Congressional Black Caucus

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The Congressional Black Caucus emerged as a result of centuries of African Americans' determination and perseverance to obtain their freedom from enslavement and their right to enfranchisement. The United States was founded by people who sought to create a country ruled by a constitution rather than a king and who believed in the principle of freedom from governmental tyranny. However, the founding fathers continuously professed but rarely practiced the doctrine of freedom, liberty, and justice for all. These rights were largely absent from the lives of the majority of the population; when the constitution was ratified, only white property-owning men, 3% of the population, were granted the right to vote in state and federal elections. At that time, African Americans were enslaved. The Constitution neglected other groups and prevented nonproperty-owning white men, white women, Native Americans, free African Americans, and other racial groups from experiencing the power of voting for an elected official; it also neglected to abolish the institution of enslavement. Due to this reality, African Americans had to actively and continuously fight to obtain not only their freedom from enslavement but also their right of enfranchisement.
African American men fought bravely in the Civil War for both the Union and Confederate armies in the hope of obtaining their freedom and equal citizenship. However, both the Union and the Confederacy used African American soldiers in their political plan to control the United States, without any intention of granting them anything in return. In addition, on August 5, 1862, President Lincoln was quoted in the New York Times as having said that if he could unify the country without freeing Africans from enslavement, he would. Despite Lincoln's racism and reluctance to end the institution of slavery, on January 1, 1863, all slaves in states that were in rebellion against the Union were freed, and 2 years later, on December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified and enslavement was abolished.

The Legal Empowerment of Blacks

The Thirteenth Amendment was followed by more important constitutional legislation. On July 9, 1868, Congress ratified the Fourthteeth Amendment, which made all persons born in the United States nationalized citizens. This was followed in 1870 by the Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibited denying any citizen the right to vote and gave Congress the power to enforce this prohibition. After enslaved Africans obtained their freedom, they began during Reconstruction to realize their hopes of enfranchisement. Many African Americans sought and won political office, especially in locations where African Americans were the majority of the population. The first African American to become a senator in the United States was Reverend Rhoades Hiram Revels. Revels was born to free African American parents in Fayetteville, North Carolina on September 27, 1827. He was educated at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and he became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. After Jefferson Davis abandoned his position as a senator from Mississippi to become the president of the Confederate States of America, Revels replaced him and served as a senator from February 23, 1870 to March 3, 1871. While in office, Revels served on numerous committees, including the Education and Labor Committee and the Committee on the District of Columbia.
Unlike Revels, Joseph H. Rainey, the first African American in the House of Representatives, was born into enslavement in Georgetown, South Carolina on June 21, 1832. On December 12, 1870, Rainey was sworn into office, and he remained in the House of Representatives until March 3, 1879. Although both Revels and Rainey were the first African Americans to serve in the U.S. Congress, years of grandfather clauses, segregation, and racism prevented masses of African Americans from voting in the Southern states and from running for office. Despite this reality, African Americans continued to demand equal citizenship and the opportunity to participate in the democratic process. The history of African Americans' determination is the legacy that the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) embodies.
On January 2, 1969, a group of African American members of Congress united under the name the Democratic Select Committee. Those in attendance were Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and Shirley Chisholm of New York; Charles Diggs and John Conyers, Jr., of Detroit; Louis Stokes of Ohio; Bill Clay of Missouri; William Dawson of Chicago; Robert Nix of Philadelphia; and Augustus Hawkins of Los Angeles. This meeting was followed in 1971 by another meeting, which four more African American members of Congress attended: George Collins of Illinois; Parren Mitchell of Maryland; Charles Rangel of New York; and Walter E. Fautroy of the District of Columbia. After this meeting, on February 2, 1971, the Democratic Select Committee changed its name to the Congressional Black Caucus.

In Defense of the Defenseless

From its inception, the purpose of the Congressional Black Caucus was to create a place in the federal government where the issues that face African Americans and other marginal Americans could be heard and addressed by government. The Congressional Black Caucus was formed during a time when the gains made by African Americans and other marginalized Americans were being attacked by white conservatives in the federal government, under the leadership of the Republicans and former president Richard Nixon. During this period, white America grew intolerant of the civil rights movement and integration, and as a result, white mobs attacked and killed many African Americans and the federal and state governments failed to protect African Americans' civil rights. To combat this situation, the Congressional Black Caucus emerged to become a presence in Congress that served the African American population and aided in creating a more democratic America.
The Congressional Black Caucus assumed radical objectives that included every person in the United States being able to afford fair and equal justice under the law, every businessperson be able to have equal share of public funds, and every community in the United States able to have equal share in deciding how taxes are to be allocated. The CBC also opposed the unfair international policies that are seen in this era of globalization, as well as unfair political campaign fundraising in the state and federal government. In addition, the organization put together coalitions comprised of black congresspeople and other nonwhite elected officials. The CBC's efforts to create a unifying and separate caucus within the U.S. government have met with much discontent. However, despite the CBC's critics' accusation that the group engages in reverse discrimination and separatism, the caucus has continued to prosper and remain a force in Congress that is devoted to exposing, examining, and addressing the issues that African Americans confront in American society.
Today the Congressional Black Caucus is comprised of all the African American congresspeople and is revered as a voice to be reckoned with in Congress. The influence of the CBC is seen not only in Congress but also in the numerous programs the caucus has created to aid African Americans. In 1976 the CBC created the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. (CBCF), an institute whose purpose is to promote a coalition of members of the community of African Americans—legislators, businesses, community organizations—as well as of African Americans and organizations that serve people of color and labor unions, so as to foster positive change in the African American community. This foundation also creates forums where these constituencies can discuss their concerns and objectives for the future. CBCF programs, such as the Congressional Black Caucus Spouses (CBC Spouses), the Educational Scholarship Fund, the Fellowship Program, and internship programs, promote education and political involvement in the African American community. Finally, the CBCF recently created the With Ownership, Wealth (WOW) program, which employs education, counseling, and funding to help African Americans and other people of color buy, maintain, and keep their homes.

References

Keywords

  • Congressional Black Caucus
  • caucuses
  • African Americans
  • African Americans in Congress
  • African American communities
  • Americans
  • Thirteenth Amendment

Author(s)

Further Reading

  • Allen, Robert. (1969). Black Awakening in Capitalist America: An Analytic History. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. This work remains one of the best on the development of economic and political power in America.
  • Bositis, David A. (1994). The Congressional Black Caucus in the 103rd Congress. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. In this book, Bositis provides a comprehensive history of the formation of the Congressional Black Caucus and its founders.
  • Singh, Singh, Sinclair, Sinclair, and Niemi, Richard G. (Eds.). (1997). The Congressional Black Caucus: Racial Politics in the U.S. Congress. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. This text gives inclusive documentation of policies and politics of the Congressional Black Caucus.
  • Wolfenstein, Eugene. (1989). The Victims of Democracy: Malcolm X and the Black Revolution. London: Free Association. This book demonstrates how African Americans became victims of the idea of democracy, and how Malcolm X showed what a possible future could be in a society based on justice.
  • cbcfonline.org This is the official website of the Congressional Black Caucus. The site has links to the many programs that CBC developed, the history of CBC, as well as national news and historical facts concerning the African American community.