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John Conyers: a champion for civil rights

Melvin B. Miller

There are presently 55 members in the Congressional Black Caucus. When John Conyers was first elected to Congress in 1964, he increased the number of African American members in the House to five. He was reelected 26 times and served in office for 52 years. Conyers’ tenure was so extensive that he was dubbed “Dean of the House of Representatives.” Conyers died in Detroit last month at the age of 90.

While Conyers officially represented Detroit’s 13th Congressional District, in the early years of his service he was always considered to be the “go-to” congressman for blacks anywhere. His sponsorship was often attached to important bills for African Americans. He was a co-sponsor of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he was involved in the establishment of the national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr., and he was one of the co-founders of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971, when there were only 13 members.

While a congressional leader for the Democratic Party, Conyers was always aware of the prominent role he played for blacks everywhere in America. He employed Rosa Parks in his Detroit office for 20 years, and every year he introduced legislation to establish reparations for the descendants of slaves.

Conyers resigned from Congress at the age of 88 rather than become embroiled in a sexual harassment controversy. He will always be recognized as a giant in the battle for civil rights.   

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