The new 116th Congress has more Black participation than ever before. There are 55 members of the Congressional Black Caucus. There are two Black elected officials who chose not to belong – Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Congressman William Hurd of Texas. They see the Caucus as a Democratic association and they are Republicans. We wish they would reconsider. It is important that the Caucus is bi-partisan.
Let’s look at the brief history of the Congressional Black Caucus. It was officially formed in February of 1971. The founding members were Shirley Chisholm, William L. Clay, George W. Collins, John Conyers, Ronald Dellums, Charles Diggs, Augustus F. Hawkins, Ralph Metcalfe, Parren Mitchell, Robert Nix, Charles Rangel, Louis Stokes, and Walter Fauntroy. We have fond memories of all these “Giants”. They were always Black and proud and showed it to the world. They guaranteed the implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Most laws and regulations concerning minority business participation is here through the efforts of Parren Mitchell.
One of its biggest accomplishments was the Free South Africa Movement and involvement with the founding of the organization known as TransAfrica. Activities led to the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. President Ronald Reagan vetoed the Act, but they organized and were able to override the veto. This was one of their finest moments. Today, their goals and mission are less defined.
It is amazing that they can be segregated by race. They do not allow white members of Congress to join the Caucus. One example is when Congressman Steve Cohen, a white congressman from Tennessee whose district is over 60% Black applied for membership in 2006. He was flatly denied. Here is how Congressman Lacy Clay Jr. explained it: “Quite simply, Rep. Cohen will have to accept what the rest of the country will have to accept.
There has been an unofficial Congressional White Caucus for over 200 years, and now it’s our turn to say who can join “the club”. He does not, and cannot, meet the membership criteria unless he can change his skin color. Primarily, we are concerned with the needs and concerns of the Black population, and we will not allow white America to infringe on those objectives.”
This is racism by any other name. Understandable but racist still the same. If they would allow congressional districts and states with high populations of Black voters to be eligible for membership they would grow even further and become so much stronger in their advocacy. This is 2019 and they need to rethink this.
The Caucus is quite proud of the recent gains it made in the House of Representatives and the taking of the majority by the Democrats. It believes it has reached a “crossroads” in their power base. The following is from a press release issued by the CBC: “Perhaps most significant for the CBC is the major push that Black Democrats made into districts that have been traditionally white strongholds in the suburbs.
Of the nine Black Democrats who won their first race this year, four are billed as majority makers – Democrats who won seats previously held by Republicans. A fifth won in a traditional swing seat outside Las Vegas that has gone back and forth for decades.
This group includes Colin Allred, a former National Football League player who ousted longtime Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex) in a suburban Dallas district where Democrats did not even field a candidate two years ago.
In a special election last year, Democrats poured a record $30 million into the suburbs north of Atlanta for Jon Ossoff, who was a 30-year-old former congressional staffer. He came up short, only to watch Lucy McBath, a gun control advocate whose son was killed in a shooting, run an under the radar race to victory over the same Republican.
For decades, the all-white leadership has taken CBC seats for granted, seeing them as heavily Democratic districts in urban strongholds that will remain in their corner no matter who holds them.
Now, leaders have to cater to these new CBC members to preserve their majority in two years.”
Yes, the times are changing for the better. Now the CBC needs to come together and come up with a plan to once and for all provide Capital Access and good Black procurement participation for our ever-growing number of Black businesses. We need a better entre into the federal sector. The CBC needs to organize like they did when they took on Apartheid South Africa. Let’s take on the Apartheid in federal procurement and financial services.
If organized properly and with a viable Strategic Plan we can integrate the great American economy once and for all.
Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Ms. DeBow is the Co-Founder, Executive Vice President of the Chamber.