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 has chaired the caucus since 2019. As of 2020, 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 African-American members of the House of Representatives, including Shirley Chisholm of New York, Louis Stokes of Ohio and William L. Clay of Missouri. African-American 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 in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement resulted in the number of black Congressmembers 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, William L. Clay Sr., George W. Collins, John Conyers, Ronald Dellums, Charles Diggs, Augustus F. Hawkins, Ralph Metcalfe, Parren Mitchell, Robert Nix, Charles Rangel, Louis Stokes, and Washington, D.C,. delegate Walter Fauntroy. Chisholm referred to the group as "unbought and unbossed".
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 African-American families, and promote the full engagement of African-Americans 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."