CBC Founding Member Biographies
Shirley A. Chisholm (November 30, 1924 – January 1, 2005)
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to Congress. Chisholm served as a representative of New York’s 12th District from 1968-1982 (91st-97th Congresses). She served on the Education and Labor, Rules, and Veterans Affairs Committees. During her fifteen years in the House, Congresswoman Chisholm was known for her strong liberal views, including her opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and her advocacy of full-employment programs. Chisholm also earned praise for her efforts on behalf of black colleges, compulsory education, and minimum wage. Chisholm co-founded the National Political Congress of Black Women in 1984 and worked vigorously for the presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988. Chisholm was also the first African American woman to run for the presidency in 1972. Prior to her election to Congress, she worked as a teacher and school director and was then elected to serve as a delegate to the New York State Assembly in 1964. Chisholm has authored two books, Unbought and Unbossed (1970) and The Good Fight (1973). She also served as Purington Chair at Massachusetts’ Mount Holyoke College, where she taught politics and women’s studies after serving in Congress. In 1985, she was a visiting scholar at Spelman College. In 1987, she retired from teaching. Chisholm passed away on January 1, 2005 in Florida. She received her bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College and a master’s degree in elementary education from Teachers College, Columbia University.
William L. Clay, Sr. (April 30, 1931 – )
William Lacy Clay, Sr. became the first African American elected to Congress from Missouri and one of two African American representatives from states west of the Mississippi River when he was elected to represent Missouri’s 1st Congressional District in 1968. He served 16 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, from 1969 to 2000 (91st-106th Congresses). Environmental, labor and social justice issues were priority legislative concerns for Clay. During his time in office he was a ranking member on the Education and Workforce Committee and served as Chair of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee during the 102nd and 103rd Congresses. Other committee assignments included Education and Labor, Education and Economic Opportunities, House Administration, and Joint Library committees. Clay was the third senior member of the House when he retired in 2000. Prior to his time in Congress, he served in the U.S. army from 1953 to 1955. After his military service Clay returned to St. Louis where he worked as a real estate broker and manager of Industrial Life Insurance Company and became involved local politics, union and civil rights activity. He was elected to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen in 1959 and then served as a committeeman until 1964. Clay earned a Bachelor of Science in History and Political Science from St. Louis University. He is also the author of several books including Just Permanent Interests: Black Americans in Congress 1870-1992 (1993) and an autobiography titled Bill Clay: A Political Voice at the Grass Roots (2004).
George W. Collins (March 5, 1925 – December 8, 1972)
George Washington Collins was elected simultaneously to the 91st and 92nd Congresses by special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Representative Daniel J. Ronan. Congressman Collins represented the 6th Congressional District of Illinois from 1970-1972 (91st-93rd Congresses). During his tenure he advocated for increased funding for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, for improvement of mass transit programs and a reform of the Federal Housing Administration. He also introduced a bill requiring the Treasury Department to provide free tax preparation services to low- and moderate-income taxpayers. He served on the Government Operations and Public Works Committees until his untimely death in a 1972 airplane crash at Midway Airport in Chicago, IL. His wife, Cardiss Collins, succeeded him in Congress. Prior to taking his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Collins served with the Army Engineers in the Second World War. Upon his discharge in 1946, he worked as a deputy sheriff in Cook County, IL, an administrative assistant to the Chicago Board of Health and as Twenty-fourth Ward alderman on the Chicago City Council from 1963 until elected to the U.S. Congress. Collins earned a business law degree from Northwestern University.
