|Chairperson||Joyce Beatty (D-OH-3)|
13 founding members
|Founded||March 30, 1971|
|Political position||Multi-partisan Congressional Caucus (Motto: "Black people have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests.")|
|International affiliation||Congressional Black Caucus Foundation|
|Colors||Red Black Blue|
|Seats in the House|
(plus 2 non-voting)
|Seats in the Senate|
|Seats in the House Democratic Caucus|
|Seats in House Republican Conference|
|Members||During the 117th Congress|
|Predecessor||Democratic Select Committee (DSC)|
The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is a caucus made up of most African-American members of the United States Congress. Representative Karen Bass from California chaired the caucus from 2019 to 2021, she was succeeded by Representative Joyce Beatty from Ohio as chair. As of 2021, all members of the caucus are part of the Democratic Party.
The predecessor to the caucus was founded in January 1969 as the Democratic Select Committee by a group of black members of the House of Representatives, including Shirley Chisholm of New York, Louis Stokes of Ohio and William L. Clay of Missouri. Black representatives had begun to enter the House in increasing numbers during the 1960s, and they had a desire for a formal organization. Further, Congressional redistricting and other factors in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement resulted in the number of black Congressmembers increasing from nine to thirteen. The first chairman, Charles Diggs, served from 1969 to 1971.
This organization was renamed the Congressional Black Caucus in February 1971 on the motion of Charles B. Rangel of New York. The thirteen founding members of the caucus were Shirley Chisholm, Bill Clay, George W. Collins, John Conyers, Ron Dellums, Charles Diggs, Augustus F. Hawkins, Ralph Metcalfe, Parren Mitchell, Robert N.C. Nix Sr., Charles Rangel, Louis Stokes, and Washington, D.C,. delegate Walter E. Fauntroy. Chisholm referred to the group as "unbought and unbossed". Five founding members of the CBC were also members of Prince Hall Freemasonry, an African-American branch of Freemasonry that became involved in civil rights: Stokes, Conyers, Rangel, Hawkins and Metcalfe.
President Richard Nixon refused to meet with the newly formed group, and so the CBC chose to boycott the 1971 State of the Union address, leading to their first joint press coverage. On March 25, 1971, Nixon finally met with the CBC, who presented him with a 32-page document including "recommendations to eradicate racism, provide quality housing for black families, and promote the full engagement of blacks in government". All the members of the caucus were included on the master list of Nixon political opponents.
On June 5, 1972, shortly before the 1972 Democratic National Convention would nominate George McGovern for president, the CBC wrote and released two documents: the Black Declaration of Independence and the Black Bill of Rights. Louis Stokes read a preamble and both documents into the record of the House of Representatives. The Black Bill of Rights includes sections on jobs and the economy, foreign policy, education, housing, public health, minority enterprise, drugs, prison reform, black representation in government, civil rights, voting rights in the District of Columbia, and the military. These documents were inspired by the National Black Political Convention and its own manifesto, The Gary Declaration: Black Politics at the Crossroads (also called the Black Agenda).
In 1977, the organization was involved in the founding of TransAfrica, an education and advocacy affiliate that was formed to act as a resource on information on the African continent and its Diaspora. They worked closely with this organization to start the national anti-apartheid movement in the US, Free South Africa Movement (characterized by sit-ins, student protests, it became the longest lasting civil disobedience movement in U.S history) and to devise the legislative strategy for the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 that was subsequently passed over Ronald Reagan's veto. The organization continues to be active today and works on other campaigns.
In late 1994, after Republicans attained a majority in the House, the House passed House Resolution 6 on January 4, 1995, which prohibited "the establishment or continuation of any legislative service organization..." This decision was aimed at 28 organizations, which received taxpayer funding and occupied offices at the Capitol, including the CBC. Then-chairman Kweisi Mfume protested the decision. The CBC reconstituted as a Congressional Member Organization.
