Major Owens was a Democratic Member of Congress who represented the 11th District of New York from 1983-2007. Located in Brooklyn, this district is nearly 60% African-American, 12% Hispanic, and 21% Caucasian.
Owens was born in Memphis, Tennessee in June 1936. He earned a B.A. from Morehouse College in 1956 and a Master of Library Science degree from Atlanta University in 1957. He then moved to New York City and worked as a librarian at Brooklyn Public Library from 1958-65.
During the 1960s, Owens became chair of the Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality. He served as a New York City Community Development Agency Commissioner from 1968-73. And from 1973-74 he was Director of the Community Media Library Program at Columbia University.
In 1974 Owens was elected to the New York State Senate and went on to serve there for eight years. When incumbent congresswoman Shirley Chisholm retired from the 11th Congressional District in 1982, Owens ran for her vacated seat and defeated her hand-picked successor. He was re-elected every two years thereafter, through his final campaign in 2006.
A member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Owens in 1997 participated in the annual DSA-sponsored Socialists Scholars Conference at the City University of New York. He belonged to both the Congressional Black Caucus (which he co-founded) and the Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives. Americans for Democratic Action rated his voting record as 90-95 percent on the left side of legislation.
During his congressional career, Owens voted:
For additional information about how Owens voted on a variety of key issues, click here.
Shortly after Republican leaders had become the governing majority in the House of Representatives in 1995, Owens said of them: “These are people who are practicing genocide with a smile. They’re worse than Hitler.”
Also in the mid-1990s, Owens made headlines when he said, on the House floor, that during the trans-Atlantic slave trade some 200 million African slaves bound for America had been thrown overboard by their white captors. This, he explained, had permanently changed the ecology of the Atlantic Ocean and had caused sharks, as a species, to begin following ships (in search of food).
Owens retired from his House of Representatives seat at the end of his term in January 2007.
Owens died of renal and heart failure on October 21, 2013.