John James Conyers, Jr. (May 16, 1929 – October 27, 2019) was an American politician of the Democratic Party who served as a U.S. representative from Michigan from 1965 to 2017. The districts he represented always included part of western Detroit. During his final three terms, his district included many of Detroit's western suburbs, as well as a large portion of the Downriver area.
Conyers served more than fifty years in Congress, becoming the sixth-longest serving member of Congress in U.S. history; he was the longest-serving African American member of Congress. Conyers was the Dean of the House of Representatives from 2015 to 2017, by virtue of him being the longest-serving member of Congress at the time. By the end of his last term, he was the last remaining member of Congress who had served since the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.
- My bill does four things:
- It acknowledges the fundamental injustice and inhumanity of slavery
- It establishes a commission to study slavery, its subsequent racial and economic discrimination against freed slaves;
- It studies the impact of those forces on today's living African Americans; and
- The commission would then make recommendations to Congress on appropriate remedies to redress the harm inflicted on living African Americans.
- In January of 1989, I first introduced the bill H.R. 40, Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. I have re-introduced HR 40 every Congress since 1989, and will continue to do so until it's passed into law... One of the biggest challenges in discussing the issue of reparations in a political context is deciding how to have a national discussion without allowing the issue to polarize our party or our nation. The approach that I have advocated for over a decade has been for the federal government to undertake an official study of the impact of slavery on the social, political and economic life of our nation.
- Over 4 million Africans and their descendants were enslaved in the United States and its colonies from 1619 to 1865, and as a result, the United States was able to begin its grand place as the most prosperous country in the free world... It is un-controverted that African slaves were not compensated for their labor. More unclear however, is what the effects and remnants of this relationship have had on African-Americans and our nation from the time of emancipation through today...
- I chose the number of the bill, 40, as a symbol of the forty acres and a mule that the United States initially promised freed slaves. This unfulfilled promise and the serious devastation that slavery had on African-American lives has never been officially recognized by the United States Government.
- It is a fact that slavery flourished in the United States and constituted an immoral and inhumane deprivation of African slaves' lives, liberty and cultural heritage. As a result, millions of African Americans today continue to suffer great injustices. But reparation is a national and a global issue, which should be addressed in America and in the world. It is not limited to Black Americans in the US but is an issue for the many countries and villages in Africa, which were pilfered, and the many countries, which participated in the institution of slavery..the concept of reparations is not a foreign idea to either the U.S. government or governments throughout the world.
- Though there is historical cognition for reparations and it is a term that is fairly well known in the international body politic, the question of reparations for African Americans remains unresolved. And so, just as we've discussed the Holocaust and Japanese internment camps, and to some extent the devastation that the colonists inflicted upon the Indians, we must talk about slavery and its continued effects... Last year the Democratic Party included this issue in the platform it asks that country engage in a discussion at the federal legislative level would send an important signal to the African American community and other people of goodwill.
- Many people don’t remember how violent and dangerous it was in the South at that time. This bill was the culmination of a long list of incidents going on all over America, particularly in the South... Many people, if not most people in the country, were tired of and embarrassed by the violence that accompanied resistance to ending segregation. ... There were two schools of thought in American politics during that time. There were those who were not willing to throw in the towel and agree that we were coming into a new era. The Southern senators—who were then Democrats—were going to resist to the bitter end bringing about any kind of social equality, and they meant it... This [division] wasn’t over because we passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These were very turbulent times... D.C. itself was still in the process of fully desegregating. It was very clear to a lot of people that this was something that had to change... couldn’t go on any longer. But it also meant that there were a large number of people that weren’t for the change.
- It’s become clear that this struggle isn’t over. Much of the violence is gone, which provoked and embarrassed so many people, but we’re still trying to make sure that we aren’t losing rights. Traditional civil rights groups [like] the NAACP [and] the ACLU are making sure we continue this and we don’t let the Act be treated as a bit of unsavory history in that past.
- We’re calling for an end to this metadata of phone numbers of everybody... without any regard for a criminal investigation going on or anything else... I think that he [Edward Snowden] was overzealous... He has clearly broken some laws, for which they—now the government wants to prosecute him for. But inadvertently, he has revealed to us a whole area of secrecy and activity with telephone collections and other things that are now being revealed that would not have been revealed otherwise... of course it [NSA’s bulk collection of metadata] would be illegal.
- We welcome everyone here to the hearing. In the Texas v. Johnson case in 1989, the Supreme Court set forth one of the fundamental principles of our democracy. That is, that if there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. That was Justice William Brennan.