During the 2020 George Floyd protests, the CBC provided House members with stoles made from kente to be worn for an 8:46-long moment of silence before introducing the Justice in Policing Act of 2020.
The caucus describes its goals as "positively influencing the course of events pertinent to African Americans and others of similar experience and situation", and "achieving greater equity for persons of African descent in the design and content of domestic and international programs and services."
The CBC encapsulates these goals in the following priorities: closing the achievement and opportunity gaps in education, assuring quality health care for every American, focusing on employment and economic security, ensuring justice for all, retirement security for all Americans, increasing welfare funds, and increasing equity in foreign policy.
Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), has said:
The Congressional Black Caucus is one of the world's most esteemed bodies, with a history of positive activism unparalleled in our nation's history. Whether the issue is popular or unpopular, simple or complex, the CBC has fought for thirty years to protect the fundamentals of democracy. Its impact is recognized throughout the world. The Congressional Black Caucus is probably the closest group of legislators on the Hill. We work together almost incessantly, we are friends and, more importantly, a family of freedom fighters. Our diversity makes us stronger, and the expertise of all of our members has helped us be effective beyond our numbers.
Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African-American studies and popular culture at Duke University, wrote a column in late 2008 that the Congressional Black Caucus and other African-American-centered organizations are still needed, and should take advantage of "the political will that Obama's campaign has generated."
The Congressional Black Caucus PAC is a political action committee founded as a political arm of the caucus, aiming "to increase the number of Black Members of the US Congress...support Non-Black Candidates who will champion the needs and interests of the Black Community" and increase the "participation of Black Americans in the political process". Gregory Meeks (D-NY-5) chairs the PAC. The CBCPAC is known for its moderate-lean. The PAC caused controversy when it backed incumbent Michael Capuano, a white man, over challenger Ayanna Pressley, a black woman who ultimately defeated him. Two years later, it backed Eliot Engel, a white incumbent, over Jamaal Bowman, a black challenger who went on to defeat him.
HuffPost reporters questioned how endorsements were made, noting that the executive board included corporate lobbyists over CBC members. Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-MI-14) criticized the PAC's endorsement policies in 2020 and called for it to be reevaluated. Color of Change, a civil rights advocacy nonprofit group, released a letter in 2016 calling on the CBCPAC to cut ties with lobbyists from industries that are "notorious for the mistreatment and exploitation of Black people" including private prisons, pharmaceutical companies, student loan creditors, and big tobacco.
The caucus has grown steadily as more black members have been elected. At its formal founding in 1971, the caucus had thirteen members. As of 2019, it had 55 members, including two who are non-voting members of the House, representing the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
As of 2021, there have been nine black senators since the caucus's founding. The seven black U.S. senators, all Democrats, who are or have been members of the Congressional Black Caucus are Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, elected in 2013 (currently serving), Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, elected in 2021 (currently serving), and Senator Kamala Harris of California, elected in 2016, who resigned in 2021 to take on the Vice Presidency; former senators Carol Moseley Braun (1993-1999), Barack Obama (2005-2008), and Roland Burris (2008-2010), all of Illinois; and former senator Mo Cowan (2013) of Massachusetts.
Burris was appointed by Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich in December 2008 to fill Obama's seat for the remaining two years of his Senate term after Obama was elected president of the United States. Cowan was appointed to temporarily serve until a special election after John Kerry vacated his Senate seat to become U.S. secretary of state.
Senator Edward Brooke, a Republican who represented Massachusetts in the 1960s and 1970s, was not a member of the CBC. In 2013, Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina, also chose not to join the CBC after being appointed to fill Jim DeMint's Senate seat.
