Conyers lauded for leadership centered on ‘jobs, justice, peace’

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton speaks at the funeral of former U.S. Congressman John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) at Greater Grace Temple on November 4, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. Conyers, who died on October 27 at the age of 90, was the longest serving African American member of the U.S House of Representatives in U.S. history, and the third longest serving House member, having held the office for more than 50 years. | Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Two-thousand mourners paid respect to former U.S. House Rep. John Conyers Jr. during a funeral service on Monday at Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple on the city’s Northwest side.

Conyers funeral program | Ken Coleman

“When somebody served as long and as well as John did, it’s tempting to list every last bill that he sponsored or co-sponsored or had anything to do with,” former President Bill Clinton said during the service. “In a way, that’s a big mistake because it tends to turn history into dry bones.”

The Detroit Democrat died at age 90 on Oct. 27. The man who was elected 27 times to U.S. House of Representatives almost didn’t end up in Congress. 

He won a recount election on Sept. 1, 1964, beating Richard Austin by a mere 43 votes. Conyers went on to defeat Robert Blackwell, a Highland Park resident in the November general election. 

During his tenure, he voted for the seminal 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. As a member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Conyers cast a vote to impeach now-former President Richard Nixon and was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus. He also was an early supporter of Barack Obama’s bid for the U.S. presidency. 

Conyers’ tenure ended abruptly after sexual harassment allegations were leveled against him by several women including former staffers. He resigned in December 2017.

John Conyers dies at age 90

Several national and statewide officials spoke to Conyers’ commitment to unpopular, yet important, issues and causes.

“Jobs, justice, peace …” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said. “That is a legacy that everyone in our state is proud of.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, May 18, 2019 | Andrew Roth

Conyers was lauded for his leadership on several issues, including work against apartheid in South Africa and supporting a Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday; Family Leave Act; Obamacare and reparations for African American descendant of slaves.

The list of public officials who attended the service with Clinton and Whitmer included: Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist; U.S. Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing); U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield); U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit); civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.); and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) who serves as Congressional Black Caucus chair. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans also attended, as did author and Detroit native Michael Eric Dyson; Dennis Archer, former Michigan Supreme Court justice and Detroit mayor; and Conrad Mallet Jr., who served as Michigan Supreme Court chief justice.

U.S. House Judiciary Committee offers tribute to longtime chair Conyers

“What an honor to deliver the formal eulogy today for the late, great #John Conyers, one of the foremost political representatives we have ever had! May he Rest In Peace and Power!” Dyson tweeted minutes before the service.

Conyers holds the distinction of being the first African American to serve as chair of the House Judiciary Committee. 

“He was an incredible icon,” said Tlaib, who represents the House district seat that Conyers previously held. “Growing up, I can remember hearing him speak with such greatness and presence. He was very strong and rooted into the community.” 

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.