CBC: Gatekeepers of Freedom


They officially banded together in 1971, 13 African-Americans who had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. As members of Congress, they had a responsibility to defend the rights of all of their constituents. As Blacks, they felt it was their duty to make sure the legislative process was inclusive of people who looked like them, as well.

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) immediately earned a reputation as advocates for the “voiceless,” both nationally and internationally. Formed a mere six years after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law, the members have always had as one of their major priorities preservation of the hard-earned right to vote.

This year, voting rights are again at the top of the CBC’s agenda. With the presidential election less than two months away and voting rights being threatened by measures in several states, CBC members are going into this year’s 2012 CBC annual legislative conference, which runs from Sept. 19-23, focused on the importance of fighting impediments to voting.

On Sept. 18, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), joined Rep. Rick Larsen, (D-Wash.) and a dozen Democratic members of Congress in introducing a bill to combat voter suppression efforts across the country. The America Votes Act of 2012, H.R. 6419, will allow voters to sign an affidavit attesting to their identity if they do not have the identification documents required at their polling place.

“Efforts to deny any voter the right to cast a ballot are offensive to us all,” said Cummings. “I am proud to join Rep. Larsen in supporting the America Votes Act of 2012 to help ensure that the restrictive voter ID laws on the books in 33 states will not succeed in suppressing the votes of people of color and young students. Extensive and credible research has shown that such voter ID laws are unnecessary and place an additional burden on the elderly and poor who now have to acquire new IDs.”

Throughout its 41-year history, the CBC has played major roles as local and regional activists, both legislatively and socio-economically. Today’s CBC membership has grown to 42 House members—41 Democrats and one Republican. The other Black Republican in the House did not join.

According to Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), current caucus chairman, the CBC “continuously strives to be a voice for the voiceless, earning the moniker, ‘the conscience of the Congress.’”

As the Black presence in the House increased from four representatives during the 86th Congress (1959-1961) to 10 during the 91st Congress (1969-1971), the members decided that banding together in a caucus would increase both visibility and political leverage on the issues and concerns of the African-American community.

“From its beginning, the Congressional Black Caucus has worked tirelessly to ensure that all Americans, regardless of race, color or creed have the chance to pursue and achieve the American dream,” said Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), one of two original members, in a prepared statement for the CBC’s 40th anniversary celebration. “We are at a critical point in our nation’s history where all we have accomplished is being threatened. The Congressional Black Caucus has not, and will not compromise when it comes to the welfare of our constituents and communities.”

Founded Jan. 4, 1969, the group was known as the Democratic Select Committee. The name was formally changed to the Congressional Black Caucus following a motion by Rangel in February 1971. Rep. Charles C. Diggs, Jr. (D-Mich.) was elected as the first chair.

The founding members were Reps. Shirley A. Chisholm (D-N.Y.), William L. Clay (D-Mo.), George W. Collins (D-Ill.), John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.), Diggs (D-Mich.), Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Calif.), Ralph H. Metcalfe (D-Ill.), Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.), Robert N.C. Nix, Sr. (D-Pa.), Rangel (D-N.Y.), Louis Stokes (D-Ohio), and non-voting House member D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D).

The current members are: (Maryland) Elijah Cummings and Donna Edwards; (Alabama) Terri Sewell; (California) Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee, Laura Richardson and Karen Bass; (Florida) Corrine Brown, Alcee Hastings and Allen West; (Georgia) Sanford Bishop, Hank Johnson, John Lewis and David Scott; (Illinois) Bobby Rush, Jesse L. Jackson Jr. and Danny Davis; (Louisiana) Cedric Richmond; (Missouri) Emanuel Cleaver and William Lacy Clay Jr.; (Minnesota) Keith Ellison; (Michigan) John Conyers and Hansen Clarke; (North Carolina) Mel Watt Jr. and G.K. Butterfield; (Indiana) Andre Carson; (Pennsylvania) Chaka Fattah; (Mississippi) Bennie Thompson; (Ohio) Marcia Fudge; (South Carolina) Jim Clyburn; (Texas) Eddie Bernice Johnson, Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green; (Virginia) Bobby Scott; (New York) Charles Rangel, Gregory Meeks, Yvette Clarke and Edolphus Towns; (Wisconsin) Gwen Moore and non-voting House members (D.C.) Eleanor Holmes Norton and (Virgin Islands) Donna Christian-Christensen.
The founding vision—to “promote the public welfare through legislation designed to meet the needs of millions of neglected citizens”—continues to be a focal point for the legislative work and political activities of the CBC today, according to {Avoice}, the CBC’s online repository of Black political and legislative history.

{Avoice} was created 2006 by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF), the nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy, research and educational institute that aims to improve the socioeconomic circumstances of African Americans and other underserved communities. Formed 1976, the CBCF sponsors programs under the leadership of some CBC members.