- Today the Committee will consider the WikiLeaks matter. The case is complicated, obviously. It involves possible questions of national security, and no doubt important subjects of international relations, and war and peace. But fundamentally, the Brennan observation should be instructive.
- As an initial matter, there is no doubt that WikiLeaks is in an unpopular position right now. Many feel their publication was offensive. But unpopularity is not a crime, and publishing offensive information isn't either. And the repeated calls from Members of Congress, the government, journalists, and other experts crying out for criminal prosecutions or other extreme measures cause me some consternation.
- Indeed, when everyone in this town is joined together calling for someone's head, it is a pretty sure sign that we might want to slow down and take a closer look... I find myself agreeing with those who think Assange is being unduly vilified. I certainly do not support or like his disclosure of secrets... But as all the handwringing over the 1917 Espionage Act shows, it is not obvious what law he has violated.
- Our country was founded on the belief that speech is sacrosanct, and that the answer to bad speech is not censorship or prosecution, but more speech. And so whatever one thinks about this controversy, it is clear that prosecuting WikiLeaks would raise the most fundamental questions about freedom of speech about who is a journalist and about what the public can know about the actions of their own government.
- Indeed, while there's agreement that sometimes secrecy is necessary, the real problem today is not too little secrecy, but too much secrecy... Furthermore, we are too quick to accept government claims that risk the national security...
- Well, it’s never been clear to me that, through war, we can bring peace, especially when we’re the invaders. We’re the ones using drones. We’re causing civilian deaths to many people who would otherwise be more friendly to us. We’re creating the terrorists. This is not being lost on most of the people in the country now. Our constituents now want us out of both Afghanistan and Iraq. And what we’re doing now is forming a way to discuss this with our president in an effort to make him more comfortable with doing what most people want him to do and what we thought he was going to do in the first place — namely is to clearly disengage from the military, increase the diplomatic activity, and bring in some help in terms of food supplies, aid, and positive buildup of these countries, and to make as many friends as we can over there, rather than this ninth year of what has now become a debacle in every respect.
- It’s a combination of things that are happening now, Amy, that make it clear to more and more members of Congress that you can’t keep a straight face on all of this incredible indebtedness, talk about all the money that we’ve shoveled out to Wall Street, and credit isn’t loosening up, unemployment is still at all-time highs. We’re projected in Detroit to have more foreclosures on homes than last year. And so, we’ve got to turn with — especially with all the shouts about being fiscally conservative, the way to climb out of this is to reduce the obligations of our government. Here we are in hundreds of billions of dollars of war debt, and our president is saying we now have to have an emergency funding, which is merely another way of saying we’re going to specially fund the Afghanistan surge. It makes no sense. And I think militarily, it is not logical. And, of course, morally, I can’t remember anything like this since Korea and Vietnam...
- I’m not here to tell you my troubles with the administration or — I’m happy to be on the program, because I’ve already read 96 percent of the book, and we’re investigating, but for me to start telling you what might be available and what the problems are and what the challenges are going to be, I think, is very unprofessional in an investigation of this seriousness... It’s under investigation and consideration right now. But the importance of this discussion today is critical not only to the committees — there are four committees, and how they relate to each other will come forward very shortly — but there is also the question of the media, the Fourth Estate, the press. This is now public information that, it seems to me, shouldn’t be great breaking news over a progressive news program, but this has to be investigated by the rest of the media, unless they consider this to be irrelevant or too late, or whatever reasons are, that they’re coerced or afraid themselves, too timid... I consider the relationship of the committees on the subject matter, the responsibility of the media, and the American people being brought into this discussion as the citizens, that in a representative democracy, that’s what all of us are supposed to be working on.
