John Conyers Jr., who co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus, helped create Martin Luther King Jr. Day and became the longest-serving Black person in Congress, died on Sunday at his home in Detroit, spokeswoman Holly Baird confirmed. He was 90.
Conyers’ long political career as a Democrat from Michigan began in 1964 when he was only one of five Black people in the House. Over the decades, he was reelected 26 times. He eventually became the “dean of the House of Representatives” because when he finally resigned at 88 years old, he was the longest-serving member of the House.
“For the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressman Conyers was more than a founding member. He was a guiding light,” the Congressional Black Caucus said in a statement Monday. “We will continue his vision by serving as the ‘Conscience of the Congress’ in pursuit of justice for all Americans. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, sons, family, and friends. A son of Detroit and champion of civil rights, Mr. Conyers lived a life dedicated to serving the community in which he was raised. He leaves a legacy of more than five decades of systematic change that continues to transform our country for the better to this day.”
Conyers has had a hand in many of the most influential bills and political movements of his time — he co-sponsored the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was openly against the Vietnam War and voted against the USA Patriot Act after 9/11, which rolled back civil liberties for all Americans, supposedly in the name of national security.
“In many districts around the country, black voters did not feel represented by their leaders, so they would reach out to African American congressmen like Conyers,” Michael Fauntroy, a former intern for Conyers in the early 1980s, told The Washington Post.
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However, the long-time politician resigned in disgrace at 88 years old in 2017 after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct with his female staffers were reported. According to Buzzfeed News’ reporting, several of the women who worked in his office claimed that he propositioned them for sex and touched them without their consent.
A wrongful dismissal complaint that started the inquiry into Conyers said that a female staffer was fired because she would not have sex with the congressman. That eventually settled for thousands of dollars. But when it hit the media, he faced calls to step down. He did but has denied all of the allegations.