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Historical Highlights

Representative Charles Diggs of Michigan

August 24, 1998
Representative Charles Diggs of Michigan Image courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration Serving 25 years in the House of Representatives, Charles Diggs of Michigan became the first black chairman of the Committee on the District of Columbia.
On this date, Charles Diggs, the first African American to represent Michigan in Congress, died in Washington, D.C. Diggs served in the Michigan state senate for three years before winning a seat in the U.S. House in the 84th Congress (1955–1957). During his 25 years in the House, Diggs became an outspoken advocate for civil rights, participating in demonstrations and garnering attention for the growing movement. Known as “Mr. Africa” because of his dedication to and knowledge of African affairs, the Michigan Congressman was the first African American to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee. He also earned the distinction of being the first black chairman of the Committee on the District of Columbia where he tirelessly promoted home rule (self-government) for the nation’s capital. “When we talk about self-determination for the District of Columbia we are not only talking about a matter of local interest, but because of the unique role of this capital community, it is of concern to each one of the Members of the 435 districts across the country,” Diggs surmised. Diggs played a critical role in the formation of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and served as the organization’s first chairman. “We meet to assert the common bonds that unite men and women of all races, creeds and generations who share a fierce determination to liberate the legions of the oppressed,” Diggs asserted at the first annual CBC dinner in 1971. “We come together to arm and equip ourselves to fight more effectively than ever before for those who are too seldom victors, too often victims.”

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