Mickey Leland

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George Thomas Leland
Mickey Leland.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 18th district
In office
January 3, 1979 – August 7, 1989
Preceded by Barbara Jordan
Succeeded by Craig Washington
Member of the Texas House of Representatives from District 88
In office
1973–1979
Personal details
Born (1944-11-27)November 27, 1944
Lubbock, Texas,
United States
Died August 7, 1989(1989-08-07) (aged 44)
Gambela, Ethiopia
Resting place

Golden Gate Cemetery

Houston, Texas
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Alison Clark Walton-Leland (m. 1983–1989, his death)
Children 3 sons
Alma mater Texas Southern University
Profession Politician
Religion Roman Catholicism

George Thomas "Mickey" Leland (November 27, 1944 – August 7, 1989) was an anti-poverty activist who later became a congressman from the Texas 18th District and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. He was a Democrat.

Early Years[edit]

Born in Lubbock, Texas to the parents of Alice and George Thomas Leland, II. At a very early age, the Lelands moved to Houston's Fifth Ward neighborhood.

Growing up in a predominantly African American and Hispanic neighborhood, Leland attended Wheatley High School in Houston, Texas,[1] where he ranked in the top ten percent of his class when he graduated from Wheatley in 1964. While attending Texas Southern University in the late 1960s, he emerged as a vocal leader of the Houston-area civil rights movement and had brought national leaders of the movement to Houston. Leland graduated from Texas Southern in 1970 with a Bachelor's degree in Pharmacy. He served as an Instructor of Clinical Pharmacy at his alma mater from 1970–71, where he set up "door-to-door" outreach campaigns in low-income neighborhoods to inform people about their medical care options and performing preliminary screenings.

It was during the administration of then-Texas Southern University President Leonard O. Spearman, where Leland received an honorary doctorate degree from his alma mater.

Service in the Texas House of Representatives[edit]

In 1972, Texas for the first time allowed its State House of Representatives and Senate seats to be elected as single-member districts. Soon after the decision, five minority candidates (dubbed the "People's Five"), including eventual winners Leland, Craig Washington and Benny Reyes ran for district seats in the Texas House of Representatives, a first for a state that, although Barbara Jordan had been a state senator, had not seen any African-American state representatives since Reconstruction.

Re-elected in 1974 and again in 1976, Leland served three two-year terms in the Texas House of Representatives, representing the 88th District and while in Austin, he became famous for being a staunch advocate of healthcare rights for poor Texans. He was also responsible for the passage of legislation that provided low-income consumers with access to affordable generic drugs. Also supported the creation of healthcare access through Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO's). In order to accomplish his goals in Austin, Leland served on the Texas State Labor Committee, State Affairs Committee, Human Resources Committee, Legislative Council, and the Subcommittee on Occupational and Industrial Safety. He was elected the Vice-Chairman of the Joint Committee on Prison Reform including becoming the first African American to serve on the Senate-House conference Committee as a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

U.S. Congressman from Texas' 18th District[edit]

After six years in the Texas State Legislature, Leland was elected to the United States House of Representatives in November 1978 to represent Texas' 18th District and was re-elected easily in 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986 and again in 1988 to six two-year terms, serving until his death. The congressional district included the neighborhood where he had grown up, and he was recognized as a knowledgeable advocate for health, children and the elderly. His leadership abilities were immediately noticed in Washington, and he was named to serve as Freshman Majority Whip in his first term, and later served twice as At-Large Majority Whip. Leland was re-elected to each succeeding Congress until his death.

Mickey Leland International Terminal D at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport is named after Leland.

Leland was an effective advocate on hunger and public health issues. In 1984 Leland established the congressional select committee on Hunger and initiated a number of programs designed to assuage the famine crises that plagued Ethiopia and Sudan through much of the 1980s. Leland pioneered many afro-centric cultural norms in Washington which included wearing a dashiki and African style hats.[2]

As he visited soup kitchens and makeshift shelters, he became increasingly concerned about the hungry and homeless. The work for which he is best remembered began when Leland co-authored legislation with U.S. Rep. Ben Gilman (R-New York State) in establishing the House Select Committee on Hunger. U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill (D-Massachusetts) named Leland chairman when it was enacted in 1984. The Select Committee's mandate was to "conduct a continuing, comprehensive study and review of the problems of hunger and malnutrition."

