Charles Diggs

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For his father, the Michigan politician, see Charles C. Diggs, Sr..
Charles Diggs
Charles C. Diggs.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Michigan's 13th district
In office
January 3, 1955 – June 3, 1980
Preceded by George D. O'Brien
Succeeded by George W. Crockett, Jr.
Member of the Michigan State Senate from the 3rd District
In office
Personal details
Born December 2, 1922
Detroit, Michigan
Died August 24, 1998(1998-08-24) (aged 75)
Washington, D.C.
Resting place Detroit Memorial Park

Warren, Michigan

Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Anna Diggs Taylor (divorced 1971)
Alma mater University of Michigan
Detroit College of Law (1952-52)[1]
Fisk University
Religion Holiness
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1943-1945
Battles/wars World War II

Charles Coles Diggs, Jr. (December 2, 1922 – August 24, 1998) was an African-American politician from the U.S. state of Michigan. Diggs was an early member of the civil rights movement. He attended the trial of Emmett Till's murderers, and was elected the first chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Diggs resigned from the United States House of Representatives and served 14 months of a three-year sentence for mail fraud, although he maintained his innocence. He was the first African American elected to Congress from Michigan.

Early life[edit]

Born in Detroit, Diggs attended the University of Michigan, Detroit College of Law (1952-52) and Fisk University.[1] He served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1945. After his discharge, Diggs worked as a funeral director. He served as a member of the Michigan State Senate from the 3rd district 1951-54, just as his father had from 1937 to 1944.

He was rooted in his family's business, the House of Diggs, which at one time was said to be Michigan's largest funeral home.[2]

Political career[edit]

In 1954, Diggs defeated incumbent U.S. Representative George D. O'Brien in the Democratic Party primary elections for Michigan’s 13th congressional district. He went on to win the general election to the 84th Congress and was subsequently re-elected to the next twelve Congresses, serving from January 3, 1955, until his resignation June 3, 1980.

From the beginning, Diggs took an interest in civil rights issues. In April 1955, he gave a well received speech to a crowd of about 10,000 in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, at the annual conference of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), probably the largest civil rights group in the state. His host was the RCNL's leader, Dr. T.R.M. Howard, a wealthy black surgeon and entrepreneur.[3]

Diggs was Howard's guest again in September 1955 to attend the trial of the accused killers of Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago who was murdered during a trip to the state. The outrage generated by the case gave a tremendous momentum to the emerging civil rights movement. Diggs' decision to attend the trial received high praise from the black press. Although he was a member of Congress, the sheriff did not exempt him from Jim Crow treatment. Diggs had to sit at a small table along with black reporters.[3]

He was appointed to the post of Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in 1969 and was first chairman of Congressional Black Caucus (1969–71), which landed him on the Master list of Nixon political opponents. He was a committed publicist for the liberation cause in South Africa. His 'Action Manifesto' (1972) displayed his support for the armed struggle against Apartheid and criticised the United States government for decrying the use of such violence when it failed to condemn measures used by the South African government to subjugate the majority of its own people.[4]

Diggs was a founding member and the first chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.


In March 1978, Diggs was charged with taking kickbacks from staff whose salaries he raised. He was convicted on October 7, 1978, on 11 counts of mail fraud[5] and filing false payroll forms. Diggs insisted he had done nothing wrong, and was re-elected while awaiting sentencing. He was censured by the House on July 31, 1979, and resigned from Congress June 3, 1980.[5] He was sentenced to three years in prison and served 14 months.

He was a member of Mt. Sinai Holy Church of American founded by Bishop-Mother Ida Robinson.

Diggs died of a stroke at Greater Southeast Community Hospital in Washington, D.C.. He is interred at Detroit Memorial Park in Warren, Michigan.[6]


  1. ^ a b "Diggs, Charles C., Jr. (1922-1998)". Martin Luther King Jr. And the Global Struggle for Freedom. Retrieved May 3, 2014. 
  2. ^ Pearson, Richard, Staff Writer (August 26, 1998). "Charles Diggs Dies at 75". Washington Post. p. B06. Retrieved May 3, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito, Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard's Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009) ISBN 0-252-03420-1.
  4. ^ James Sanders, South Africa and the International Media (London, 2000).
  5. ^ a b Rudin, Ken (2007-06-06). "The Equal-Opportunity Culture of Corruption". Retrieved 2007-07-29. 
  6. ^ Warikoo, Niraj. "Advocate of civil rights in Congress". Detroit Free Press. Archived from the original on February 3, 1999. 

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
George D. O'Brien
United States Representative for the 13th Congressional District of Michigan
1955 – 1980
Succeeded by
George W. Crockett, Jr.