John Conyers, Jr. (May 16, 1929 – )
John Conyers, Jr. has represented Michigan’s 14th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1965 (89th Congress-present). He is the second most senior member in the House of Representatives. Conyers has served on the Small Business Committee and as chairman of both the House Committee on Government Reform (101st-103rd Congresses) and the House Committee on the Judiciary (110th Congress). He was Chair of the Judiciary Committee from 2007 to 2011. He is the only Judiciary Committee member to have participated in both the Watergate impeachment scandal and the Clinton impeachment process. Representative Conyers continues to be an advocate for civil liberties, voting rights, affordable health care, and an end to violence against women. While in office Conyers helped introduce home rule and congressional representation legislation for the District of Columbia as well as serving as a principal sponsor of the Voting Rights Act and the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act. One of his major achievements was the passage of the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Act of 1983 after 15 years of struggle to find support for the bill. Before entering Congress, Representative Conyers served in the National Guard and the United States Army Corps of Engineers during the Korean War. He earned both a bachelor’s degree and law degree at Wayne State University.
Ronald V. Dellums (November 24, 1935 – )
Ronald V. Dellums represented California’s 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1971-1998 (92nd-105th Congresses). Before entering the U.S. House of Representatives, Dellums had a career as a psychiatric social worker and also served on the Berkeley City Council (1967-1970). A leading voice for peace and disarmament in Congress, Dellums was the principal congressional leader in the effort to curb and reverse military spending and the nuclear arms race, and a leader in the effort to terminate U.S. government support for the apartheid in South Africa. While in office he served on the Foreign Affairs, National Security, Post Office and Civil Service, and Select Intelligence Committees. He also chaired the District of Columbia Committee during the 96th-102nd Congresses and the Armed Services Committee in the 103rd Congress. In December 1988, he was elected Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, a post he held for the 101st Congress. He resigned from his seat in Congress on February 6, 1998. Dellums then went on to become Mayor of Oakland, California in 2006, and held the post until 2010. Dellums served two years in the Marine Corps and earned a bachelor’s degree at San Francisco State College and a master’s degree in social welfare from the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of several books including Lying Down with the Lions: A Public Life from the Streets of Oakland to the Halls of Power (2000) and Defense of Sense: The Search for a Rational Military Policy (1983).
Charles C. Diggs, Jr. (December 2, 1922 – August 24, 1998)
Charles C. Diggs, Jr. was the first black American to represent Michigan. He served the 13th District of Michigan from 1955 until his resignation on June 3, 1980 (84th-96th Congresses). Diggs was a leader in civil rights issues during his time in office, asking President Eisenhower to call a special session of Congress to discuss civil rights, calling for the enforcement of Section Two of the Fourteenth Amendment and supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He was also involved in foreign affairs, especially relations with Africa, and was instrumental in securing partial self-government for the District of Columbia as chairman of the Committee on the District of Columbia during the 93rd-95th Congresses. Diggs was the first Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus from 1971-1972. He served on the Interior and Insular Affairs, Veterans’ Affairs, Foreign Affairs, International Relations and District of Columbia Committees. Diggs was censured by the house on July 31, 1979 according to House Resolution 378. After his service in Congress, Diggs retuned to his family business and ran a funeral home in Maryland. He later died of a stroke on August 24, 1998 in Washington, D.C. Diggs attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Fisk University, later becoming a licensed mortician after attending Wayne College of Mortuary Science in Detroit, Michigan. From 1943 to 1945 he served in the United States Army Air Forces. Diggs also served in the Michigan State Senate from 1951 to 1954.
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: Charles C. Diggs, Jr.
The Congressional Papers of Charles C. Diggs, Jr. may be found at The Moorland Spingarn Research Center- Manuscripts Division.
Augustus F. Hawkins (August 31, 1907 – November 10, 2007 )
Augustus F. Hawkins was the first black American to represent California and the first black representative from any western state. He served the 29th District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1963-1991 (88th -101st Congresses). Hawkins authored more than 300 state and federal laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act establishing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Job Training Partnership Act, and the School Improvement Act. The congressman also sponsored the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978 which focused on the goals of full employment, growth in production, price stability and a balance of trade and budget. Hawkins was a member of the Joint Economic Committee and served on the Education and Labor (committee chair, 99th, 2nd session – 101st Congresses), House Administration (committee chair, 97th – 98th Congresses), Joint Committee on the Library (committee chair, 97th Congress) and Joint Committee on Printing (committee chair, 96th and 98th Congresses). Prior to serving in Congress, Hawkins served as a member of the California assembly for twenty-eight years (1935-1963) and workedon fair housing, fair employment, low-cost housing and disability insurance legislation, as well as workmen’s compensation for domestic workers, issues he continued to fight for while serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. Hawkins earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of California, Los Angeles. He passed away on November 10, 2007 in Maryland.
