John Conyers
Former Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan, 13th District) proposed the original bill mandating the study of reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans. (WI file photo)

Former Rep. John Conyers, founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and a fixture in Michigan politics for more than five decades, died Sunday. He was 90.

The venerable Democrat, who was the longest-serving African American member of Congress in history, is perhaps best known for waging a 15-year fight to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday.

The longtime Michigan lawmaker represented what is now the state’s 13th Congressional District, which includes parts of western Detroit, for more than 50 years before resigning in 2017 amid sexual harassment allegations and his failing health.

Conyers was born in Detroit in 1929. He was elected to Congress in 1965 and immediately became a forceful voice in the civil rights movement, co-sponsoring the Voting Rights Act that same year.

Conyers was the first African American to chair the powerful House Judiciary Committee and helped spearhead the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.

He and 12 other African American members of the House of Representatives founded the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971.

“We always knew where he stood on issues of equality and civil rights in the fight for the people,” tweeted Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who now represents Conyers’ old district.

The Rev. Al Sharpton concurred.

“Sad to hear of the passing of former Congressman John Conyers,” Sharpton said. “He worked with us on many civil rights cases as chair of the House Judiciary Committee and helped lead the fight for the Martin Luther King holiday.”

Hiram Jackson, president and CEO of Real Times Media, said Conyers’ death was a “massive loss” for the state.

“Most of us from Michigan loved our congressman,” Jackson said. “He was idolized and was absolutely an icon. Not only was he an icon of the civil rights movement but we looked to him for leadership. … All of us in business, the clergy, the community, respected, admired and aspired to be like John Conyers.”

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), fondly recalled some of Conyers’ many achievements:

“Congressman John Conyers decades ago held the first U.S. congressional hearings on racially motivated police brutality, led the House Judiciary hearings on criminal justice and prison reform in America, was co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus and was a leading congressional advocate for the freedom of Angela Davis, the Wilmington Ten, and all political prisoners in the United States.”

“Conyers was a constitutional scholar and political visionary whose long-standing vision for freedom, justice and equality was unparalleled in the Congress of the United States,” Chavis said. “May God bless the freedom-fighting memory and legacy of the honorable John Conyers.”

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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