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Home » Diversity Report » Recognizing the Fertile Partnership Between the AFM and the Congressional Black Caucus

Recognizing the Fertile Partnership Between the AFM and the Congressional Black Caucus


As America moves into the 2022 celebration of Black History Month, I thought it appropriate to review the intrinsic value of the active partnership between the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the AFM, as well as its overall relationship with organized labor and progressive policy.

African Americans first made an appearance as elected officials in Congress in 1870. Senator Hiram Revels of Mississippi and Representative Joseph Rainey of South Carolina became the first African Americans to serve. They made their way up the ladder during the reconstruction era soon after issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln in 1863, passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution on December 18, 1865 (which abolished slavery), and the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

The House Archives notes: “the bill mandated that all persons born in the United States,” with the exception of American Indians, were “hereby declared to be citizens of the United States.” Representative Henry Raymond of New York noted that the legislation (the 1866 Act) was “one of the most important bills ever presented to this House for its action.”

This led to a series of civil rights legislative proposals (not all race related) and laid the groundwork for the election of more Black members of Congress. From 1870 to present, more than 200 African Americans have been elected to Congress.

Over the centuries, the legislative agenda has changed as African Americans became more deeply entrenched in every aspect of American life. The initial calling of civil and human rights in the earlier years expanded, making personal wealth and finance, along with voting rights, the centerpiece of Black members’ legislative agenda.

It is important to note the fundamental change in democratic and republican policy priorities. The Republican Party were the original defenders of civil and human rights in the 1800s. Today, the party appears to be antithetical to voting and civil rights, as evidenced by the recent wave of state legislation making it more difficult to register and vote.

Enter modern day politics. The Congressional Black Caucus was initiated by, and in recent history dominated by, members of the Democratic Party. The CBC was established in 1971 by 13 Black members of the House of Representatives and is open for membership to congressional members of any political party. Its first chairman was Charles Diggs (D-MI).

The Congressional Black Caucus operates as several entities. The caucus itself focuses on legislative work and consults on which legislative issues are most important to its national constituency. Other caucus divisions include the CBC Foundation and CBC Institute. The CBC Foundation comprises political, high level corporate, independent business, and labor leaders who raise money to fund events and projects.

The CBC Institute is oftentimes the most effective division. It is the educational arm of the caucus, which engages in political education, election candidate training, several policy think tank operations (TUNICA and the 21st Century Council), and other annual events. Its Annual Legislative Conference (ALC) hosts major corporate exhibits that bring American business, independent entrepreneurs, and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) together to strengthen their relationships, while mining for exceptional Black talent.

As for music, the caucus is well known for engaging union musicians to perform at its annual Tunica, Mississippi, Policy Conference; 21st Century Council events (spread across the country); and its annual ALC Gala Dinner in Washington, DC. Many members of the CBC are themselves artists and arts enthusiasts in their respective congressional districts and have sterling track records supporting the arts.

Many serve as enthusiastic members of the House Congressional Arts Caucus and on the House Creative Rights Caucus. They sponsored and helped pass legislation that led to the opening of HR 57, the historic jazz night club, which was the brainchild of the late Congressman John Conyers. Many CBC members support arts venues in their districts, like former Congresswoman Marsha Fudge’s support of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

As President Biden negotiates to pass his signature human infrastructure bill, Build Back Better, and strives to move the House and the Senate on the issue of voting rights, including the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, the Congressional Black Caucus will serve as a core voting block, focused on getting Build Back Better signed into law.

As a solid, reliable voting block on AFM issues, the CBC has proven its commitment to labor and the arts. The AFM’s professional and personal relationships with individual members of the CBC have made a critical difference in our union’s success on Capitol Hill year after year. We value our relationship with the CBC as we continue to work together in 2022.

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