Ralph H. Metcalfe (May 30, 1910 – October 10, 1978)
Ralph H. Metcalfe represented the 1st District of Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1971 until his death in 1978 (92nd-95th Congresses). Metcalfe served on the Interstate and Foreign Commerce, Merchant Marines and Fisheries, and Post Office and Civil Service committees. During his time in Congress, Metcalfe worked to expand federal housing programs and improve public housing projects. Other issues of importance to Metcalfe were airline safety, prison administration, preventative medical care for school children, and increased education, housing, and job opportunities for residents of the Panama Canal Zone. Metcalfe also made significant achievements as an Olympic athlete. He participated in the 1932 and 1936 Olympics, winning the bronze metal in the 200-meter dash and the silver in the 100-meter dash in 1932 and taking second to Jesse Owens in the 100-meter dash in 1936. Metcalfe and Owens worked together in 1936 to win a gold metal in the 400-meter relay, setting a world record for the team event. Metcalfe then became a track coach and political science instructor at Xavier University before entering the United States Army Transportation Corps in 1942 for three years. After his discharge as a first lieutenant, Metcalfe returned to Chicago and was elected Third Ward Democratic Committeeman in 1952. He was then elected to the Chicago City Council in 1955 for three terms before being elected to U.S. Congress. He received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Marquette University and a master’s degree in physical education from the University of Southern California. Metcalfe passed away October 10, 1978 in Chicago, Illinois.
Parren J. Mitchell (April 29, 1922 – May 28, 2007)
Parren J. Mitchell served as the representative for Maryland’s 7th Congressional District from 1971 to 1987 (92nd-99th Congresses). He was the first African American to represent Maryland in Congress and the first black since 1989 to be elected from below the Mason-Dixon Line. He chaired the Congressional Black Caucus for the 95th Congress. Mitchell was known for his work in Congress to support small and minority businesses. He successfully advocated that minority contractors receive a designated percentage of spending on public works projects. Mitchell also served on the Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee, which provided a legislative voice for minority businesses, and chaired the Small Business Committee during the 97th–99th Congresses. He served on several other committees including the Banking and Currency, Budget, Joint Defense Production, and Joint Economic Committees. Mitchell was the first African American graduate student at the University of Maryland in College Park. He was able to attend the university and earn a masters degree in sociology after suing the University of Maryland Graduate School for admittance with the advice of his brother Clarence Mitchell Jr., an NAACP official, Clarence’s mother-in-law, Lilly Mae Carroll Jackson, the Maryland State NAACP Director and Thurgood Marshall, future Supreme Court Justice, as counsel. Mitchell also served in the United States Army during World War II and received a Purple Hart for his service. Mitchell passed away of pneumonia on May 28, 2007.
Robert N.C. Nix, Sr. (August 9, 1905 – June 22, 1987)
Robert N.C. Nix, Sr. became the first black American to represent Pennsylvania in a 1958 special election to fill the vacancy left by Representative Earl Chudoff. Nix served the U.S. House of Representatives as the representative of Pennsylvania’s 2nd District from 1958-1979 (85th-95th Congresses). During his time in office he sponsored legislation to create a “senior service corps” for people over sixty years of age and worked on the landmark civil rights legislation of the 1960s. He also introduced an amendment to the Foreign Military Sales Act requiring the Defense Department to inform Congress of the identities of agents who negotiate arms sales for American firms as well as the fees they receive for their work. Nix served on several committees including the Crime, Select Standards and Conduct, Merchant Marines and Fisheries, Foreign Affairs, International Relations, and Veterans Affairs committees. Nix also served as Chair of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee during the 95th Congress. Before coming to Congress, Nix graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and earned a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1924. He started a law practice in Philadelphia and then became active in the Democratic Party, holding office as a committeeman at the city level (1832-1934). From 1934 to 1938 he worked as a special deputy attorney for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s revenue department and then as a special assistant deputy attorney general before being elected to the United States Congress. Nix passed away on June 22, 1987 in Philadelphia.
