John Conyers dies at 90

Former U.S. Congressman John Conyers. (photo courtesy of United States Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

Former U.S. Rep. John Conyers, whose 15-year fight to pass legislation that would make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday, has died. He was 90.

The longtime Michigan Democrat represented what is now the state’s 13th Congressional District (which includes parts of western Detroit) for more than 50 years. Conyers resigned in 2017.

Conyers was born in Detroit in 1929. He was elected to Congress in 1965 and immediately became a forceful voice in the Civil Rights Movement, co-sponsoring the Voting Rights Act of that same year.

Conyers was the first African American to chair the powerful House Judiciary Committee and helped spearhead the 1994 Violence against Women Act.

Conyers and 12 other African American members of the House of Representatives founded the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971.

“We always knew where he stood on issues of equality and civil rights in the fight for the people,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who now represents Conyers’ district, tweeted.

“Sad to hear of the passing of former Congressman John Conyers,” Rev. Al Sharpton said. “He worked with us on many civil rights cases as chair of the House Judiciary Committee and helped lead the fight for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday.”

“Most of us from Michigan loved our congressman. He was idolized and was absolutely an icon. Not only was he an icon of the civil rights movement but also we looked to him for leadership. This is a massive loss. All of us in business, the clergy, the community, respected, admired and aspired to be like John Conyers,” said Hiram Jackson, president/CEO of Real Times Media.

“Congressman John Conyers decades ago held the first U.S. Congressional Hearings on Racially-Motivated Police Brutality; led the House Judiciary Hearings on Criminal Justice and Prison Reform in America; was co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC); and was a leading congressional advocate for the freedom of Angela Davis, the Wilmington 10, and all political prisoners in the United States,” said Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the president and/CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

“Conyers was a constitutional scholar and political visionary whose longstanding vision for freedom, justice and equality was unparalleled in the Congress of the United States. May God bless the freedom-fighting memory and legacy of John Conyers.”