Major R. Owens

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Major Owens
Major Owens.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 12th district
In office
January 3, 1983 – January 3, 1993
Preceded by Edolphus Towns
Succeeded by Nydia Velazquez
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 11th district
In office
January 3, 1993 – January 3, 2007
Preceded by Shirley Chisholm
Succeeded by Yvette Clarke
Member of the New York Senate
from the 17th district
In office
January 1, 1975 – December 31, 1982
Preceded by Chester J. Straub
Succeeded by Howard E. Babbush
Personal details
Born (1936-06-28)June 28, 1936
Collierville, Tennessee
Died October 21, 2013(2013-10-21) (aged 77)
New York City, New York
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Maria Cuprill
Alma mater Morehouse College
Clark Atlanta University
Occupation Librarian
Religion Baptist

Major Robert Odell Owens (June 28, 1936 – October 21, 2013) was a New York politician and a prominent member of the Democratic Party who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1983 to 2007, representing the state's 11th Congressional district. He retired at the end of his term in January 2007 and was succeeded by Yvette Clarke.

Early life[edit]

Owens was born in Collierville, Tennessee. He received a bachelor's degree from Morehouse College and a master of science degree from Atlanta University. Owens was a librarian before entering politics.[1]

Political career[edit]

During the 1960s, Owens served under Mayor John Lindsay, heading New York City's Community Development Agency.[2] He was a member of the New York State Senate from 1975 to 1982, sitting in the 181st, 182nd, 183rd and 184th New York State Legislatures.[3]

In 1982, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, replacing the retiring Shirley Chisholm. He voted to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the U.S. House of Representatives. In Congress, he worked closely with American Disability activist Justin Whitlock Dart who often was visiting his office on Capitol Hill and provided testimony before Owen's Subcommittee on Select Education in the House, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, prior to the passage of the ADA when it was being heatedly debated. Owens represented a diverse district located within Brooklyn, New York which included many African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Jewish Americans, including a large Hasidic Jewish community. His district included low income areas of Brownsville, a large Hasidic area of Crown Heights, the heavily Caribbean areas of Flatbush and East Flatbush, and the now upscale neighborhood of Park Slope. Although Owens won the 2004 Democratic primary with just 45.44% of the vote,[4] he was re-elected in 2004 general election with 94% of the vote. He retired from the House at the end of his term in January 2007. Due to the extreme Democratic leaning of his district, there was little surprise his successor would be a Democrat.[citation needed]

In the 2006 election, Yvette Clarke, who ran against him in the 2004 primary, won the 2006 primary nomination to succeed him, and was elected with 89% of the votes.

Owens was one of 31 who voted in the House to not count the electoral votes from Ohio in the United States presidential election, 2004. [1]. He was a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He received an "A" on the Drum Major Institute's 2005 Congressional Scorecard on middle-class issues.[citation needed]

Medgar Evers College[edit]

Owens served as a faculty member in the Department of Public Administration at Medgar Evers College.[5]


Major Owens was married twice, first to Ethel (née Werfel), of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, with whom he had three sons: Brooklyn politician Chris Owens, actor Geoffrey Owens (best known for playing "Elvin" on The Cosby Show), and Millard Owens.


Owens died October 21, 2013 in New York City of renal and heart failure. He was 77 and is survived by his wife, Maria Owens, his three sons from his first marriage, two step-children from his second marriage, four grandchildren, and five step-grandchildren.[6][7]


  1. ^ Berry III, John N. "Major Owens: Years in Politics but Always a Librarian". Library Journal. Retrieved 8 December 2013. 
  2. ^ "Former Brooklyn Congressman Major Owens dies aged 77". NY Daily News. Retrieved October 22, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Featured African Americans" profile, Library of Congress (
  4. ^ NYC Board of Elections. "Primary Election Kings" (PDF). Retrieved April 20, 2013.  External link in |work= (help)
  5. ^ "The School of Business". Retrieved 20 April 2013. 
  6. ^ "Former Brooklyn Congressman Major Owens dies aged 77". NY Daily News. Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  7. ^ "". Retrieved October 22, 2013. 

External links[edit]

New York State Senate
Preceded by
Chester J. Straub
New York State Senate
17th District

Succeeded by
Howard E. Babbush
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Shirley Chisholm
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 12th congressional district

Succeeded by
Nydia Velázquez
Preceded by
Edolphus Towns
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 11th congressional district

Succeeded by
Yvette Clarke