John James Conyers is the epitome of “Black Power” — and an excellent example of Black power gone wrong.
The longest-serving current member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Conyers is an undisputed hero of the civil rights movement, a legislator of uncommon influence and power. But “The Godfather” is an aging icon that has stayed at the ball too long.
A Detroit Free Press editorial called for Conyers’ registration and contended his legacy will be marred forever by accusations that he made unwanted sexual advances toward female staffers. In addition, New York Rep. Gregory Meeks has urged Conyers to step down. Conyers’ office downplays payments as “severance,” but the newspaper likened his acts as “paying hush money.”
Surely it’s time the Detroit congressman departs. The young lion we knew and acclaimed has turned into “a paper tiger” right before our eyes.
Conyers came to the fore in the ’60s, championing civil rights and Black equity. He co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969 and established a reputation as an advocate for Blacks. Now it’s time Conyers moved on, if not for the ethics violations he’s facing, but under the Robert Mugabe Rule of “been there too damn long.”
In 1971 Conyers was one of the 13 founders of the Congressional Black Caucus. He achieved notoriety in 1974 as a member of the House Judiciary Committee in 1974. He introduced the legislation in 1983 that created the Dr. Martin Luther King national holiday. Conyers continues to serve in Congress and is that body’s most senior representative, currently chairing the House Judiciary Committee.
And Conyers is still well-liked by most Blacks.
“John Conyers is America’s congressman, because he’s worked courageously to help pass laws that guarantee civil rights, fairness in labor relations and government accountability,” said Rev. Dr. Jim Holley in 2005 at Detroit’s Historic Little Rock Baptist Church.
Conyers, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Detroit in 1989 and 19933, has a passion for politics. During his Congressional tenure, Conyers has helped Detroit receive hundreds of millions of dollars; funds for public housing. He also helped create Empowerment Zones. And he came onto the issue of reparations due to Detroit realtor Raymond Jenkins’ persistence in pursuing ways to address our nation’s epic wrong.
But Conyers’ sponsorship of reparations for slavery has been either a farce or tragedy of incompetence.
“Slavery is a blemish on this nation’s history, and until it is formally addressed, our country’s story will remain marked by this blight,” is what Conyers has been telling the nation’s activists, legal experts, scholars, politicos and community leadership for almost 40 years. But most Blacks have long forgotten H.R. 40 legislation.
If Conyers truly had been about correcting the ills of slavery, it could have yielded descendants of slaves between $6 and $14 trillion. However, his Congressional agenda has been more symbolism than substance.
William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via Busxchng@his.com.