I met my first Member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Rep. Louis B. Stokes (D-Ohio), at age nine in Cleveland. Rep. Stokes inspired my love of the congressional legislative process.
In addition to Rep. Stokes, I am blessed to have been employed by two other CBC Members: Reps. William H. Gray, III (D-Pennsylvania) and Charles B. Rangel (D-New York). Each of these individuals were brilliant political and legislative strategists and champions of improving the lives of “the least of these” during their respective tenures in Congress.
Furthermore, each proved to be, as has the CBC since its inception, the “Conscience of the Congress.” Throughout its 52-year-history, the CBC has proven this to be the case on issues ranging from apartheid in South Africa, affordable housing, equitable pay for women, increasing the minimum wage, protecting and expanding the right to vote, reforming the criminal justice system, access to affordable healthcare and holding former president Donald Trump accountable for attempting to overthrow the American Government.
It was during the late 1960s that Michigan Democratic Representative Charles Diggs came up with the idea of forming the Democratic Select Committee (DSG) in the U.S. Congress. He felt that the few Black Members of Congress needed to be organized in a formal manner to ensure that the concerns of their constituencies were effectively heard and listened to on the floors of the House and Senate. At the time, stated Diggs, the first Black elected to Congress in 1954 from Michigan, “The sooner we can get organized for group action, the more effective we can become.”
The DSG officially became the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in 1971 and in addition to Diggs, the 13 founding members were: Representatives Rangel, Stokes, Shirley Chisholm (D-New York), William L. Clay, III (D-Missouri), George W. Collins (D-Illinois), John Conyers (D- Michigan), Ronald V. Dellums (D-California), Augustus F. Hawkins (D-California), Ralph H. Metcalfe (D-Illinois), Parren J. Mitchell (D-Maryland), Robert N.C. Nix, Sr. (D- Pennsylvania), and Walter E. Fauntroy (D-District of Columbia).
Both former President Barack H. Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris were Members of the CBC while serving in Congress.
The CBC in the 117th Congress
During the last Congress, Members of the CBC played prominent roles in shaping national and international legislative and political agendas. Among the numerous legislative accomplishments was passage of the Emmett Till Anti Lynching Act and legislation expanding access to affordable housing.
Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) served as chairwoman. In the House Leadership were House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-South Carolina) and House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York). Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) named Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D- Mississippi) as Chairman of the U.S. House Select Committee on the January 6th Attack. Rep. Thompson also chaired the House Committee on Homeland Security.
In addition, five other CBC Members served as chairs of committees: Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California), House Committee on Financial Services; Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-New York), House Committee on Foreign Relations; Rep. Bobby Scott (D- Virginia), House Committee on Education and Workforce; Rep. David Scott (D-Georgia), House Committee on Agriculture; and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D- Texas), House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
Former Reps. Karen Bass (D-California) and G.K. Butterfield (D-North Carolina) retired from Congress. Bass is now the Mayor of Los Angeles, California, becoming the second Black and first female to serve in this capacity. Unfortunately, two Members died during the 117th Congress: Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) and Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Virginia).
The CBC in the 118th Congress
On Jan. 7, 58 Members of the CBC were sworn into office, the largest number in history. This number includes nine new House Members. Black House Republican Reps. Byron Donalds (R-Florida) and Burgess Owens (R-Utah) are not members of the CBC.
There are two Black Senators who are members of the CBC, Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia). Republican Sen. Rick Scott (R-South Carolina), decided against caucus membership.
Among those CBC members making history is Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (NY), now the first Black House Minority Leader and likely one day Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Former House Majority Whip Clyburn remains in the leadership. Rep. Steven Horsford (NV) officially became the Chairman of the CBC, with Rep. Yvette Clarke (NY) elected as First Vice Chair.
Regardless of who Republicans elected as Speaker, the CBC will remain the “Conscience of the Congress.” The Grand Old Party (GOP) is now the Party of Trump, and we have presidential and midterm elections in 2024. Therefore, the work and mission of the CBC is now needed more than ever.
As Rep. Stokes said of the CBC in 1971, “In addition to representing our individual districts, we have to assume the onerous burden of acting as congressmen-at-large (and women) for the underrepresented around America.”