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The U.S. Congress has presented its highest civilian honor to Edward Brooke - the first African-American elected by popular vote to the Senate. Brooke got the award two days after his 90th birthday.

Past and present members of Congress joined to pay tribute to Edward Brooke.

Among them: President Barack Obama, the third African-American popularly elected to the Senate.

The president called Brooke a trailblazer - a man who spent his life breaking barriers.

Mr. Obama said Brooke's path to the Senate was unlikely. He told the story of an African-American child raised near the Capitol in a neighborhood so fiercely segregated that black residents needed a note from a white person to pass through.

"Others might have become angry or disillusioned," he said. "They would have concluded that no matter how hard they worked their horizons would always be limited so why bother. But not Ed Brooke."

Brooke joined the military and went on to law school. He moved from Washington to Massachusetts and entered politics. In 1966 he achieved what some considered the impossible. A state where most of the voters tend to be white and Democratic elected a black Republican to the Senate.

"He ran for office, as he put it, to bring people together who had never been together before. And that he did," said the president.

The president described Ed Brooke as a senator who was bipartisanship personified - a man whose primary loyalty was not to an ideology or party, but his constituents and his country.

"He did not care whether a bill was popular or politically expedient, Democrat of Republican. He cared if it helped people." he said.

In the months before his death, the late senior Senator from Massachusetts - Edward Kennedy - campaigned hard for a Congressional Gold Medal for Edward Brooke.

The gold medal is the highest honor bestowed by Congress for distinguished achievements and contributions to society. The award dates back to the nation's infancy. Previous medal recipients include George Washington, Mother Teresa, composer Aaron Copland, athlete Jesse Owens, and Nelson Mandela.