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Congressional Black Caucus Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Ofield Dukes | 7/13/2011, 10:12 a.m.
Thirteen members of the Congressional Black Caucus were the original founders of the organization in l971. The CBC has now grown to 42 members as it celebrates 40 years of service. The 13 founding members in the photo are (front row, from left) are Rep. Robert N.C. Nix, of Pennsylvania; founding CBC Chairman Rep. Charles C. Diggs, Jr., of Michigan, Rep. Shirley Chisholm, of New York, and Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins, of California. Standing are (from left to right) are Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, of Maryland, Rep. Charles B. Rangel, of New York, Rep. William L. Clay, of Missouri, Rep. Ronald v. Dellums, of California, Rep. George W. Collins, of Illinois, Rep. Louis Stokes, of Ohio, Rep. Ralph H. Metcalfe, of Illinois, Rep. John Conyers, Jr., of Michigan, and Rep. Walter Fauntroy, Nonvoting Delegate of the District of Columbia. / Courtesy photo

Washington, DC - This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).The contributions of CBC members in ushering a new era of black political empowerment are enormous. Unfortunately, these history-making legislative accomplishments of Black members of the U.S. Congress are not well known by their constituents and the new generation of young Black Americans as they should be.

I had the privileged of assisting in organizing and coordinating public relations for the first CBC dinner, held on June 18, 1971.Rep. Charles Diggs Jr., of Detroit, as the senior Black member of Congress, began a deliberate process of organizing the CBC.Having a prior friendship with Rep. Diggs, a Democratwho was a popular Detroit funeral home director, I was aware of his concern that President Richard Milhous Nixon might try to dismantle the historic civil rights legislation and Great Society programs passed under the courageous leadership of President Lyndon Baines Jonson. Diggs also took umbrage that President Nixon refused to meet with the 13 Blacks that were in theCongress at that time.

Ms. Carolyn P. DuBose, a former press secretary to Diggs, described in her well-researched book, "The Untold Story of Charles Diggs," how Diggs beganorganizing the CBC by establishing a Democratic Select Committee in l969. She quoted Diggs as saying: "They did not call me. I am the one who called them. I am the guy that called the meetings."

In addition to aclimate of White House hostility,within the Civil Rights Movement, there emerged a militant Black power movement led by Stokely Carmichael and H. Rapp Brown. Theyboth advocated meeting white -with-Black violence, contrary to the non-violent approach of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.Therewas also fear and anxiety in the white community in linking such a radical effort by Black members in the U.S. Congress with the Black power movement.

I was in the second year of operating my public relations firm out of the National Press building when Diggs called me out of great concern for white and even Black perceptions associating the newly formed Congressional Black Caucus with the Black power movement.

Diggs and I discussed a strategy of my firm convening a press conference at the National Press Club to clarify the objectives of the CBC. At the press conference, CBC members Reps. Louis Stokes and Williams Clay eloquently explained the political objectives of the Black Caucus and the planned first dinner that June.

In my firm's handling the public relations for the first dinner, there was concern about people coming to the nation's capital paying as much as $100 to attend a dinner. That was quite a sum of money at that time. But at the dinner, there was an overwhelming crowd. The hotel ballroom had a capacity of2,400 with 10 persons at 24 tables. However,there were 2,800 excited people squeezed into the ballroom, a standing room only crowd.

The dinner itself, was a huge success, with entertainment by singers Nancy Wilson and Billy Eckstein, humor by Dick Gregory and Bill Cosby, and an electrifying speech by actor/orator Ossie Davis.Davis told the audience that "It's not the man; it's the plan; it's not the rap; It's the map.Davis went on to say, "At the time when Dr. King was assassinated in l968, he was in the process of organizing his forces and calling upon his people to come one more time to Washington, D.C. And I have a feeling that had he come that time he would not have said, 'I have a dream.' He would have said, 'I have a plan." And I feel that plan might have made a difference

Davis' profound remarks that inspired the founding 13 members of the CBC and the thousands who attended that first dinner 40 years ago are as relevant today. And so is the work of the CBC.