks who have ever served there – including Barack Obama.

After Mr. Obama’s presidential election in 2008, Brooke told The Associated Press he was “thankful to God” that he lived to see it. And with the president on hand in October 2009, Brooke received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award Congress has to honor civilians.

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