Charles B. Rangel (June 11, 1930 – )
Charles B. Rangel has represented the 15th Congressional District of New York in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1971 (92nd Congress-present). During his tenure in Congress Rangel has worked for the revitalization of urban neighborhoods, affordable housing, and employment as well as against drug trafficking and abuse. A founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and former CBC Chair for the 94th Congress, he also led the effort to end apartheid in South Africa and restore democratic government to Haiti. Rangel became the first African American to serve as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in 2007. He also served as chair of the Select Narcotics Abuse and Control Committee during the 98th-102nd Congresses and as a member of the House Judiciary Committee during the hearings on the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. Other committee assignments have included the Public Works, Science and Aeronautics, Select Crime, Joint Taxation, and District of Columbia Committees. Prior to his election to Congress, he served in the U.S. Army from 1948-52, during which time he fought in the Korean War and was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. He earned a bachelor’s degree from New York University and a law degree from St. John’s University School of Law. In 2007 he published a memoir entitled And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress.
Louis Stokes (February 23, 1925 – August 18, 2015)
Louis Stokes served as the first black American to represent Ohio, serving from 1969 to 1999 (91st-105th Congresses). Before his election the U.S. House of Representatives, Stokes practiced law and participated in three cases in the United States Supreme Court, including a 1967 case requiring Ohio to adopt a redistricting plan that would reflect the presence of black voters in the state. This plan created a new district in Ohio, the 21st District, and Stokes won the new seat in the House in the 1969. While in office Stokes served on the Education and Labor, Internal Security, Appropriations, Budget, Standards of Official Conduct (committee chair, 97th-98th, 102nd Congresses), Select Intelligence, Select Assassinations (committee chair, 95th Congress) and Select to Investigate Arms Transactions to Iran Committees. Stokes also served as the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus during the 92nd and 93rd Congresses. Always an advocate in the area of health, Stokes also helped found and chair the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust while in office. When he left Congress in 1999, Stokes became the first African American in U.S. Congress to complete 30 years in office. Stokes served in the Army from 1943 to 1946 and received a Doctor of Law Degree from Cleveland Marshall Law School of the Cleveland State University.
Walter E. Fauntroy (February 6, 1933 – )
In 1970 Congress passed the District of Columbia Delegate Act, which provided Washington with representation in the House of Representatives for the first time since 1875. Under this act, Walter E. Fauntroy was elected in a special election as the first Delegate of the District of Columbia. He was the first black Delegate from the District of Columbia and served from 1971 to 1991 (92nd-101st Congresses). Though he could not vote on the House floor, Fauntroy could submit legislation to the House and vote on the committee level. Fauntroy served on the District of Columbia; Banking and Currency; Banking, Currency and Housing; Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs; Select Assassinations; and Select Narcotics Abuse and Control Committees while in office. Prior to his time in office, Fauntroy was a civil rights leader. He was appointed by Martin Luther King, Jr. to serve as director of the Washington Bureau of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He also served as D.C. Coordinator for such historic marches as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in 1965 and the Meredith Mississippi Freedom March in 1966. He was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as Vice President of the White House Conference on Civil Rights in 1966 and was a member of the D.C. City Council from 1967 to 1969. Fauntroy earned a bachelor of arts degree at Virginia Union University and a bachelor of divinity degree from Yale University Divinity School. After completing his degrees he went on to become the minister of the New Bethel Baptist Church, a position he held until he retired in 1991.