Congressional Black Caucus

Congressional Black Caucus
Congressional Black Caucus

The 13 founding members of the CBC in the early 1970s. Standing L-R: Parren Mitchell (MD), Charles Rangel (NY), Bill Clay, Sr. (MO), Ron Dellums (CA), George Collins (IL), Louis Stokes (OH), Ralph Metcalfe (IL), John Conyers (MI), and Walter Fauntroy (DC). Seated L-R: Robert Nix, Sr. (PA), Charles Diggs (MI), Shirley Chisholm (NY), and Gus Hawkins (CA).
Formation 1971
Headquarters Washington, D.C.

The Congressional Black Caucus is an organization representing the black members of the United States Congress. Membership is exclusive to blacks,[1] and its chair in the 112th Congress is Representative Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri.



The caucus describes its goals as "positively influencing the course of events pertinent to African-Americans and others of similar experience and situation," and "achieving greater equity for persons of African descent in the design and content of domestic and international programs and services."

The CBC encapsulates these goals in the following priorities: Closing the achievement and opportunity gaps in education, assuring quality health care for every American, focusing on employment and economic security, ensuring justice for all, retirement security for all Americans, increasing welfare funds and increasing equity in foreign policy.[2]

Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Tx., has said:

The Congressional Black Caucus is one of the world's most esteemed bodies, with a history of positive activism unparalleled in our nation's history. Whether the issue is popular or unpopular, simple or complex, the CBC has fought for thirty years to protect the fundamentals of democracy. Its impact is recognized throughout the world. The Congressional Black Caucus is probably the closest group of legislators on the Hill. We work together almost incessantly, we are friends and, more importantly, a family of freedom fighters. Our diversity makes us stronger, and the expertise of all of our members has helped us be effective beyond our numbers.

Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African-American studies and popular culture at Duke University, wrote a column in late 2008 regarding the relevancy of the Congressional Black Caucus and other organizations such as the NAACP in the wake of Barack Obama being elected to the United States presidency. Neal wrote that he believes the Congressional Black Caucus and other African-American-centered organizations are still needed, but they must adapt to a changing political atmosphere and take advantage of "the political will that Obama's campaign has generated."[3]


Current Chair, Emanuel Cleaver

The caucus 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 the wider Democratic Party. Only six black Republicans have been elected to Congress since the caucus was founded: Senator Edward W. Brooke of Massachusetts, Representative Gary Franks of Connecticut, Delegate Melvin H. Evans of the Virgin Islands, Representative J. C. Watts of Oklahoma, Representative Allen West of Florida, and Representative Tim Scott of South Carolina. Brooke was not in the CBC. Watts elected not to join the group because of its closely Democratic affiliation and goals,[4] saying "...they said that I had sold out and [called me an] Uncle Tom. But I have my thoughts. And I think they're race-hustling poverty pimps."[5] After the 2010 midterms, Allen West joined the caucus while Tim Scott declined.[6] West indicated that he planned to shake up the CBC's “monolithic” ideology and indicated the caucus promoted a culture of victimization among its black constituents.[7]

The caucus has grown steadily as more black members have been elected. In 1969 the caucus had nine members. As of 2008, it had 43 members, including two who are non-voting members of the House, representing the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

White membership

Over the years, the question has arisen, "Does the caucus allow only black members?" Pete Stark, D-CA., who is white, tried and failed to join in 1975. In January 2007, Josephine Hearn reported in Politico that white members of Congress were not welcome to join the CBC.[8] Freshman Representative Steve Cohen, D-TN., who is white, pledged to apply for membership during his election campaign to represent his constituency, which is 60% African American. Hearn further reported that although the bylaws of the caucus do not make race a prerequisite for membership, former and current members of the caucus agreed that the group should remain "exclusively black." Rep. William Lacy Clay, Jr., D-MO., the son of Rep. William Lacy Clay Sr., D-MO., a co-founder of the caucus, is quoted as saying, "Mr. Cohen asked for admission, and he got his answer. He's white and the caucus is black. It's time to move on. We have racial policies to pursue and we are pursuing them, as Mr. Cohen has learned. It's an unwritten rule. It's understood." In response to the decision, Rep. Cohen stated, "It's their caucus and they do things their way. You don't force your way in." Clay issued an official statement from his office:

Quite simply, Rep. Cohen will have to accept what the rest of the country will have to accept – there has been an unofficial Congressional White Caucus for over 200 years, and now it's our turn to say who can join 'the club.' He does not, and cannot, meet the membership criteria, unless he can change his skin color. Primarily, we are concerned with the needs and concerns of the black population, and we will not allow white America to infringe on those objectives.

