- 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,” the CBC 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 Metcalf 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. The CBC now claims 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 fund conferences, parties and other activities to benefit caucus Democratic leaders and their families. Membership in the CBC is accorded automatically to any African-American elected to the House of Representatives, unless that member refuses membership. As of April 2006, the CBC consisted of 5 officers and 38 additional members. All 43 were Democrats, and 22 of them were also members of the radical Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives.
In the 1990s Republican Congressman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma refused CBC membership and described unnamed black Democratic leaders as “race-hustling poverty pimps.” He was elevated to the third highest position in the Republican congressional leadership but chose not to seek reelection in 2002. Another Republican, Rep. Gary Franks elected from Connecticut in 1990, accepted membership in the CBC but soon found that, despite paying $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. In 1993, after Franks threatened to quit the Caucus, then-chairman Kweisi Mfume of Maryland persuaded him to stay by agreeing to a deal. Chairman Mfume’s deal was that the “Democratic Caucus” of the CBC — i.e., every member except Republican Franks — would continue to exclude him from their private meetings where they voted to set policies. But these policies, Mfume promised, would then be discussed and voted on again by the full CBC, where Franks was a minority of one.
When Franks was defeated for reelection in 1996, CBC member Bill 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.” 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 Carol M. Swain, writing in the The American Prospect, “[T]he most costly mistake” made by the CBC “was probably its apparent embrace of Louis Farrakhan.” The Caucus made a “covenant” with Farrakhan in 1994 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 to endorse and take part 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 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 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 those comments were Rep. Maxine Waters’ 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,” West 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 belonged to the Congressional Progressive Caucus and/or the Congressional Black Caucus. To view a list of their names, click here.
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, a black man who once belonged to the CBC.
The CBC reacted with outrage when a black Sanford, Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in an 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 the 1965 Voting Rights Act’s requirement that mainly Southern states must 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. We all understand that all of us have been disappointed in one way or another about the results of the election — but to 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. For details of these cases, click here.
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, 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.