Although the CBC is focused primarily on African-American concerns such as economic parity, quality health care and education, fighting xenophobia, voting rights and job opportunities, its priority is also the human and civil rights of all underrepresented people, according to {Avoices}. This is why the CBC and specific members have advocated for countries such as Haiti and the Sudan; and it put legislative pressure on South Africa to urge it to break from the Apartheid regime. It created a comprehensive anti-apartheid act of 1986, which became public law. It called for sanctions against the country unless political prisoners were released.

Although CBC members have traditionally been House Democrats, the Black presence in Congress has included both Republicans and members of the U.S. Senate. Edward Brooke, a Republican senator from Massachusetts in the ‘60s and ‘70s, who opted not to become a member. The remaining three black senators, however, were CBC members and were all from Illinois—Carol Moseley Braun (1993–1999), President Barack Obama (2005–2008), and Roland Burris (2008–2010) who was appointed by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in December 2008 to fill Obama's seat for the remaining two years of his senate term.

“CBC members never stop working on behalf of the people they serve,” said CBC Communications Director Ayofemi Kirby, adding that they have always relied on direct engagement at the community level and collaboration on the federal level to get results. “Many have personal stories that drive their passion and dedication to the work they do.”

42nd Annual Legislative Conference—Inspiring Leaders, Building Generations
It is this work that they do, which will be highlighted this week’s CBCF’s 42nd annual legislative conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mt. Vernon Place, NW, from Sept. 19 to 22.

The ALC is a series of workshops, braintrusts and exhibit showcases where issues germane to the African-American experience are explored and discussed, with solutions sought.

ALC provides an outlet to highlight the mission of CBCF – to develop leaders, to inform policy and to educate the public. This year, the ALC features a jazz concert in Ballroom A and a gospel extravaganza at the United House of Prayer For All People, 601 M St., NW, both on Sept. 20, from 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; and several networking receptions.

“The Annual Legislative Conference brings together policy-makers, educators, business and industry leaders, celebrities, media, emerging leaders and everyday Americans to discuss and solve issues that are important to all Americans,” said Elsie L. Scott, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer for CBCF.

Among the highlights for the week:

• Wednesday, Sept. 19
o National Youth Leadership Town Hall, noon to 2 p.m., Room 140 A, hosted by Rep. Gwen Moore
o CBC Spouses 16th Annual Celebration of Leadership in Fine Arts, 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave., NW.

• Thursday, Sept. 20
o National Town Hall, Voting Rights and New Age Discrimination, 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Ballroom A
o Emerging Leaders, Instant Apprentice Power Luncheon, 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., Room 202-AB
o D.C. Budget Autonomy: Critical Steps on the Way to Statehood, 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., Room 140 B, host, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton
o Education Braintrust, 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., Room 147B, hosts Rep. Frederica S. Wilson and Danny K. Davis. Building partnerships among educators, community organizations, businesses and individuals to support education in America and close the achievement gap.
o Mandatory Minimums: A Call for Retroactivity in the New Sentencing Law and an End to Discrimination at the Office of the Pardon Attorney, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Room 145-B, host, Rep. Maxine Waters
o The Sojourner Truth Women’s Leadership Reception, 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave., NW

• Friday, Sept. 21
o Human Trafficking: The Domestic and International Impact on the Well-Being of Black Women and Girls, 9 a.m. to 11:50 a.m., Room 147-B, host, Rep. Karen Bass
o The Truth About the Green Economy: The Job Killing Agenda and Who’s Standing Behind it, 10 a.m. to noon, Room 143-A, host, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II
o The State of Fatherhood: Current and Future Direction—Where do we go from here? 10 a.m. to noon, Room 202-B, hosts, Rep. Hank Johnson, James E. Clyburn, Jesse Jackson Jr.
o A Town Hall Meeting for Emerging Leaders Presented by IMPACT, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Room 207 A
o From Registration to Celebration: The Road to Voter Turnout, 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., Room 144-A, host Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
o The Youth PROMISE Act: An Evidence-Based Approach to Juvenile Crime Prevention, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Room 143-C, host, Rep. Robert C. Scott

• Saturday, Sept. 22
o Prayer Breakfast, 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., Hall D
o Faith Leaders Roundtable: The Black Church and Same-Sex Marriage, 10 a.m. to noon, Room 147-AB, hosts, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II and Elijah E. Cummings
o Roundtable with Young Elected Officials, Policy Professionals and the Obama Administration, 10:30 a.m. to noon, Room 143-C
o Addressing Youth Violence in America, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Room 146-C
o Phoenix Awards Dinner, 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Hall D, First Lady Michelle Obama will address the audience

More information on the ALC can be found at www.cbcfinc.org. 

CBC: Gatekeepers of Freedom

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