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, Ronald Dellums and Augustus Hawkins. 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.

This Day in History: James Baldwin

This post draws on an essay about Baldwin’s life and achievements by Alan Gevinson of the Library’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center. James Baldwin was born 93 years ago today, on August 2, 1924, in New York City. His many novels include his first, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” (1953), considered an American classic. He […]

Inquiring Minds: African-American Soldiers in World War I

The following is an article from the March/April 2017 issue of LCM, the Library of Congress Magazine, in which Adriane Lentz-Smith discusses her research at the Library of Congress into the experiences of African-American soldiers in World War I. Lentz-Smith is an associate professor at Duke University, author of “Freedom Struggles: African-Americans and World War […]

Inquiring Minds: Author Tells Story of Black Elite Through Library’s Daniel Murray

Daniel Murray, a pioneer in the black history movement, worked at the Library of Congress for 52 years, from 1871 to 1922. He began as special assistant to Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford, later serving as a librarian and a bibliographer of works by African-Americans. In “The Original Black Elite: Daniel Murray and the […]

World War I: The Man Who Killed Jim Crow

(The following is a guest post from Ryan Reft, modern U.S. historian in the Manuscript Division.) “No son has ever left home whose family had greater pride in him than we have in you,” wrote prominent Washington D.C. lawyer and African American civic leader William LePre Houston to his son, Charles Hamilton Houston in September […]

Pic of the Week: Ask Us Anything on Rosa Parks

Library experts involved in making the papers of Rosa Parks available online answered questions in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session on Tuesday. During the Reddit AMA, experts from the Library of Congress Manuscripts Division, the Prints and Photographs Division and Educational Outreach took questions about Rosa Parks and about how the Library cataloged, preserved, digitized, and […]

Rosa Parks Collection Now Online

The Rosa Parks Collection at the Library of Congress has been digitized and is now online. The collection, which contains approximately 7,500 manuscripts and 2,500 photographs, is on loan to the Library for 10 years from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. The Library received the materials in late 2014, formally opened them to researchers in […]

Civil Rights Act Exhibition Features Historical Documentary Footage

Considered the most significant piece of civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It banned discrimination in public accommodations, such as hotels, restaurants, theaters and retail stores. It outlawed segregation in public education. It banned discrimination in employment, and it […]

Library Launches Portal For Civil Rights History Project

(The following is a story written by my colleague, Mark Hartsell, editor of The Gazette, the Library of Congress staff newsletter.) Simeon Wright still recalls the terror of the night they came and took his cousin away. “I woke up and saw these two white men standing at the foot of my bed,” Wright said. […]

The Power of One: Roy Wilkins and the Civil Rights Movement

(The following is a story written by Mark Hartsell, editor of the Library’s staff newsletter, The Gazette, for the May-June 2014 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine. The Library exhibition, “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Long Struggle for Freedom,” opens June 19 in the Thomas Jefferson Building.) Civil Rights activist Roy Wilkins […]