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John Conyers (1929–2019), longest-serving African American member of Congress in U.S. history

by Legacy Staff

John Conyers was the longest-serving African American member of Congress in U.S. history. The former Democratic U.S. Representative from Michigan was a member of Congress from 1965 to 2017. During that time, he gained a reputation as a champion of civil rights and was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus. He sponsored a bill to establish Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday. 

He held many prestigious positions during his Congressional tenure, including Chairman of the House Judicial Committee and Chairman of the House Oversight Committee. He was also the Dean of the U.S. House of Representatives 2015–2017, a title given to the longest continuously serving member of the House.

Conyers was one of the most liberal members of Congress and pushed forward legislation addressing voting rights, domestic violence, and hate crimes. He also championed progressive causes like single-payer health care, prison reform, and reparations for slavery.


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Died: Sunday, October 27, 2019 (Who else died on October 27?)

Details of death: Died in Detroit at the age of 90.

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The end of his political career: Conyers resigned from Congress following allegations of sexual harassment of female staffers. He denied the claims but was pressured by Congressional leaders from both parties to step down.

Notable quote: “It took 15 years and it was finally signed into law… Dr. King has been a person to have shaped my political ideology more than any other one person that I’ve ever met, and I’ve had the honor of meeting many national and international leaders,” he told C-SPAN in an oral history interview about his long effort to get Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday observed as a federal holiday. 

What people said about him: “In many districts around the country, Black voters did not feel represented by their leaders, so they would reach out to African American congressmen like Conyers.” —Michael Fauntroy, who interned for Conyers in the 1980s and is now a professor of political science at Howard University, told the Washington Post

Full obituary: The Detroit News

Related lives:

  • Elijah Cummings (1951–2019), Democratic U.S. Representative from Maryland 
  • John Dingell (1926–2019), longest-serving Congressman in U.S. history 
  • Birch Bayh (1928–2019), “the father of Title IX” 

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