Statement by Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony, President, Detroit Branch NAACP
DETROIT (October 27, 2019) – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Today, we have lost a giant who helped to bend the inevitable arc towards justice for all. Congressman John Conyers Jr., who will always be known as ‘The Dean’ has gone on to glory. He has served 27 terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. One of the original founders of the Congressional Black Caucus, he will be laid to rest. For many it is the passing of an illustrious and defining political era. The nation has just celebrated the life of Congressman Elijah Cummings. We must now turn another page reflecting upon the life of an icon who stood in the gap for freedom and justice.
John Conyers was more than just a Congressman. He was the ‘Go to Guy.’ He served as the first African American Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Anyone who wanted to move issues dealing with labor, human rights, South African Apartheid, civil rights, women’s rights – even before the Me Too movement, federal judges on the bench or presidents in a pinch would see John Conyers. He was the only politician ever to be endorsed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He stood in the middle of the street calling for calm during Detroit’s most devastating rebellion in 1967. He stood in the gap against President Richard Nixon, even making his famous enemies list. He was not afraid of the Strom Thurmonds and the Jesse Helms. He made us all proud as he stood with Dr. King in bringing forth the 1965 Voting Rights Act. John Conyers never lost his commitment to justice and equality. After the assassination of Dr. King in 1968, four days later he introduced the Martin L. King National Holiday Bill. For 15 years he labored in the political vineyard to cultivate America’s first national holiday to honor an African American. Many said it could not and would not be done. John Conyers did it. He stood in triumph and victory for this nation. President Ronald Reagan not known for his kinship to civil rights, signed it into law in 1983.
Whether it was fighting for Haitian refugees, fair housing, reform in our criminal justice system or national healthcare, John Conyers was always out front. He had a tirelessness that often put younger and yet to be seasoned politicians to shame. He was not afraid to stand alone in defense or in advocacy of policy and programs that uplifted the lives of people. His office in Washington was a repository for assemblies of common people, strategy sessions for political allies, a comfort zone for those needing to refuel their political tanks and a rhythmic getaway for those jazz connoisseurs who just wanted to chill.
He loved his family and wanted the best for each one of his children. Perhaps in reviewing his life, from Northwestern High School to the halls of Congress, it lies rooted in the background of his own family. His father, John Conyers Sr., was a labor leader. Conyers said, “I was drawn to the struggle because my dad was a labor organizer for the UAW.” His father was an organizer when it was illegal to be in the unions. This obviously inspired Conyers to stand up and fight for the rights of others. It is easy to see how the mother of the civil rights movement, Rosa Parks, found a home in his Detroit office. John Conyers did not leave here trying to make a difference. In 1989 he introduced “The Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.” This was only a bill to study, not to implement. Conyers said in 2017, “Slavery is a blemish on this nation’s history and until it is formally addressed, our country’s story will remain marked by this blight.” The words of former President Lyndon B. Johnson are worth remembering, “Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.” John Conyers worked every day to make it a fact.