- Organization of solely black congressional representatives
- Functions as an arm of the Democratic Party
The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is an organization of black congressional representatives. While it is officially “nonpartisan,” this Caucus since its founding has functioned as part of the left wing of the Democratic Party.
The CBC was established in January 1969. Its founders were Representatives John Conyers and Charles Diggs of Michigan, Ron Dellums and Gus Hawkins of California, Charles Rangel and Shirley Chisholm of New York, Louis Stokes of Ohio, Ralph Metcalfe and George Collins of Illinois, Parren Mitchell of Maryland, Robert Nix of Pennsylvania, William Clay of Missouri, and Delegate from the District of Columbia Walter Fauntroy.
Until 1994, when voters returned a Republican House of Representatives, the CBC had been defined as an “official office of Congress” and as such was provided its own offices, staff and lavish budget. Since 1995, the Caucus has claimed as its address the office of whichever member is serving as chairman. CBC funding flows largely through the tax-exempt Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. and is used to bankroll conferences, parties and other activities to benefit caucus Democratic leaders and their families. Numerous CBC members also belong to the radical Congressional Progressive Caucus.
In the 1990s, black Republican Congressman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma refused CBC membership and described unnamed black Democratic leaders as “race-hustling poverty pimps.” Another Republican, Rep. Gary Franks, who was elected to Congress from Connecticut in 1990, accepted membership in the CBC but soon found that, despite having paid $5,000 in dues, he was never informed of some of its meetings and was locked out of others by Democrats who wanted to keep what they discussed in those meetings secret from Republicans. For example, after the CBC’s weekly half-hour lunches, Franks was required to leave the room, so the Democrats could thereafter converse only among themselves.
In his 1996 autobiography, Searching for the Promised Land, Franks revealed how he had been ostracized, disrespected, and “blacklisted” by fellow CBC members who made him feel “like the invisible man of the old Jim Crow South.” For example, Franks stated that: Rep. Corinne Brown “frequently took the trouble to move away from me at Black Caucus lunch meetings”; Rep. Ron Dellums once “confronted me on the floor of the House and started shouting insults in my face”; then-CBC chairman Kweisi Mfume repeatedly “looked directly into my eyes” at a White House event that he (Mfume) was moderating “and called on someone else” to speak instead; and when Franks in February 1994 spoke out against incendiary anti-white, anti-Semitic remarks made recently by the notorious Nation Of Islam aide Khalid Abdul Muhammad, CBC member Harold E. Ford told Franks: “Well, you’re just supporting [Jews] because they give you a lot of money.”
In his 1996 book as well, Franks recounted an instance where he had gone to Georgia to testify against the practice of gerrymandering — i.e., drawing congressional districts in a race-conscious manner explicitly designed to help elect black candidates. He wrote that when he had initially arrived at that venue, Corrine Brown, who represented one of the gerrymandered districts to which Franks objected, “stared coldly into my eyes.” Moreover, Brown not only allied herself with a number of black protesters who were waiting to greet Franks with signs that read “Black boy, go home,” but she persuaded them to change the wording to “Colored boy, go home.” (Brown herself later confirmed that Franks’s claim was true.)
When Franks was defeated in his 1996 bid for re-election to Congress, CBC member William Clay of Missouri wrote a six-page letter to the departing lawmaker, characterizing Franks as a “foot shuffling, head-scratching ‘Amos and Andy’ brand of ‘Uncle Tom-ism'” and a “Negro Dr. Kevorkian, a pariah, who gleefully assists in suicidal conduct to destroy his own race.” Further, Rep. Clay described Franks as one of those “Negro wanderers” whose “goal … is to maim and kill other blacks for the gratification and entertainment of — for lack of a more accurately descriptive word — ultra-conservative white racists.” No other member of the CBC was willing to condemn or criticize Clay’s remarks.
According to political science professor Carol M. Swain, writing in the The American Prospect, “[T]he most costly mistake” made by the CBC “was probably its apparent embrace of [Nation Of Islam leader] Louis Farrakhan.” The Caucus in 1994 made a “covenant” with Farrakhan which it was forced to rescind shortly thereafter as result of public outrage. “Khalid Muhammad, a disciple of Farrakhan, delivered a venomous speech at Kean College attacking Jews, Catholics, and other groups,” wrote Swain. “The ensuing public outrage was so great that it led the Congress, for the first time in history, to pass a resolution condemning the speech of a private citizen. Twenty [Congressional Black] caucus members voted for the resolution, eleven voted against, four voted present, and three failed to vote as the measure passed the House 361 to 34.” But in 1995, a year later, new CBC Chairman Donald Payne led his Caucus in endorsing and participating in Farrakhan’s “Million Man March” in Washington, D.C.
In April 2009, a delegation of seven CBC members traveled to Havana to meet with former Cuban president Fidel Castro. After the meeting, they praised Castro as a warm and hospitable host, and called for an end to America’s longstanding ban on travel to Cuba. According to CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee, “The fifty-year embargo just hasn’t worked. The bottom line is that we believe its time to open dialogue with Cuba.” Reflecting on her moments with Castro, Lee said, “It was quite a moment to behold.” Rep. Bobby Rush said of his conversation with Castro, “It was almost like listening to an old friend…. In my household I told Castro he is known as the ultimate survivor.” Rep. Laura Richardson, meanwhile, said that Castro was receptive to President (and former CBC member) Barack Obama’s message of reconciliation. “He listened,” said Richardson. “He [Castro] said the exact same thing as President Obama said.” Added Richardson: “He looked right into my eyes and he said, ‘How can we help? How can we help President Obama?’”
