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This Day In History: May 16th
Attorney, politician and founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, John Conyers Jr., spent an impressive 27 terms representing the people of Michigan. Congressman Conyers even became the first African-American Dean of the House, a distinction reserved for the member with the longest continuous service.
The Congressman was born on May 16, 1929, in Detroit, Michigan. After graduating college, Conyers served in the National Guard from 1948 to 1950 before joining the army. He also served in Korea on combat duty for a year. However, he was honorably discharged in 1954 and served three more years in the Army Reserves.
Conyers earned a bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University in 1957 and a law degree the following year. He got his political start during college while working with the Young Democrats and the local Democratic Party. In 1958, he became a legislative assistant to Michigan Representative John Dingell Jr. and held the role until 1961.
His political prowess increased and he co-founded the law firm of Conyers, Bell & Townsend during this time. By 1963, Conyers had worked his way into an appointment by former President John F. Kennedy to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law.
At 35 years old, Conyers made the decision to run for office in 1964, despite struggling to secure support from local Democratic leaders. He ran on a slogan of “Jobs, Justice, and Peace,” which was aimed at labor unions, city inequities and his opposition to the Vietnam War. Conyers defeated his opponent in the primaries by less than 100 votes and he won the general election.
Throughout his tenure in the House of Representatives, Conyers was able to play a role in sponsoring or co-sponsoring legislation such as the Martin Luther King Holiday Act, the National Voter Registration Act, the Racial Justice Act and the Police Accountability Act. He also examined matters of criminal justice reform by conducting hearings in different cities.
In addition to sponsoring legislation, Conyers also served on multiple committees. He was a member of the Judiciary Committee (1965–2017) and headed the subcommittee on Criminal Justice (1981–1989). He was also on the Government Operations Committee (1971–1995) and the Small Business Committee (1987–1995). In 1989, Conyers became chairman of the Government Operations Committee and served until 1995. From 2011 until his retirement in 2017, he was the Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member.
John Conyers Jr. died on October 27, 2019.