Dean of the House

Dr. E. Faye Williams

It’s often true that the good die young, but last two Sundays ago, one of our most distinguished elder statesmen, Congressman John Conyers, died at 90 years of age in his beloved Detroit. Many of the stories that came from major press and media weren’t always kind to him, and what they often said is the greatest reason for us writing our own stories. No one should be convicted by allegations alone. When we judge somebody, we should judge them by the totality of their life.

Congressman Conyers served with high distinction in the United States Congress for 50 years. He had a great career being a servant to our people. He stood firmly for us on health care, reparations, voting rights, voter registration procedures, civil and human rights and more. He was the longest serving Congressman we in the African American community ever had. His time was well spent. He was the only member of the House Judiciary Committee who participated in the impeachment inquiries against both President Bill Clinton and President Richard Nixon. At the time he voted for the impeachment inquiry of Richard Nixon, Conyers said, the impeachment of Nixon was necessary “to restore to our government the proper balance of constitutional power and to serve notice on all future presidents that such abuse of power will never be tolerated again.”

He did not vote for the impeachment of Clinton because he believed as many of us believed that the personal relations between Clinton and Monica Lewinsky did not merit impeachment. He saw it as an extramarital affair, but not an impeachable offense. I agree with his assessment. Unfortunately, he left the Congress rather than defend himself against allegations of wrongdoing.

I worked with him briefly when he was Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. I was not on his payroll. I worked as a volunteer because I knew how important his work was. He was a critic of the Iraq War, as well as the USA Patriot Act.

We always knew where he stood on important issues of our times. We never had to witness his walking down the middle of the road on issues that greatly impacted Black people. Rev. Al Sharpton once said, “When you walk down the middle of the road, you get hit from both sides.” We always knew where Congressman Conyers stood. His legacy of so many years of doing the right thing when it comes to justice will never be overridden by allegations brought forward in his last few years of life. Everyone with whom I have spoken in recent days remember the overwhelmingly good things he did to advance our causes. His work was recognized by many. In 2007, he received the NAACP’S most distinguished medal—the Spingarn Medal.

He was Dean of the House of Representatives and by the end of his last term in office, he was the only remaining member of Congress who had served since Lyndon Baines Johnson was President. He served our country during the Korean Conflict. He was a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus. He also sponsored a bill to make the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a federal holiday.

When I ran for the United States Congress in Louisiana, Congressman Conyers was supportive of me. He not only sent a donation to my campaign, but he held a fundraiser for me in Detroit. When I had challenges with the Clinton Administration, he was there for me. He’d call on me to assist with his young son whenever he brought him to Washington. He was my neighbor and my dear friend for many years. Those are the things I remember.

(Dr. E. Faye Williams is President of the National Congress of Black Women and host of “Wake Up and Stay Woke” on WPFW-FM 89.3.

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