When conservative Republican (and Tea Party Caucus member) Allen West was elected to represent Florida’s 22nd District in 2010, he joined the CBC and became its only non-Democrat and non-leftist. In 2011, West objected to hostile language used by fellow CBC members targeting the Tea Party movement and threatened to leave the Caucus unless its chairman, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, would agree to condemn those remarks. Among the remarks in question were Rep. Maxine Waters‘s assertion that the Tea Party “can go straight to hell”; Rep. Frederica Wilson‘s characterization of the Tea Party as “the real enemy” that was seeking to hold Congress “hostage”; and Rep. André Carson‘s claim said that Tea Party-affiliated members of Congress viewed African-Americans as “second-class citizens” and would be happy to see them “hanging from a tree.”
Ultimately, West decided to remain a CBC member because the Caucus needed a conservative presence. “I will not be resigning from the Congressional Black Caucus,” he wrote on his Facebook following a meeting with Cleaver in early September 2011. “Cowards run from challenges, while warriors run to the sound of battle.”
In October 2009, the Socialist Party of America announced that at least 70 Congressional Democrats were members of its Caucus at that time—i.e., members of the Democratic Socialists of America. Most of those individuals also belonged to the CBC and/or the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
In September 2011, Emanuel Cleaver, addressing the subject of the skyrocketing unemployment rate among African-Americans, said: “If [former President] Bill Clinton had been in the White House and had failed to address this problem, we probably would be marching on the White House. There is a less-volatile reaction in the CBC because nobody wants to do anything that would empower the people who hate the president” — a reference to Barack Obama (who once belonged to the CBC).
The CBC reacted with outrage when a black Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in a highly publicized altercation with a “white Hispanic” man named George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012. When Zimmerman was subsequently acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges in a June/July 2013 trial, CBC chair Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) lamented that the case was evidence of a broader racial problem in the United States: “We are being attacked from so many sides that you have to at some point decide where you can have the most impact.” Calling for “a broader discussion that we need to have [about] how we are treating and minority people in this country,” Fudge cited as evidence of racial discrimination a recent Supreme Court ruling which overturned a 1965 Voting Rights Act stipulation requiring that mainly Southern states undergo special federal scrutiny before being permitted to change their voting laws in any way — e.g., by instituting Voter ID requirements.
In a November 2012 press conference, CBC chair Marcia Fudge accused Republican Senator John McCain of “sexism and racism” because of criticism he had directed against U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, who is black, for false testimony she had given regarding a September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Said Fudge: “There is a clear, a clear in my opinion, sexism and racism that goes with these comments that are being made by, unfortunately, Senator McCain and others.” During the same press conference, Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin) said: “What unmitigated gall for these [Republican] men to attack the permanent representative to the United Nations Susan E. Rice…. [T]o batter this woman because they don’t feel they have had the ability to batter President Obama is something that we, the women, are not going to stand by and watch.”
In 2014, CBC members reacted with outrage to two separate white-police-vs.-black-suspect altercations that: (a) resulted in the deaths of the blacks involved, and (b) became the focal points of a massive, nationwide protest movement alleging that white officers were routinely targeting African Americans with racial profiling and the unjustified use of force. The deceased were a 43-year-old New Yorker named Eric Garner and 18-year-old Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri. In response to these incidents, the CBC pushed President Barack Obama to mandate that police officers across the United States must undergo “diversity training as it relates to minorities, the disabled, mentally ill persons and new immigrants whom they are sworn to protect and serve.” “These tragedies have illuminated, with the harsh light of truth, the deep divisions and very real disparities that we have yet to overcome as a nation,” said Rep. William Lacy Clay. CBC chairman G.K. Butterfield said his Caucus had told Obama that “we need to have some form of police training, not just body cameras — body cameras are not going to get the job done…. [W]e’ve got to have … sensitivity training.”
In January 2015, the CBC objected strenuously when Republican House Speaker John Boehner—without first asking President Obama for his approval—invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress on March 3rd about the gravity of the growing Iranian nuclear threat and his “profound disagreement” with the deal that the Obama Administration was pursuing with Iran. Numerous CBC members boycotted the speech, citing Netanyahu’s act of “disrespect” against Obama.
During President Donald Trump’s first State Of The Union speech on January 30, 2018, CBC members wore traditional African kente cloth, a brightly colored textile associated with the Ashanti kingdom of Western Africa. Their purpose for wearing the cloths was to protest Trump’s alleged use — in a January 11th immigration meeting with a few Members of Congress — of the term “sh**hole countries” to describe a number of poverty-stricken, terrorism-infested nations in Central America and Africa. By CBC’s calculus, Trump’s use of the term was a racist act.
To view a list of current and former members of the CBC (and links to their profiles), click here.
Further Reading: “Congressional Black Caucus” (Keywiki.org); “Creation and Evolution of the Congressional Black Caucus” (History.house.gov); “Franks Book Chastises, Angers Colleagues” (Hartford Courant, 4-28-1996); “CBC Members Praise Castro” (Politico.com, 4-7-2009); “American Socialists Release Names of 70 Congressional Democrats in Their Ranks” (Gateway Pundit, 8-13-2010); “Cleaver: If Obama Wasn’t President, We Would Me ‘Marching on the White House’” (The Hill, 9-18-2011); “Fudge Sees Broader Assault on Poor, Minorities” (Politico.com, 7-21-2013); “Congressional Black Caucus Chair Accuses John McCain of ‘Racism and Sexism’” (CNS News, 11-16-2012); “Black Caucus to Obama: Make Police Undergo ‘Sensitivity Training’” (Newsmax, 2-11-2015); “56 Democrats to Skip Netanyahu Speech to Congress” (The Hill, 2-9-2015); “Don’t Disrespect Our President, Black Lawmakers Tell Netanyahu” (Politico.com, 2-10-2015).