ORAL HISTORY ARCHIVE   A-CD-GH-LM-RS-Z

John Conyers, Jr.
National Visionary


Born on May 16, 1929 in Detroit, MI

Chairman of House Judiciary Committee, co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus and the second-longest-serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives








BIOGRAPHY
John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) is the longest-serving African American member of the United States House of Representatives, representing Detroit’s 14th District. Conyers was elected to Congress in November 1964, took office in January 1965, and has been reelected consecutively since. In 1969, he was one of the co-founders of the Congressional Black Caucus, which was organized to strengthen African American lawmakers’ ability to address the legislative concerns of black and minority citizens.

Conyers was born in Detroit on May 16, 1929. He was the first of five children born to Lucille and John Conyers, Sr.  Conyers’ father was a factory auto painter and early organizer for the United Auto Workers (UAW), one of the first labor unions to organize black workers. Conyers attended many union meetings with his father and cites this experience as a tremendous influence on his political career.

Conyers was 14 at the time of the 1943 Detroit race riots in which Blacks were pulled off streetcars and attacked by white mobs. This experience also contributed to his political consciousness. Conyers attended Detroit public schools, graduating high school in 1947. Unable to afford college, Conyers worked at a Lincoln auto plant and became director of his United Auto Workers local unit. He took night classes and later enrolled at Detroit’s Wayne State University on a union-backed scholarship in the late 1940s.

Conyers enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1950. While spending part of his officer training program at a military installation in Virginia, he went to Washington, DC to watch Congress in action and thought to himself, “I could do that!”

As second lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers, Conyers was sent to Korea and saw combat, winning several military honors. After his Army discharge, using Veteran’s benefits, he returned to Wayne State in 1954, switching from engineering to pre-law. He joined Detroit’s Young Democratic Club and ran for precinct convention delegate, winning with a narrow victory over a rival. He graduated from Wayne State in 1957 and continued at his alma mater to complete a degree in law the following year. He passed the bar exam and co-founded the law firm of Conyers, Bell, and Townsend soon after. 

Conyers’ law office was in the same building as veteran Michigan U.S. Representative John Dingell. Conyers worked in Dingell’s office from 1959 to 1961 and was appointed by Michigan governor John Swainson to be a state workmen’s compensation referee. The post lasted from 1961 until 1964.

In 1963, Conyers was chosen to serve on the National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a group spearheaded by President John F. Kennedy. He was active as a lawyer in the Civil Rights Movement in the Southern states and often represented clients in voter registration cases.

In 1964, Conyers resigned the Michigan position and declared his candidacy for a Northside Detroit U.S. House of Representatives seat. At that time, the Congressional districts were being redrawn and Conyers felt that the social climate in Metro-Detroit was positive and would allow the election of an African American to Congress.

Conyers hired civil rights icon Rosa Parks, whom he had first met during the early days of the civil rights struggle, the year he took office. She worked as an assistant in Conyers’ Detroit office from 1965 until she retired in 1988.


Drawn by Ronnie Wallace
of J.C. Nalle Elementary

In 40-plus years in Congress, Conyers’ major accomplishments have included: the Violence Against Women Act of 1994; the Motor Voter Bill of 1993; the Jazz Preservation Act of 1987; and the Martin Luther King Holiday Act of 1983. His Judiciary Committee work involves advancing civil liberties, ensuring equal protection for all and access to voting, and combating violence against women.

Conyers became head of the House Judiciary Committee when the 110th Congress opened with a Democratic majority in January 2007.

He is married to the former Monica Esters, a member of the Detroit City Council. They have two sons, John III and Carl Edward.

VIDEO CLIPS


EXTERNAL LINKS
http://conyers.house.gov

RELATED LINKS
Yvonne Burke's Visionary Page (served together in Congress)
Cardiss Collins' Visionary Page (served together in Congress)
Shirley Chisholm's Visionary Page (served together in Congress)

URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/conyersjohn
ORAL HISTORY ARCHIVE   A-CD-GH-LM-RS-Z