Congressional Black Caucus

views updated May 14 2018

Congressional Black Caucus

The Congressional Black Caucus was a product of the growth in black political power in the 1960s and 1970s. The creation of an institutional base for black Americans within the U.S. Congress had been encouraged by the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1969 Rep. Charles Diggs (D-Mich.) formed the Democratic Select Committee (DSC), the precursor of the Congressional Black Caucus, as a means by which the nine black members of the House of Representatives could address their common political concerns. Later that year Diggs and his colleagues played a role in defeating the nomination of Clement Haynesworth to the U.S. Supreme Court, and they investigated the killings of Black Panther Party members in Chicago. They boycotted President Richard Nixon's 1970 State of the Union address and pressured Nixon into meeting with the DSC concerning civil rights, antidrug legislation, welfare reform, and Vietnam.

On June 18, 1971, at its first annual dinner in Washington, D.C., the group was formally organized as the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), and Diggs became its first chairman. In March 1972 the CBC helped sponsor the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana, but distanced itself from the convention because of it was dominated by militant activist groups. In June of that year, in order to make the 1972 Democratic National Convention more attentive to black concerns, the CBC drafted the Black Declaration of Independence and the Black Bill of Rights. The Black Declaration of Independence demanded that the Democratic Party and its nominee commit themselves to full racial equality. The Black Bill of Rights called for, among other items, a full-employment program, a guaranteed-annual-income system, an end to American military involvement in Vietnam and all African countries, and a setting aside of 15 percent of all government contracts for the use of black businesses. However, the CBC failed to win the official support of the Democratic Party or its nominee, George McGovern, for these demands.

In 1973 Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) succeeded Diggs as caucus chairman. Stokes worked to get individual CBC members greater seniority and more powerful committee chairs in Congress. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) became the CBC chair in 1974, serving until 1976. Over the next twenty years, Rangel became one of the leading congressional authorities on urban housing and narcotics control. During that same period, the CBC extended its influence both within and outside of Congress. CBC members became chairs of seven out of twenty-seven congressional committees. It developed nationwide networks of black voters and business leaders and "brain trust" networks addressing education, health, the justice system, and foreign affairs. In 1976 it established the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which conducts and funds studies relating congressional politics to the concerns of the black community. In 1977 the CBC established TransAfrica, headed by Randall Robinson, which became the major lobbying body in Washington on behalf of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and of other African policy issues. The CBC was also involved in the successful efforts to pass the 1977 Full Employment Act, the 1982 Martin Luther King Holiday legislation, and the 1986 sanctions against South Africa.

The growth of black political power has expanded the size of the CBC. In 1992 an unprecedented forty African Americans were elected to Congress. This increase in size has tested and transformed the CBC in other ways as well. In 1993 Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.) became the first black senator in fourteen years and one of ten black women in Congress. In 1990 Gary Franks (R-Conn.) became the first black Republican elected to the House of Representatives since 1932. A conservative Republican, Franks has been at odds with the policies of the CBC and has attacked it for its liberal slant and allegiance to the Democratic Party.

There has been a growing ideological diversity within the CBC, its chairs ranging from such centrists as Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Edolphus "Ed" Towns (D-N.Y.) to such left-liberals as Ron Dellums (D-Calif.). In 1993 Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) became chair and has been active in publicizing the activities of the CBC. He has also been its most controversial chair. In 1993 he advocated the formation of a "sacred covenant" between the CBC and the Nation of Islam with its leader, Louis Farrakhan. The other members of the CBC subsequently renounced this covenant, and Mfume eventually followed the rest of the Black Caucus in doing so.

Although controversial, Mfume helped to make the CBC more aggressive in influencing domestic and foreign policy. When the House of Representatives, without consulting the CBC, moved to give President Bill Clinton the line-item veto (a tool that governors had used in the past to keep civil rights measures out of legislative bills), Mfume led the CBC in blocking the effort. Mfume also helped change President Clinton's policy toward Haiti. His pressure persuaded Clinton to extend more aid to Haitian refugees, place stronger sanctions on Haiti's military government, and consider returning Haiti's democratic government to power by force.

The Congressional Black Caucus has become one of the most influential voting blocks within Congress. While it has been divided on certain issues, such as the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), on many other issues, such as health care, welfare reform, and crime, the CBC has emerged as a shrewd and pragmatic advocate for African-American interests.

In 2004 members of the CBC, in conjunction with Africa Action, spearheaded a petition urging the United States to take direct action to put an end to the genocide in Darfur, a region in western Sudan. Many thousands around the country signed the petition.

See also Anti-Apartheid Movement; Black Panther Party for Self-Defense; Dellums, Ron; Diggs, Charles, Jr.; Farrakhan, Louis; Nation of Islam; Rangel, Charles Bernard; Voting Rights Act of 1965


Barnet, Marguerite Ross. "The Congressional Black Caucus." In Congress Against the President: Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science, edited by Harvey C. Mansfield. New York: Academy of Political Science, 1975.

Clay, William L. Just Permanent Interests: Black Americans in Congress, 18701991. New York: Amistad Press, 1992.

Ruffin, David C., and Frank Dexter Brown. "Clout on Capitol Hill." Black Enterprise 14 (October 1984): 97104.

durahn taylor (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

Black Caucus, Congressional

views updated May 21 2018


BLACK CAUCUS, CONGRESSIONAL (CBC), was formed in 1971 by African American members of the U.S. House of Representatives, with the specific aim of challenging President Richard Nixon's conservative civil rights and social welfare policies. Dominated through 2002 by liberal Democrats from inner-city districts, the CBC annually issued an "alternative budget" that called for increased domestic spending and military cuts. The Caucus lobbied for aid to Africa, sanctions against South Africa under its apartheid regime, as well as expansion of economic opportunities for African Americans. The CBC formed a nonprofit foundation in 1976 to carry out public policy research as well to hold conferences on issues related to the cause of black equality. In the early 2000s, the CBC was criticized for its lack of ideological diversity as well as its inability to work closely with moderate Democrats.


Singh, Robert. The Congressional Black Caucus: Racial Politics in the U.S. Congress. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1988.

Richard M.Flanagan

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Congressional Black Caucus

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