In Its 40 Years, Congressional Black Caucus has Seen Mission, Challenges Evolve

Krissah Thompson, Washington Post, March 31, 2011

Forty years ago, the purpose of a caucus to represent African Americans in Congress seemed clear to its founders: to eradicate racism.

The 13 legislators who formed the Congressional Black Caucus in March 1971 saw themselves as representatives of black people all over the country. Theirs was a role akin to those of civil rights activists. Only they had the bully pulpit of the country’s most powerful legislative body.

The current caucus members, who marked the anniversary of its founding this week, have a mission that is more diffuse, a role that is harder to define and power that has been fully absorbed into the nation’s political system.

For one, the caucus has 43 members from urban and rural districts. It includes one Republican. A handful of its members have been elected from majority-white districts. Eight have faced ethics investigations in the past three years. One of its members is the third-most powerful House Democrat, and a former caucus member sits in the White House.

“There are challenges today that we did not have then,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), who chairs the caucus and represents a district that is majority white. “We cannot at all times have all of the members in sync because of the differences we have in our constituencies. But most of the time when we vote our conscience, we end up voting in a bloc.”

{snip}

The tension with the White House is part of what the caucus sees as its historic role of holding presidents accountable to an agenda that advances African Americans. Still, it creates an awkward tension as the caucus continues to celebrate the ascension of a former member to the White House.

“There is no healthy relationship where two people do not disagree,” Cleaver said. “It has surprised me that journalists become candidates for cardiac arrest when they see or hear an African American disagreeing with an African American. We would become inauthentic if we did not have disagreements with this president.”

It was a political fight with a president that helped to forge the caucus’s reputation 40 years ago. In 1971, it was thought odd that 13 black congressmen, who held seats on none of the powerful committees in Congress, would band together. So when the caucus asked to meet with President Richard M. Nixon, he refused.

In turn, caucus members protested at his State of the Union speech by standing to walk out of the chamber, Conyers said. The caucus made headlines and eventually got Nixon to sit down with its members, which helped establish its credibility.

{snip}

The CBC, which was founded along with black affinity groups in many professions, has been a support system for its members. In recent years, CBC members have been intensely loyal and defensive of those in its ranks who have faced ethics charges. Rangel, who was censured on the House floor last year, was supported by all but one member of the caucus.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) is also drawing support from some caucus members as she faces a stalled investigation into whether she improperly worked to secure federal aid for a bank in which her husband was a large investor. Waters has said she plans to mount a vigorous defense.

In anniversary celebrations, the caucus will highlight legislative markers that include: getting set-asides for minority-owned businesses written into federal law, establishing a federal holiday in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and getting Congress to pass sanctions against South Africa during apartheid.

{snip}

Other strategies regularly employed by the CBC make noise but do not change policy, said Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University who has studied the caucus and black politics. Each year, the CBC writes an alternative budget — one that receives little attention on Capitol Hill. And its legislative conference is as notable for its social gatherings as for its political science panels.

“The criticism of the CBC is that its work is largely symbolic,” she said. “But we still need the caucus. We still need people to figure out what it takes to reduce the unemployment gap between blacks and whites and to reduce the wealth gap. They are a voice.”

Topics:

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.
  • Question Diversity

    Forty years ago, the purpose of a caucus to represent African Americans in Congress seemed clear to its founders: to eradicate racism. The 13 legislators who formed the Congressional Black Caucus in March 1971…

    By that time, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were already passed, and Nixon had already started the wheels in motion for affirmative action being essentially a matter of Federal law.

  • Non-African American

    The more obnoxious and typical they act, the better for us. Chances are increasing with each election that a real man will be in Congress during some flashpoint event, and he’ll call them out for their failure to promote civilization among “their people,” and the conventional wisdom will turn against the Diversity Privilege racket called Civil Rights.

    Not soon enough, but will be glorious to watch when it happens.

    “Of course I’m a racist, because you define racist to fit anything I say or do.”

  • q

    “CBC makes no apologies for advancing the racial interests of blacks.”

    Blacks push for blacks anywhere in the world, as well as black causes and interests to the exclusion of everything else. They care not one whit what happens to this country as a free nation, nor their non-black countrymen, and, on the contrary, would love to see it fall apart, because they have some naive, half-baked, moronic idea they will be able to gain more power, expecting that it will be rebuilt into another model of political correctness.

    Every day that passes seems to give another signal that we are headed toward a Brazilian-type society wherein there will be a sharp delineation between those in gated communities and rabble who rule the streets at night.

    The growing threat of severe inflation will give us a better view of the near future later this year as it continues to accelerate with an additional propulsion by another QE3 by the fed.

    We’re getting very close right now. At what point things are going to begin to get chaotic and form a better time line I’m not sure. The only thing I’m POSITIVE about is that unemployment is NOT DROPPING and we ARE NOT in a recovery.

    This CBC could well be fighting over battles that we will eventually come to learn are insignificant in the larger scheme of things. But what else could be expected? Blacks have proven so many times they don’t have the intellect to run a successful society/government it has become one of those basic truths everybody knows about, which needs no definitive explanation.

  • Tim in Indiana

    “We cannot at all times have all of the members in sync because of the differences we have in our constituencies. But most of the time when we vote our conscience, we end up voting in a bloc.”

    The problem is that the black “conscience” and the white “conscience” and the hispanic “conscience” are all different things.

    Cleaver said. “It has surprised me that journalists become candidates for cardiac arrest when they see or hear an African American disagreeing with an African American. We would become inauthentic if we did not have disagreements with this president.”

    Perhaps that’s because it happens so seldom. Isn’t it funny, too, how blacks are called “inauthentic” (and much worse) by other blacks if they fail to march in lockstep on certain issues? Epithets such as “Oreo” and “Uncle Tom” come to mind. Nice how you can have it both ways whenever it’s convenient, isn’t it?

