John Conyers, the legendary Democratic Congressman from Michigan who served more than a half-century on Capitol Hill, died Sunday, according to a new report. He was 90 years old.
Conyers died in his sleep, according to PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor, who broke the news on Twitter.
Conyers was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, the longest-serving African-American member of Congress and the third-longest serving member of Congress overall. He served Detroit in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District for 53 years before resigning abruptly in late 2017 after facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment, which he adamantly denied.
“My legacy can’t be compromised or diminished in any way by what we’re going through now. This, too, shall pass. My legacy will continue through my children,” Conyers said at the time.
Prior to his resignation, Conyers had been hospitalized. It was unclear if he had any health problems that contributed to his death on Sunday.
The Detroit native was born May 16, 1929, and attended the city’s public schools before going on to graduate from Wayne State University and Wayne State Law School. While Conyers was earning his education, he was also earning his stripes in the military as a member of the Michigan National Guard and the United States Army Reserve. He also served one year in Korea during the Korean War.
After serving his country in the military, Conyers joined the staff of Michigan Rep. John D. Dingell while simultaneously working as the general counsel for three labor locals in Detroit. Conyers also served on the executive boards of Detroit’s American Civil Liberties Union and Michigan’s chapter of the NAACP.
Conyers was elected to Congress and in 1965 began serving the first of his 26 consecutive terms, a record that still stands among Black Congressman. During his time in Congress, Conyers chaired the House Committees for Government Operations, Legislation and National Security along with chairing the House Judiciary Committee and two of its subcommittees, crime and criminal justice.
“He sat on the panel in 1974 when it investigated President Richard Nixon and later voted to submit articles of impeachment to the full House (he supported all three articles),” the Detroit News reminded readers.
He was also a member of the House Committee on Small Businesses.
Conyers went on to chair the Judiciary Committee from 2007-11 and led the powerful House Oversight Committee as chair from 1989 to 2004.
Conyers was also a pioneering Congressional voice on the contentious issue of reparations for the country’s sordid history of enslaving Black people. A House panel credited him in January for those efforts in a topic that has increasingly become part of the political discourse headed into the presidential election next year. Conyers first introduced H.R. 40 bill — the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act — in 1989 before going on to propose it to Congress each year until he retired. The bill never passed.
Conyers also made his presence felt in Congress when it came to civil rights. During his decades on Capitol Hill, he either sponsored or co-sponsored the Martin Luther King Holiday Act, the National Voter Registration Act and the Hate Crime Statistics Act. And although the infamous 1994 crime bill that spawned Hillary Clinton’s “super predators” quote, Conyers had an instrumental role in securing the inclusion of the Racial Justice Act and the Police Accountability Act inside what was called the Omnibus bill. He also was the driving force behind a Justice Department study on police brutality that prompted hearings on police brutality that Conyers conducted.
After he stepped down in 2017, Conyers endorsed his son, John Conyers III, as his heir apparent. However, it would be his nephew, Ian Conyers, who would actually run — and lose — for the coveted position in Congress. Rashida Tlaib would go on to win the election to fill Conyers’ spot and become the first Muslim woman in Congress in August of 2018.
While Conyers made a name for himself in the civil rights movement and an outspoken proponent for Black people in particular, the sexual harassment claims — which were alleged just as the #MeToo movement was gaining more attention — sullied his otherwise stellar resume in Congress. The damning allegations came from several of Conyers’ female staffers.
Conyers is survived by his wife Monica Conyers and their two sons, John Conyers III and Carl Edward.
Conyers’ death came just over a week after another legendary Black Congressman passed away. Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, who represented Baltimore in Congress for more than two decades, died on Oct. 17. He was 68.