As they assembled at the US Capitol for the 112th Congressional session a record number 44 African Americans were sworn in as Members of the House of Representatives. The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) gained national recognition when its Members met with President Richard Nixon in March of 1971 and presented him a list of 60 recommendations for governmental action on domestic and foreign issues. Today, the CBC, whose membership is exclusive to Blacks, represents the political aspirations of 13 percent of the American population and comprises 9.6 percent of the Congress.
There are no Blacks in this Senate session. The CBC Chair is Emanuel Cleaver, a three-term Congressman from Kansas City. Cleaver, elected to Congress from Missouri's 5th District in 2004, is a United Methodist pastor who was Kansas City's Mayor for two-terms. Joining Cleaver will be four Members newly elected as CBC officers 2011 – 2013: Del. Donna M. Christensen (D- U.S. Virgin Islands) as First Vice-Chair; Representative G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) as Second Vice-Chair; Representative Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY) as Secretary; and Representative Andre Carson (D-IN) as Whip. Like Cleaver's Congressional District, most CBC Members' districts are not majority-Black. Except for the District of Columbia (DC), a mainland US Congressional District usually has about 700,000 residents.
The CBC is officially non-partisan, but in practice it has been closely identified with the Democratic Party, and tends to function as a lobbying group within that Party. Only four Black Republicans have been elected to Congress since the CBC was founded: Senator Edward W. Brooke of Massachusetts, Representative Gary Franks of Connecticut, Delegate Melvin H. Evans of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Representative J. C. Watts of Oklahoma, who became the first Black member of Congress that did not join the CBC citing its close Democratic affiliation and goals. Watts said of his refusal to join the CBC, "...they said that I had sold out and was an 'Uncle Tom'… and I said well, they deserve to have that view. But I have my thoughts…and I think they're race-hustling poverty pimps."
Because of their tilt toward the Democratic Party, CBC members were uniquely impacted when Republicans won control of the House of Representatives. In the 112th, CBC members lose three full committee chairmanships and over a dozen subcommittee chairmanships. As a result, the CBC and its members' clout and influence are greatly diminished and scrambling to identify ways to leverage their power.
New to Congress and the CBC are Hanson Clark who defeated Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick in their Detroit primary; Terri Sewell is the first Black female Congressperson from Alabama. She replaced Artur Davis who lost his bid for governor. Karen Bass, who was Speaker of the California Assembly, replaced retiring Congresswoman Diane Watson. Cedric Richmond now holds the New Orleans seat formally held by convicted felon William Jefferson. And Frederica Wilson took over the Florida seat that has been held by Kendrick Meek and his mother Corrine before him. All the new Democrat Members are former state or local elected officials. The two new Black Republican Members come from majority-White districts and are split in their allegiance to the CBC agenda. Rep. Allen West (R-FL) is a retired Army Colonel who will join the CBC, while Rep. Tim Scott, a former South Carolina state legislator and owner of an insurance business, will not.
Because of the November 2010 elections, Republicans gained the majority in the House and at their behest, the 112th Congress was opened by readings of the US Constitution. Each Member of Congress read an average of 17 words. Georgia Congressman John Lewis was given a standing ovation when he read the 13th Amendment, which bans "slavery [and] involuntary servitude." Before the readings, Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. pointed out that the original document counted "Blacks as three-fifths of a person." To illustrate the plight of the 14 million Americans that are either under or unemployed, Congressman Jackson has asked job-seekers to send their résumés to him at [email protected]. Or to: 2419 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20009.
William Reed is available for speaking/seminar projects via BaileyGroup.org.