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CBC celebrates 40 years, reclaiming its relevance

18th March 2011   ·   0 Comments

CBC celebrates 40 years, reclaiming its relevance



By Christina Downs


Contributing Writer



( – Forty years ago the Congres­sional Black Caucus was founded with just 14 members. Four decades later, 43 members – including two surviving founders – celebrate the anniversary by not only remembering th­e legacy, but reaffirming the relevance of the “conscience of the Con­gress.”


Fetes that have yet been conquered and issues that have yet to be resolved are testaments to the Caucus’ persistent relevance in today’s political environment, said CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.):


“Some still ask if the Congressional Black Caucus is needed. To that I simply say there is still more work to be done to make the promise of this great nation the practice. We look forward to continuing to serve our communities and the United States of America until that day comes.”


Cleaver continues, “Throughout our 40-year history, 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.”


The reach has expanded and the membership has grown, but the mission – “to strive to be a voice for the voiceless…the conscience of the Congress” – Cleaver says, has remained the same.


At a reception in the U.S. Capitol Building’s Statuary Hall March 31, the CBC celebrated the anniversary with members and distinguished guests, highlighting its two serving founders-the Honorable Charles Rangel and the Honorable John Conyers. For fellow founders, like former Ohio Congressman Louis Stokes, the growth of the caucus is gratifying.


“When I saw those 43 members stand and raise their hand, taking their oath in this House, I can’t tell you the pride I felt,” Stokes said.


The Caucus, he said, has come a long way since he and eight other members of the 91st Congress, including the late Shirley Chisholm of New York, the first Black female to serve in the House – swore in as the most number of Black lawmakers to ever serve in the House of Representatives in the history of the U.S.


Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi linked the CBC to the historic accomplishments of the Congress in the past. Fighting discrimination in the workplace, extending voting rights, fighting Apartheid in South Africa and honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a holiday were all aided with the leadership of the Caucus, she said.


Pelosi said the CBC still deserves its coined moniker as the “the conscience of the Congress.” But she touched on a future still unwritten, weighted with responsibilities of improving areas of American life such as education, health care and the economy in a Republican-dominated House of Representatives. There are currently no Black members in the Democratic-led U.S. Senate.


“Our work,” she said, “is yet to be done.”


More specifically, Cleaver has said repeatedly that the CBC plans to target unemployment as its “top priority,” along with a better K-12 education and a more affordable and accommodating health care plan.


The Caucus will also remain committed to increasing the numbers of Black lawmakers in all levels of the legislature, offering internships with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and in members’ local offices.


Civil Rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), said he saw a strong success rate for those young people who worked in his Atlanta office, who then went on to be elected in their own state and local offices.


Lewis said he sees the 40th anniversary as a mark signaling one generation’s paved foundation for the “generation unborn.” Lewis concluded that the future members of this generation will be charged with “building on their own leadership to stand out and speak out.”

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