Trending: Congressional Black Caucus Takes Center Stage

A 1972 photograph of Congressional Black Caucus members including, from left, Shirley Chisholm, William Clay, Sr., Charles Diggs and Ronald Dellums. Photo by Warren K. Leffler.

This week, thousands of people from around the country will gather in the vast Washington, D.C., Convention Center to take part in a decades’ old tradition: the annual legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Foundation. From September 20 to 24, participants will hear from approximately 100 hundred speakers, including many members of Congress, who will challenge them to think creatively about public policy issues facing African-Americans and the global black community.

We know much about the CBC’s history, its impact on national politics and the triumphs and setbacks of its leaders thanks in part to a book researched and written at the Library of Congress by Rep. Major R. Owens (D-N.Y.). When he retired from Congress in 2007, he accepted an invitation from the Librarian of Congress to serve as a distinguished visiting scholar at the Library’s John W. Kluge Center. While he was here, he drafted “The Peacock Elite: A Case Study of the Congressional Black Caucus.”

Major Owens, seated, with Rep. Maxine Waters at a 2007 Kluge Center event focusing on Owens’ history of the CBC. Photo by George Clarkson.

Owens’ residency at the Library was perhaps a fitting conclusion to his career: he began his working life as a professional librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library in 1958. During his time there, he became active in politics and the civil rights movement. In 1974, he was elected to the New York state senate; in 1982, he won the seat in New York’s 11th congressional district vacated by founding CBC member Shirley Chisholm upon her retirement. Owens served in the House of Representatives for 24 years and was an active member of the CBC.

The CBC came together as a formal organization in 1971 in the 92nd Congress to serve as a voice for the African-American community and, as expressed in its original mission statement, to “promote the public welfare through legislation designed to meet the needs of millions of neglected citizens.”

In domestic policy, the CBC has supported efforts to improve educational quality and access to education and health care, reduce unemployment, protect voting rights and ensure better housing and child care for poor and working-class citizens. In foreign policy, the CBC has highlighted international human rights and issues on which it believes U.S. policy may conflict with American values of liberty and equality.

Today, in the 115th Congress, the CBC has 49 members in the House of Representatives and the Senate, including Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), a founding CBC member who is serving his 26th consecutive term in the House.

The title of Major Owens’ book, “The Peacock Elite,” refers to elected officials, Shirley Chisholm among them, who have been skilled at using public display to achieve goals. His book analyzes the success of these individuals in helping to improve the lives of African-Americans as well as quieter behind-the-scenes efforts.

In October 2007, as a Kluge Center visiting scholar, Owens hosted a panel of U.S. representatives and political scientists to discuss the subject matter of his book. The panel included Rep. Maxine Waters (D- Calif.), a current CBC member; two founding CBC members, Ronald Dellums and Louis Stokes; and political scientists Ronald Walters, then at the University of Maryland, and Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University. Listen to the presentation here.

Inquiring Minds: Hunting for Treasure in the Manuscript Division

Ross Davies has been a regular in the Library’s Manuscript Division for about two decades now. He has worked with papers of Supreme Court justices, consulted collections on the federal courts and introduced his students to the Library—a “treasure hunt” he assigns requires them to find resources in the Manuscript Division and the Law Library. […]

Trending: An App to Answer Your Questions about the Constitution

This is a guest post by Margaret M. Wood, legal reference librarian in the Law Library. Two years ago, in honor of Constitution Day—celebrated annually on September 17—I wrote a post about the publication “Constitution of the United States: Analysis and Interpretation,” also referred to as the “Constitution Annotated.” Along with the U.S. Code, it […]

Pic of the Week: Introducing Tracy K. Smith, the 22nd Poet Laureate

  Tracy K. Smith took the stage in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium on Wednesday night, September 13, for her inaugural reading as the 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. She read from each of her published works, concluding with poems from her forthcoming collection, “Wade in the Water.” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden hosted the […]

Trending: Start the School Year with the Library of Congress

This is a guest post by Stephen Wesson of the Education Outreach Program. As educators return to the nation’s classrooms and school libraries, we are delighted to launch another year of teaching ideas and discovery at loc.gov/teachers and Teaching with the Library of Congress! The Library’s K–12 education program supports teachers and school librarians in […]

Poetry 180: New Poems Added to the Mix

Anne Holmes of the Library’s Poetry and Literature Center wrote this post, which first appeared on “From the Catbird Seat,” the center’s blog. Tracy K. Smith, the 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry at the Library, will give her inaugural reading in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium this evening, marking the beginning of her laureateship. Like her predecessors, Smith […]

The Art of Etching: Masterpieces by James McNeill Whistler

This is a guest post by Katherine Blood, curator of fine prints in the Prints and Photographs Division, and Linda Stiber Morenus, a longtime paper conservator and special assistant to the director of scholarly and educational programs. The post was first published on “Picture This,” the blog of the Prints and Photographs Division. Known for his […]

Inquiring Minds: Folklife Center Shines a Light on the Skiffle Craze

When Stephen Winick of the American Folklife Center learned about Billy Bragg’s 2016 album, “Shine a Light,” he quickly contacted the album’s publicist to invite the English singer-songwriter to speak at the Library. The reason: the album, recorded with American folksinger Joe Henry, includes several songs known to the world thanks to recordings in the […]

Watch Live in Support of Literacy

This is a guest post by Gayle Osterberg, director of the Library’s Office of Communications. On January 31, award-winning author and literacy advocate Stephen King helped the Library launch our annual call for nominations for the Library of Congress Literacy Awards honoring organizations working to promote literacy and reading in the United States and worldwide. […]