On January 25, 2007, Representative Tom Tancredo, R-CO., spoke out against the continued existence of the CBC as well as the Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Republican Congressional Hispanic Conference saying, "It is utterly hypocritical for Congress to extol the virtues of a color-blind society while officially sanctioning caucuses that are based solely on race. If we are serious about achieving the goal of a colorblind society, Congress should lead by example and end these divisive, race-based caucuses."[9]

Senate members

There have been only four black Senators in the modern era, each of whom was the only black senator during his or her tenure. Edward Brooke, a Republican Senator from Massachusetts in the 60s and 70s, was not a member of the CBC. The remaining three black senators were all members of the Congressional Black Caucus and were all from Illinois. They are Carol Moseley Braun (1993–1999), current President Barack Obama (2005–2008), and Roland Burris (2008–2010). Burris was appointed by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in December 2008 to fill Obama's seat for the remaining two years of his Senate term.



A predecessor to the caucus was founded in January 1969 as a "Democratic Select Committee"[10] by a group of black members of the House of Representatives, including Shirley Chisholm of New York, Louis Stokes of Ohio and William L. Clay of Missouri. Black representatives had begun to enter the House in increasing numbers during the 1960s, and they had a desire for a formal organization. The first chairman, Charles Diggs, served from 1969 to 1971 and landed on the master list of Nixon political opponents for his position.

This organization was renamed the Congressional Black Caucus in February 1971[10] on the motion of Charles B. Rangel of New York. Founding members of the caucus were Shirley Chisholm, William L. Clay Sr., George W. Collins, John Conyers, Ronald Dellums, Augustus F. Hawkins, Ralph Metcalfe, Parren Mitchell, Robert Nix, Charles Rangel, Louis Stokes, and Washington D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy.[10]


In late 1994, after Republicans attained a majority in the House, they announced plans to rescind funding for 28 "legislative service organizations" which received taxpayer funding and occupied offices at the Capitol, including the CBC. Then-chairman Kweisi Mfume protested the decision, which never went through.[11]

In February 2010, The New York Times reported the caucus received 55 million dollars in contributions from corporations between 2004 and 2008. Most of that money went to social events and the organization's headquarters building on Embassy Row. In 2007, it paid more to the caterer for a single event than it spent on scholarships.[12] Scholarships controlled by the caucus were a source of public concern in September 2009 when it was reported Sanford Bishop and other members directed the money to members of their families and political cronies.

The Times compared the amount of money spent on internships by the caucus ($378,000 in 2008) to the amount paid for the decorator of its annual prayer breakfast that year ($350,000).[12]

Ralph Nader incident

In 2004, independent presidential candidate and consumer activist Ralph Nader attended a meeting with the caucus which turned into a shouting exchange. The caucus urged Nader to give up his presidential run, fearing that it could hurt John Kerry, the Democratic Party's nominee. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) called the upcoming election "a life or death matter" for the caucus members' constituents. Nader accused Congressman Mel Watt of twice uttering an "obscene racial epithet" towards Nader; he alleged that Watt said: "You're just another arrogant white man – telling us what we can do – it's all about your ego – another f—king arrogant white man." Watt never offered an apology.[13]

Nader wrote to the caucus afterwards:

Instead, exclamations at the meeting... end[ed] with the obscene racist epithet repeated twice by Yale Law School alumnus Congressman Melvin Watt of North Carolina. One member of your caucus called to apologize for the crudity of some of the members. I had expected an expression of regret or apology from Congressman Watt in the subsequent days after he had cooled down. After all there was absolutely no vocal or verbal provocation from me or from my associates, including Peter Miguel Camejo, to warrant such an outburst. In all my years of struggling for justice, especially for the deprived and downtrodden, has any legislator—white or black—used such language?

I do not like double standards, especially since our premise for interactions must be equality of respect that has no room, as I responded to Mr. Watt, for playing the race card. Therefore, just as African-Americans demanded an apology from Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz and Senator Trent Lott—prior to their resignation and demotion respectively—for their racist remarks, I expect that you and others in the caucus will exert your moral persuasion and request an apology from Congressman Watt. Please consider this also my request for such an expression—a copy of which is being forwarded directly to Mr. Watt's office.[14]


The caucus is sometimes invited to the White House to meet with the president.[15] It requests such a meeting at the beginning of each Congress.[15]

On June 26, 2009, the day after the death of Michael Jackson, members of the caucus called for a moment of silence in Jackson's honor.[16] Some members of the House walked off the House floor during the ensuing silence, citing Jackson's accusations of child molestation and their musical tastes.[16]

Chairs of the caucus

The following representatives have served as chairs of the Congressional Black Caucus:[17]

Members of the caucus during the 112th Congress

During the 112th Congress (2011–present), the CBC has 41 representatives (two of them non-voting delegates) as members:

