Meet the man who has been leading the call for reparations on Capitol Hill
By Doshon Farad
Often regarded as the “Dean of the Congressional Black Caucus” and recognized as the longest serving member of the House of Representatives, Congressman John Conyers Jr. has certainly made a name for himself during his five decades on Capitol Hill. He is perhaps best known as being one of the 13 founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Among reparations advocates, however, he is praised for being the writer of possibly one of the most significant bills in U.S. history—the 1989 H-R-40 or the Reparations Study Bill, a document examining the impact of slavery on African-Americans. Since that time, Conyers has been the voice of the reparations movement in Washington.
On the night of April 10 in New York City before a crowded room in the D.C. 1707 Union’s headquarters, a tribute was held by reparations activists honoring the longtime congressman. The program was among several events taking place as part of the Reparations Summit from April 9-11 in the Big Apple, which was organized by the Institute Of The Black World, headed by Dr. Ron Daniels.
It was attended by such dignitaries as the Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry; former pastor of President Barack Obama, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright; Nation of Islam International Representative Minister Akbar Muhammad; and the Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Sir Hillary Beckles, among many other distinguished guests.
During the very exciting evening, the night was filled with the presentation of several proclamations to Mr. Conyers for his decades of public service. While the program was being emceed by XM host Mark Thompson, attendees were privileged to hear presentations and musical selections from friends and admirers of Conyers—many of whom were also reparations advocates themselves and some from different parts of the world.
One such person who stood out in particular was economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux. During her heartfelt presentation, she gave many reasons for her admiration of Mr. Conyers. “There’s no one like John Conyers… John Conyers does not follow the rules. He ain’t ‘scurred,’ and he don’t care,” she said as chuckles were heard from the audience.
While mentioning that he introduced other legislation besides the reparations bill—including two bills to preserve Jazz history and ban religious intolerance—Malveaux reminded the audience that the congressman was much bigger than his reparations legislation. “So we know him all for HR 40 and we love him for the reparations bill. But let’s not define John Conyers by reparations,” she said, reminding everyone that he had been apart of other significant historical events, including serving on the committee to impeach President Richard Nixon.
Keynoting the event was actor and activist Danny Glover. While addressing the very crowded room, Glover used this time to honor Conyers. “When many artists were against apartheid in 1987 and 1988, John Conyers was right there along with so many people in this audience,” he said with admiration. “This summit amounts to helping us in the journey to fully reclaim and live a historic human legacy.”
Like all of the speakers who preceded him, Glover also mentioned the congressman’s history in social justice causes and the reparations movement. “John Conyers is a public political servant who has consistently responded to the public’s social activist citizens and many reparation leaders who are present at this summit,” Glover added. “His HR-40 commission is to study reparations to African-Americans. This has been reintroduced since 1989.”
He mentioned that “The Black world in the 21st century is to be applauded for framing John Conyers’ decade for reparations, which focuses and amplifies major global policy and development projects, while Africans and Afrodescendants all over the world can and should collaborate to advance in the United Nations decade of the African diaspora.”
When it was his turn to address the gathering, Congressman Conyers expressed heartfelt appreciation to the many people who showed up. “I have been touched in a new way that has never happened to me before,” he began.
He credited Martin Luther King Jr. as his inspiration in committing to public service. “Martin Luther King Jr. has influenced my philosophy and conduct in legislative action more than any human being that I have ever met,” he told listeners. “That’s why I introduced the bill making King’s birthday a federal holiday”.
He admonished his audience to keep up the fight for equality. “I came here to merely thank you and rededicate ourselves to the challenges that we face. Inequality is growing and getting worse. We can rededicate ourselves and move this country much more quickly than it is moving.”