Congressional Black Caucus: 50 years as the conscience of Congress and the country

CBC’s work remains a sermon of action and a model of Black excellence

The 13 founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Standing, from left, Parren J. Mitchell, Charles B. Rangel, William L. Clay Sr., Ronald V. Dellums, George W. Collins, Louis Stokes, Ralph H. Metcalfe, John Conyers Jr. and Walter E. Fauntroy. Seated, from left, Robert N. C. Nix. Sr., Charles C. Diggs, Shirley Chisholm and Augustus F. Hawkins.  (Courtesy Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives)
The 13 founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Standing, from left, Parren J. Mitchell, Charles B. Rangel, William L. Clay Sr., Ronald V. Dellums, George W. Collins, Louis Stokes, Ralph H. Metcalfe, John Conyers Jr. and Walter E. Fauntroy. Seated, from left, Robert N. C. Nix. Sr., Charles C. Diggs, Shirley Chisholm and Augustus F. Hawkins. (Courtesy Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives)
Posted September 13, 2021 at 5:00am

American history is filled with the stories of everyday men and women, the heroes and sheroes who did not wear capes but did and continue to do extraordinary things. Black history is particularly blessed with these giants whose experiences have shaped the American experiment.

There are so many names and events — too many to list here — but they changed the course of history.

Among them were 13 members of Congress who, in 1971, defied gravity and demonstrated the true audacity of hope when they founded the Congressional Black Caucus.

They were Reps. Shirley A. Chisholm, D-N.Y., William L. Clay Sr., D-Mo., George W. Collins, D-Ill., John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., Ronald V. Dellums, D-Calif., Charles C. Diggs Jr., D-Mich., Augustus F. Hawkins, D-Calif., Ralph H. Metcalfe, D-Ill., Parren J. Mitchell, D-Md., Robert N. C. Nix Sr., D-Pa., Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., and Louis Stokes, D-Ohio, and Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, D-D.C.

“Troublemakers” all, they understood that well-behaved men and women rarely make history. So they decided to make some good trouble — necessary trouble — in the form of an entity that has become the conscience of the Congress — and the country.

Thanks to voters across America, the 117th Congress boasts a record number of members of the CBC, with history-makers and world changers in both the House and Senate including six committee chairs. Not only is that good for my soul, it’s good for the country.

Voters of all races, genders and classes sent those members to the hallowed halls of democracy, but the one thing they have in common is strong Black support. That tells me that the Black voter’s net worth is higher than ever before, creating a foundation for change that is both strong and deep.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, front row, left, and CBC Chair Joyce Beatty, front row, third from right, join Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others at a June bill enrollment ceremony for legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Of course, being there is one thing. Making policy changes that impact our community is quite another. That’s why I am so excited not just about the CBC’s size, but the opportunity it stands ready to embrace.

See, as we appreciate the progress we have made, we must remember that we still have lots of work to do.

Thank the Lord we’re not where we were, but we’re not yet where we need to be.

Unfortunately, lots of educated people who don’t look like me still don’t know nearly enough about my experience or the struggles that our community faces every single day. As the late, great James Baldwin famously said, “Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

Whether we’re talking about health care or housing, economic or environmental justice, voting rights, education, the wealth gap or the countless other issues we face, we have to remind people constantly that these challenges impact our communities differently … and not in a good way.

Right now:

Growing up, the preacher would often say that folks would rather “see” a sermon than hear one any day. My grandma would say it a different way: “May the work you do speak for you.”

As the Congressional Black Caucus celebrates its 50th anniversary, its work continues to be a sermon of action … and it continues to speak for all of us. Nowhere is this more evident than in last month’s landmark House vote to pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Of course, consequential legislation like this is hard to pass without a House whip who knows how to count votes and can get the job done. Luckily, that’s exactly what we have in South Carolina’s own Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American in the House.

Yes, there’s much more work to be done. But with Rep. Clyburn as majority whip and Rep. Joyce Beatty as our CBC leader, I’m convinced the caucus will mark this milestone in the historic fashion it deserves while continuing to live up to its founding principles and serve as the conscience of Congress and the nation.

It will continue to help make America’s greatness accessible and affordable for all and move us ever closer to becoming that perfect union.

Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, a CBS News political contributor, and a senior visiting fellow at Third Way, a think tank for modern center-left ideas. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.

The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation is holding its 50th annual legislative conference virtually this week through Sept. 17.