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
1951–1954
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, Charles was the only child of Mayme E. Jones Diggs, and Charles Diggs, Sr. He attended the University of Michigan, Detroit College of Law (1952-52) and Fisk University.[1] and 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.

The first African American to be elected to Congress in Michigan, Diggs made significant contributions to the struggle for civil rights. 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]

The same year that he was sworn in to congress, Diggs received national attention as the only congressman to attend and monitor 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. 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] Following the trial, he continued the fight for justice, calling upon President Eisenhower to call a special session of congress to consider civil rights.[4]

In 1969, Diggs was appointed to the post of Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, where he strongly advocated ending Apartheid in South Africa. He was a committed publicist for the liberation cause in South Africa, and his 'Action Manifesto' (1972) displayed his support for the armed struggle against Apartheid. In it, Diggs criticized 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.[5]

Diggs was additionally a founding member and the first chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, a group of African American representatives and senators working to address the needs and rights of black constituents. While chairman, Diggs successfully led a caucus boycott of President Nixon's State of the Union Address, following Nixon's refusal to meet to discuss issues relevant to African Americans.[6] This and similar work contributed to Diggs being named on the Master list of Nixon political opponents.

Corruption[edit]

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[7] 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.[7] He was sentenced to three years in prison and served 14 months.

He was a member of Mt. Sinai Holy Church of America 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.[8]

References[edit]

  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. ^ Congressional Record, V. 144, PT. 14, September 9, 1998 to September 21, 1998
  5. ^ James Sanders, South Africa and the International Media (London, 2000).
  6. ^ Clemons, M.L. (2010). African Americans in Global Affairs: Contemporary Perspectives. University Press of New England.
  7. ^ a b Rudin, Ken (2007-06-06). "The Equal-Opportunity Culture of Corruption". NPR.org. Retrieved 2007-07-29. 
  8. ^ 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.