**FILE** Barack Obama (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** Barack Obama (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)

African Americans have served in the U.S. Congress since Joseph Rainey of South Carolina was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1870, and he was joined by other Black men from southern states. However, there is no historical evidence indicating these representatives organized even though they had common interests.

When Black people started being elected and re-elected to Congress in the 1960s, the civil rights movement was underway and political awareness became keen among African Americans. 

There was a sense among the Black representatives on Capitol Hill that their concerns needed to be articulated and addressed in a more organized fashion. That sense of organization led to the founding of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971 with 13 and continues in the present with a historic 58 members from the House and U.S. Senate, representing 82 million Americans and 25.3% of the total U.S. population.

Here is a timeline of the Congressional Black Caucus.

1960s–Rep. Diggs Creates Democracy Select Committee in 1960s.

Formed by a group of Black U.S. Representatives, the Democracy Select Committee was created as an ad hoc group, spearheaded by Rep. Charles Diggs (D-Michigan). The Committee was started because there was a sense of isolation among Black members, and they wanted to create a forum to address issues.

“The sooner we get organized for group action, the more effective we can become,” said Diggs.

1971-13 Black members officially form Congressional Black Caucus.

As a result of court-ordered redistricting, the number of Black members of Congress jumped from nine to 13, spurring a move to set up a more formal group. 

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) was born with Diggs and Reps. Shirley Chisholm (D-NY), William L. Clay Sr. (D-Mo.), George Collins (D-Ill.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.), Augustus Hawkins (D-Calif.), Ralph H. Metcalf (D-Ill.), Parren Mitchell (D-Md.), Robert N.C. Nix Sr. (D-Penn.), Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), Louis B. Stokes (D-OH) and D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy (D).

“The thrust of our elections was that many Black people around America who had formerly been unrepresented, now felt that the nine Black members of House owed them the obligation of also affording them representation in the House,” said Stokes. 

“In addition to representing our individual districts, we had to assume the onerous burden of acting as congressman-at-large for unrepresented people around America.”

1971—CBC Meets with President Nixon.

After the CBC formed, a meeting with President Richard M. Nixon was requested and turned down. As a result, the CBC boycotted Nixon’s 1971 State of the Union Address, generating national headlines.

“We refuse to be part of your audience,” said Clay in a letter to Nixon.

Nixon relented and met with the CBC in March 1971. The CBC presented the president 61 recommendations to eradicate racism, provide quality housing for Black families and promote full engagement of African Americans in government.

1986—CBC Fights Apartheid in South Africa.

The CBC is considered the first group in the U.S. Congress to stand up against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Dellums authored the first anti-apartheid bill in Congress in 1972. 

“We want Nelson Mandela and the people of South Africa to know that we will stand shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, until apartheid is eradicated,” said Dellums.

Rep. William Gray (D-Penn.) authored a bill in 1985 prohibiting American investment in South Africa and severely restricting imports and exports from the country. Rep. George Crockett (D-Mich.) introduced legislation urging the Reagan administration to call for the freeing of political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela and recognizing the African National Congress as the political voice of South Africa’s Black majority. 

Both Gray and Crockett’s legislation failed but in 1986, the group helped to lead the passage of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act that imposed economic and political sanctions on the regime. Reagan vetoed the bill, but it was overridden by Congress, the first time that happened in the 20th century for a foreign relations bill.

2008—Election of CBC Barack Obama as President of U.S.

In 2008, then U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was elected president of the United States, becoming the first African American and CBC member in that position.

“On the challenges of our time…on the threats of our time…members of the CBC have been leaders moving America forward,” Obama said at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Phoenix Awards Dinner in 2015. 

“Whatever I’ve accomplished, the CBC has been there. I was proud to be a CBC member when I was in the Senate, and I’m proud to be your partner today.”

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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