Representative Party State – Congressional District
Karen Bass Democratic California33rd
Sanford Bishop Democratic Georgia2nd
Corrine Brown Democratic Florida3rd
G. K. Butterfield – 2nd Vice Chair Democratic North Carolina1st
André Carson – Whip Democratic Indiana7th
Delegate Donna Christian-Christensen – 1st Vice Chair Democratic U.S. Virgin Islands – At-large
(non voting congressional delegate)
Hansen Clarke Democratic Michigan13th
Yvette Clarke – Secretary Democratic New York11th
William Lacy Clay, Jr. Democratic Missouri1st
Emanuel Cleaver – Chair Democratic Missouri5th
Jim Clyburn Democratic South Carolina6th
John Conyers, Jr.Dean Democratic Michigan14th
Elijah Cummings Democratic Maryland7th
Danny K. Davis Democratic Illinois7th
Donna Edwards Democratic Maryland4th
Keith Ellison Democratic Minnesota5th
Chaka Fattah Democratic Pennsylvania2nd
Marcia Fudge Democratic Ohio11th
Al Green Democratic Texas9th
Alcee Hastings Democratic Florida23rd
Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. Democratic Illinois2nd
Eddie Bernice Johnson Democratic Texas30th
Hank Johnson Democratic Georgia4th
Barbara Lee Democratic California9th
Sheila Jackson Lee Democratic Texas18th
John Lewis Democratic Georgia5th
Gregory Meeks Democratic New York6th
Gwen Moore Democratic Wisconsin4th
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton Democratic District of Columbia – At-large
(non voting congressional delegate)
Donald M. Payne Democratic New Jersey10th
Charles B. Rangel Democratic New York15th
Laura Richardson Democratic California37th
Cedric Richmond Democratic Louisiana2nd
Bobby Rush Democratic Illinois1st
Bobby Scott Democratic Virginia3rd
David Scott Democratic Georgia13th
Terri Sewell Democratic Alabama7th
Bennie Thompson Democratic Mississippi2nd
Edolphus Towns Democratic New York10th
Maxine Waters Democratic California35th
Mel Watt Democratic North Carolina12th
Allen West Republican Florida22nd
Frederica Wilson Democratic Florida17th

See also

Portal icon African American portal
Portal icon Government of the United States portal


  1. ^ Hearn, Josephine (2007-01-23). "Black Caucus: Whites Not Allowed". Retrieved 2007-01-23. 
  2. ^ Priorities detailed
  3. ^ Jackson, Camille (January 2009). "Hitting the Ground Running". Duke University This Month at Duke. 
  4. ^ Doherty, Carroll J. (March 22, 1998). "GOP Initiatives Hamper Efforts To Reach Out To Minority Groups". CNN. Retrieved 2007-07-22. 
  5. ^ Ward, Kenric (November 9, 2010). "Black Caucus Awaits Allen West's 'Request'". Sunshine State News. Retrieved January 5, 2011. 
  6. ^ Southall, Ashley (January 5, 2011). "Republican Allen West Joins Congressional Black Caucus". The New York Times. Retrieved January 5, 2011. 
  7. ^ Dade, Corey (January 5, 2011). "GOP's Rep. Allen West Draws Black Caucus Spotlight". NPR. Retrieved 5 January 2011. 
  8. ^ Hearn, Josephine (January 23, 2007). "Black Caucus: Whites Not Allowed". Retrieved 2007-01-23. 
  9. ^ "Tancredo: Abolish black, Hispanic caucuses". MSNBC. 2007-01-25. Retrieved 2009-04-19. 
  10. ^ a b c Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc
  11. ^ "G.O.P. to Cut Caucus Funds". Time Magazine. December 19, 1994. 
  12. ^ a b In Black Caucus, a Fund-Raising Powerhouse, by Eric Lipton and Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, 13 February 2010
  13. ^ Barrett, Ted (2004-06-23). "Black Democrats hold heated meeting with Nader". CNN. Retrieved 2009-04-19. 
  14. ^ "In a letter to the Congressional Black Caucus: Nader asks for an apology for "obscene racist epithet" made at CBC meeting.". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2009-04-19. 
  15. ^ a b Josephine Hearn (February 13, 2007). "White House Press Room to reopen". The Politico. 
  16. ^ a b Suzanne Gamboa (July 9, 2009). "Pelosi shuts down resolution on Michael Jackson". Raleigh News & Observer. [dead link]
  17. ^ "Congressional Black Caucus Chairmen and Chairwomen, 1971–Present". Black Americans in Congress. U.S. House of Representatives. Retrieved November 27, 2010. 
  18. ^ "Cleaver to head Congressional Black Caucus". 2010-11-18. Retrieved 2010-11-27. 

External links

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