The caucus is officially non-partisan; but, in practice, the vast majority of African Americans elected to Congress since the CBC's founding have been Democrats. Ten African American Republicans have been elected to Congress since the caucus was founded in 1971: Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts (1967-1979), Delegate Melvin H. Evans of the Virgin Islands (1979-1981), Representative Gary Franks of Connecticut (1991-1997), Representative J. C. Watts of Oklahoma (1995-2003), Representative Allen West of Florida (2011-2013), Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina (2013-present), Representative Will Hurd of Texas (2015-2021), Representative Mia Love of Utah (2015-2019), Representative Byron Donalds of Florida (2021-present), and Representative Burgess Owens of Utah (2021-present). Of these ten, only Evans, Franks, West, and Love joined the CBC; currently, the caucus includes no Republicans, although Byron Donalds has applied to join the CBC.
Edward Brooke was the only serving African American U.S. senator when the CBC was founded in 1971, but he never joined the group and often clashed with its leaders. In 1979 Melvin H. Evans, a non-voting delegate from the Virgin Islands, became the first Republican member in the group's history. Gary Franks was the first Republican voting congressman to join in 1991, though he was at times excluded from CBC strategy sessions, skipped meetings, and threatened to quit the caucus.
J. C. Watts did not join the CBC when he entered Congress in 1995, and after Franks left Congress in 1997, no Republicans joined the CBC for fourteen years until Allen West joined the caucus in 2011, though fellow freshman congressman Tim Scott declined to join. After West was defeated for re-election, the CBC became a Democrat-only caucus once again in 2013.
In 2014, two black Republicans were elected to the House. Upon taking office, Will Hurd from Texas declined to join the caucus, while Mia Love from Utah, the first black Republican congresswoman, joined.
All past and present members of the caucus have been African-American. In 2006, while running for Congress in a Tennessee district which is 60% black, Steve Cohen, who is Jewish, pledged to apply for membership in order to represent his constituents. However, after his election, his application was refused. Although the bylaws of the caucus do not make race a prerequisite for membership, former and current members of the caucus agreed that the group should remain "exclusively black". In response to the decision, Cohen referred to his campaign promise as "a social faux pas" because "It's their caucus and they do things their way. You don't force your way in. You need to be invited."
Representative Lacy Clay, a Democrat from Missouri and the son of Representative Bill Clay, a co-founder of the caucus, said: "Mr. Cohen asked for admission, and he got his answer. He is white and the caucus is black. It is time to move on. We have racial policies to pursue and we are pursuing them, as Mr. Cohen has learned. It is an unwritten rule. It is understood." Clay also issued the following statement:
Quite simply, Representative 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 is 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.
Later the same week, Representative Tom Tancredo, a Republican from Colorado, objected to the continued existence of the CBC as well as the Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Republican Congressional Hispanic Conference arguing that "It is utterly hypocritical for Congress to extol the virtues of a color-blind society while officially sanctioning caucuses that are based solely on race. If we are serious about achieving the goal of a colorblind society, Congress should lead by example and end these divisive, race-based caucuses."
Prior to 2017, no one had attempted to be in both the CBC and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC). In the 2016 House elections, Afro-Dominican State Senator Adriano Espaillat was elected to an open seat after twice trying to unseat CBC founder Charlie Rangel (who also has Puerto Rican ancestry) in the Democratic primary. Espaillat signaled that he wanted to join the CBC as well as the CHC, but it was reported that he was rebuffed, and it was insinuated that the cause was bad blood over the attempted primary challenges of Rangel.
In the 2018 elections, Afro-Puerto Rican Democrat Antonio Delgado was elected and joined the CBC, making no public effort to join the CHC as well. In the 2020 elections, Afro-Puerto Rican Democratic candidate Ritchie Torres published an Op-ed claiming that he was prevented from joining both the CBC and CHC as he wished to do, a claim which was denied by then-CBC chair Karen Bass. After being elected to Congress, Torres successfully joined both the CBC and CHC.
The following U.S. representatives have chaired the Congressional Black Caucus:
The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls is a separate caucus of the United States Congress founded in 2016 to advance issues and legislation important to the welfare of women and girls of African descent.