Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Conyers, Jr., John

John Conyers, Jr., born May 16, 1929, was a congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives for 53 years, the longest-serving African American congressman in the U.S., the sixth longest-serving over all. Representing a district that covers parts of Detroit and some adjoining Wayne County suburbs, Conyers was elected to 27 terms in Congress.

Conyers graduated from Northwestern High School and went on serve in the National Guard and the United Stated Army during the Korean War. He later received both his undergraduate and law degrees from Wayne State University.

After working for three years as a legislative assistant for U.S. Representative John Dingell, Conyers himself ran for office, and was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1964. During his time in Congress, Conyers chaired the House Committee on Government Operations and was chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary. Conyers was also one of the 13 original founders of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Recognized and heralded as one of Congress’s leading liberals, Conyers was on the executive boards of the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP from the early 1960s until his death. He sponsored legislation that sought to prevent juvenile offenders from receiving life sentences, and to combat police brutality against African American men, as well as defending the Voting Rights Act and seeking reparations for descendants of African American slaves.

Conyers fought for 20 years to establish a national holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., introducing a bill each session of Congress beginning in 1968. The legislation designating the third Monday in January as the holiday was signed into law in 1983 and went into effect in 1986.

Challenges to Conyers’ conduct arose twice before the House Ethics Committee, the first in 2003 alleging use of his office for personal means, and in 2017 for paying an ex-staffer for time not worked. But it was allegations of sexual harassment that led Conyers to resign his ranking position on the Judiciary Committee, and eventually resign from Congress, on December 5, 2017.

Conyers married Monica Esters on June 4, 1990. They had two sons, John James III and Carl Edward.

An integral part of Detroit’s history, Conyers was in the streets, seeking to ease tension during the 1967 civil disturbance, and hired Rosa Parks to work in his Detroit office. He was active throughout his career in the advancement of the Civil Rights and Labor movements. He twice ran for mayor of Detroit, in 1989 against Coleman Young and in 1993 against Dennis Archer.

John Conyers died on October 27, 2019 of natural causes.



Portrait of John Conyers, Jr. c. 1966

Political Pin, 1972

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