- After Ron Suskind Reveals Bush Admin Ordered Iraq-9/11 Fakery, House Judiciary Chair John Conyers Opens Congressional Probe, DemocracyNow! (14 August 2008)
Quotes about John Conyers
- Whereas John Conyers, Jr., over the course of his legislative career, was responsible for more than 100 bills, amendments, and resolutions being enacted, including 57 on which he was the overall lead sponsor, and an additional 56 that he managed or was the lead Democratic sponsor;...led many notable legislative efforts, including the Martin Luther King Holiday Act, reauthorizations of the Voting Rights Act, reauthorizations of the Violence Against Women Act, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Pattern and Practice Enforcement Act, the USA Freedom Act, the Alcoholic Beverage Labeling Act, the Fair Sentencing Act, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (commonly known as the Motor Voter Act), and the Innocence Protection Act;
- Whereas John Conyers, Jr., paid particular attention to advocating for the Detroit area... was found the most effective Democratic member of the House of Representatives in a 2013 joint study by the University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University; and
- Whereas John Conyers, Jr., is recognized as a champion of civil rights and civil liberties, receiving numerous honors, including the NAACP Spingarn Medal and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Hubert H. Humphrey Award: Now, therefore, be it That the House of Representatives—
(1)honors retired Representative John Conyers, Jr., on the occasion of his 90th birthday; and
(2)extends congratulations and best wishes from the House of Representatives to Representative Conyers in celebration of a distinguished legislative career.
- The idea to memorialize [Martin Luther] King's birth was raised the same year he died (1968), by Congressman John Conyers, Jr., a Michigan Democrat. It faced immediate resistance. The economic cost of a day off work was cited by some; a Republican committee said that "the establishment of a public holiday to honor a private citizen would be contrary to our country's long-standing tradition."
- The push to celebrate Martin Luther King with a national holiday became a political movement in itself... In 1982, [Stevie] Wonder, together with King's widow Coretta Scott King, presented Congress with the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history, with six million signatures supporting the national holiday. Conyers had continued to raise the bill at every Congress since 1968, and it eventually passed in a 338 to 90 vote in 1983. President Ronald Reagan finally signed off on the bill in November that year, despite having previously spoken out against the holiday.
- First elected to represent Detroit in 1965, Conyers is now the longest-serving African-American. For 50 years he has recognized the big picture and worked with activists inside and outside the halls of Congress to push for big systemic change, like ending illegal wars and achieving full employment and universal healthcare... At a January 7 tribute party co-hosted by 20 Washington, DC-based progressive groups, Conyers said, “Martin Luther King has shaped me in so many ways. Jobs, justice, and peace—it’s not hard to put a philosophy of that kind into political action. And the struggle is only beginning.” In one of his numerous successful political actions, Conyers introduced the first bill to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday...
Conyers has been equally bold on foreign policy issues. A Korean War veteran, Conyers became a prominent critic of the Vietnam War and later founded the Out of Afghanistan and Out of Iraq caucuses in Congress, working hand in hand with the peace movement. For social change activists, Conyers has been our progressive pole in Congress. On health care, he laid out the strong position on a single payer system that would deliver quality health care for everyone, and he... helped move the overall national conversation in a much more progressive direction.
- If you check out the list of “key issues” on his web site, you’ll find a topic you’re unlikely to find on any other congressional web site: reparations. In every session since 1989 he has introduced a bill, HR 40, which would create a commission to study and recommend remedies for the impacts of slavery on today’s African-Americans. Civil rights icon Julian Bond paid tribute to Conyers at the Washington celebration, pointing out that “The number of people who support reparations today is small, but it was larger this year than last year and it will be larger next year than this year. And John Conyers will be around long enough to be there when they sign it into law.” Activist and actor Danny Glover also chimed in, pointing out that the call for reparations is taking off in Brazil and other former slave-holding nations around the world. “John Conyers is always on the right side of history,” Glover said.
- I remember Congressman Conyers voting against the PATRIOT Act, voting against the Iraq War when it was unpopular to. That tremendous amount of courage that comes with that kind of leadership, I mean, that’s what we need. And I can tell you, no matter what people say about him, he shaped a lot of who I am. I remember after 9/11 him coming to the American Muslim community and the Arab community and having what we called a public forum, standing side by side with us, not being afraid to say, “They are not at fault, and that this is us reacting to the fear tactics that are out there, and that I’m going to stand by civil rights and equality, no matter what.” And, to me, again, that has shaped my lens.
- Listening to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) speak is like having a real life history lesson. Mr. Conyers is the second-longest serving member of Congress, having been in office for nearly 50 years. After participating in the March on Washington in 1963, he entered Congress in the middle of the fight for civil rights and, as a leading civil rights activist himself, has played a key role in passing, protecting and expanding the our nation’s most vital civil rights laws.
Today is the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This landmark law made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, and gender. It began to provide equal opportunities in areas like employment, voting, public accommodations, and education. Many know it better as the law that integrated lunch counters and created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to protect American workers from discriminatory workplace practices.
- Black Lives Matter
- H.R. 40 - Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
- Racism in the United States
- Reparations for slavery