U.S. Rep. John Conyers pushed for national King holiday along with reparations for slavery.

In this Nov. 1, 2014 photo, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., speaks at Wayne State University in Detroit.


Congressman John Conyers, a civil rights icon who during five decades in Congress co-founded the National Black Caucus and pushed to establish a national holiday to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., died on Oct. 27 of natural causes. He was 90 years old. 

His passing comes after a long and illustrious career that spanned more than 50 years and 27 terms in office. 

Conyers’ tenure was a remarkable 53-year-run during which the lawmaker, the son of a well-known labor lawyer in Detroit, compiled a near-record legacy of civil rights activism, longevity and advocacy for the poor and underprivileged. 

Son of Detroit

He died with the sixth-longest tenure in congressional history. 

“For a long time he was Black America’s congressman,” said Sam Riddle, a longtime family friend and consultant to the Conyers family, who confirmed the death. “On the streets of Detroit, he’ll be mourned.” 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in a statement said he “was deeply saddened” by Conyers’ death. 

“From co-founding the Congressional Black Caucus to leading the fight in Congress to enshrine Martin Luther King’s birthday as a national holiday, John Conyers’ impact on our city and nation will never be forgotten,” Duggan said. 

Conyers was born in Detroit and graduated from Northwestern High School. After a tour of duty with the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Conyers returned home to earn bachelor’s and law degrees from Wayne State University. 

In Congress at 35 

His law practice and work in the auto plants in Detroit led him to the office of former U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, where he worked as a legislative assistant for three years.

But by 1964, at the age of 35, Conyers went after a seat of his own in Congress, winning the first of 27 general elections and serving portions of Detroit and some surrounding Wayne County suburbs for the next five decades.

He fought for issues of civil rights and social justice, including seeking reparations for the descendants of African-American slaves, modifying the mandatory sentences for those convicted of non-violent drug crimes, defending assaults on the Voting Rights Act, reforming laws that put juvenile offenders in prison for life and calling for investigations into police brutality of African-American men. 

Resigned in 2018 

And he was the key sponsor of the bill, introduced each session for 20 years, that designated the third Monday of January as a federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Conyers introduced the bill four days after King was assassinated in 1968, but it wasn’t signed into law until 1989. 

Conyers’ long career ended in 2018 with a sudden resignation amid claims of sexual harassment and verbal abuse of employees and misuse of taxpayer funds to cover up those claims. 

A funeral service for Conyers will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit.

This story is compiled from a report from the Detroit Free Press and Tribune News service.


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