    We still need people to figure out what it takes to reduce the unemployment gap between blacks and whites and to reduce the wealth gap. They are a voice.”

    The only way to do that will be to drag down the prosperity of whites, which I’m sure is already the CBC’s main priority. If you can’t have what the other guy has, then keep him from having it either.

  • Seek

    The members of the Congressional Black Caucus make no apologies for their activism. Fine. I don’t expect them to. What I do expect is that a few white members of Congress will summon the testosterone to form a Congressional White Caucus. We need a clear voice articulating our interests.

  • Seneca The Younger

    “Forty years ago, the purpose of a caucus to represent African Americans in Congress seemed clear to its founders: to eradicate racism.”

    That is still their goal. If you exterminate all whites in the U.S., it will eradicate the CBC’s version of racism.

    See? They’re still on track.

    “The criticism of the CBC is that its work is largely symbolic,” she said. “But we still need the caucus. We still need people to figure out what it takes to reduce the unemployment gap between blacks and whites and to reduce the wealth gap. They are a voice.”

    There is one thing that will end this, and only one. Redistribution of wealth. And what do you think the CBC wants?

  • Greg

    Of course, not one mention of any conservative criticism of the group. No mention how whites do not have their own caucus, and no question if the caucus cares about the interests of all Americans. The media makes these types of associations acceptable, and even worse, beyond criticism (unless you are a black who argues the group doesn’t go “far enough.”) Then I’m sure you are fine to criticize the CBC.

  • Middle American

    I’m willing to wager that everyone on this site who reads the words “Congressional Black Caucus” first rolls their eyes, then laughs, then moves on as they picture a collection of incompetent, racist buffoons that in 40 years have manged to accomplish nothing.

    However, the CBC does whine a lot and make idiotic statements and demands.

    It’s very existence and stated goals borders on being unconstitutional.

  • Bon, From the Land of Babble

    We still need people to figure out what it takes to reduce the unemployment gap between blacks and whites and to reduce the wealth gap.

    The utter hypocrisy of the CBC on immigration never fails to gall me. The CBC demands the president “do something!” about high black unemployment yet continues to support high levels of hispanic immigration:

    Sixteen percent of black workers are unemployed, and among black teens, a staggering 44.9 percent are out of work as 8 million existing U.S. jobs are held by illegal aliens. It is black workers who have suffered the most.

    The CBC has been front and center in the effort to enact amnesty for millions of illegal aliens and throw open the doors to still higher levels of future immigration.

    As for the horrible “Kerosene” Maxine:

    The U.S. Border Control, gave Waters a rating of 0 percent in 2005-2006.

    The Federation for American Immigration Reform, gave Waters a rating of 8 percent in 2007-2008.

    NumbersUsa career grade: F

    Great gong, Kerosene, while you spend your days searching and seeking out The Great White Bigot for government punishment, “your own people” are being ethnically cleansed by violent hispanic gangs out of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

    Because of your looking the other way on unfettered legal and illegal immigration, California will soon be lorded over by angry hispanics.

    Hispanics whose agenda does not include blacks, only to the point that every last one of them will be “disappeared” out of California.

    Bon

  • Anonymous

    How blacks are acting does not bother me. It is their business. What worries me is the foolishness of whites. It is abyssmal and unbelievable. It will take some real bad times for them to get their heads in gear. Soft times have made them soft in the head. And those in Government are all corruptible. The elite have put a ring through their nose while they were watching something or other.

    Nothing but bad bad experience on a very large scale will wake up this population. Wholesale slaughter, that is what they will get. And not a friend in sight.

    Forget about reasoning with those making decisions. Forget about crying unfair. You are getting laughed at and you are being played for the sucker you are. That is how it is white people.

  • sbuffalonative

    The fact that the CBC is incessently whining about the state of black Americans goes to show the CBC is a failure.

    Under their guidence, leadership, and demands, black kids are failing schools in increasing numbers.

    Whatever the CBC asks for, we should do the opposite.

  • Blaak Obongo

    “Forty years ago, the purpose of a caucus to represent African Americans in Congress seemed clear to its founders: to eradicate racism.”

    So…a congressional caucus organized along explicitly racial lines was somehow expected to “eradicate racism?” Am I the only one who sees the hypocrisy in that?

    I’ll believe this drivel when we hear the first public announcements from the Congressional White Caucus.

  • white is right, black is whack

    I agree with #10. I don’t care how blacks act or behave or whatever. They could all be billionaires or live lives of self destruction for all I care. I take issue when we have to live around them, give them jobs, give them our money, etc.

  • Vito Danelli

    I believe there is also a Hispanic Caucus (what a surprise) and an Irish Caucus too.

    So why not simply have a Congressional Caucasian Caucus (CCC)?

  • Anonymous

    Vito,

    The reason you don’t want a CCC is because it won’t do any good at all. THAT is the lesson we should all be reading from this.

    Forty years on, the BCC has not realized that none of their ‘equality means more for us!’ has not worked. Has not given them defacto wealth and primacy as their real goals. Has only taken them down to the level of most important persons of color on a post-iceberg Titanic.

    Yet still they ‘fight on’….

    Why, in claiming we are so much smarter than that. In seeing that the causes of our woes lie with the system whereas theirs are principally genetics driven, do we seek to mimic them?

    It is _past time_ to jettison all lines and ties as we prepare to separate sirs. To start thinking of our own as ours to own. A future and a fate separate from this great sinking ship.

    America is the new Rhodesia. The land of milk and honey dependent on so many imports that if we fail to stay to course to world socialism, we can be crippled at any time. This won’t be true if we make some careful choices about who, where and especially _when_ our future lies with.