Although the committee had no legislative jurisdiction, the committee, for the first time, provided a single focus for hunger-related issues. The committee's impact and influence would stem largely from Congressman Leland's ability to generate awareness of complex hunger alleviation issues and exert his personal moral leadership. In addition to focusing attention on issues of hunger, his legislative initiatives would create the National Commission on Infant Mortality, better access for fresh food for at-risk women, children and infants, and the first comprehensive services for the homeless.

Leland's sensitivity to the immediate needs of poor and hungry people would soon make him a spokesperson for hungry people on a far broader scale. Reports of acute famine in sub-Saharan Africa immediately prompted Speaker O'Neill to ask Leland to lead a bipartisan Congressional delegation to assess conditions and relief requirements. When Leland returned, he brought together entertainment personalities, religious leaders and private voluntary agencies to create general public support for the Africa Famine Relief and Recovery Act of 1985. That legislation provided $800 million in food and humanitarian relief supplies. The international attention Leland had focused on the famine brought additional support for non-governmental efforts, saving thousands of lives.

His ability in reaching out to others with innovative ideas and to gain support from unlikely sources was a key to his success in effectively addressing the problems for the poor and minorities. He met with both Pope John Paul II about food aid to Africa and Cuban President Fidel Castro about reuniting Cuban families. In Moscow as part of the first Congressional delegation led by a Speaker of the House as part of the post-Cold War Era, he proposed a joint US-Soviet food initiative to Mozambique. As Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Leland proudly presented the first awards the Caucus had ever given a non-black, rock musician Bob Geldorf and news anchor Ted Koppel. Geldorf honored for his Band Aid concert and fund-raising efforts for African famine victims and Koppel for his news stories on the African famine.

Leland was a powerful advocate on other major issues as well. While chairing the House Select Committee on Hunger, Leland was a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and the Subcommittees on Telecommunications and Finance, Health and the Environment, and Energy and Power. He chaired the Subcommittee on Postal Operations and Services and served on the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service and the Subcommittee on Compensation and Employment.

Minority Affairs[edit]

Leland was a very effective promoter of responsible and realistic broadcast television and cable programming. Through widely publicized congressional hearings he aroused the nation's conscience and reduced violence in children's television programming. And he advocated ethnic diversity through Affirmative Action in broadcast employment, both on and off camera, and ownership. In particular, he worked to assure that all of the characters in the media avoided ethnic stereotypes and fairly portrayed the rich diversity that makes up the American public. When the federal government began to privatize federal assets such as Conrail, Leland successfully included legislative language that required the participation of minority investment bankers in the negotiations.

His sincere concern for ethnic quality earned him a leadership position in politics. During 1985-86, Congressman Leland served as Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) during the 99th Congress. The CBC was created in 1971 with only 13 members. By 1987, the CBC had grown to 23 members. Leland was also a member of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) from 1976-85. He served Chairman of the DNC's Black Caucus from 1981–85, and in that capacity, he served on the DNC's Executive Committee.

Death[edit]

On August 7, 1989, Leland died[3] in a plane crash in Gambela, Ethiopia during a mission to Fugnido, Ethiopia. A total of fifteen people, including Leland, died in the crash. His friend and former fellow Texas legislator, Craig Washington, ran for and was elected to his unexpired congressional term in December 1989.

Since Mr. Leland's death, a number of buildings, initiatives, etc. have been renamed in his honor:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Distinguished HISD Alumni," Houston Independent School District
  2. ^ Leland, Mickey. Handbook of Texas Online. Last accessed November 10, 2006.
  3. ^ Hiltzik, Michael A. "Leland crash leaves no survivors." Los Angeles Times at the Boca Raton News. Monday August 14, 1989. 7th year, Issue 144. 1A. Google News 5 of 34.

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Barbara Jordan
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 18th congressional district

1979–1989
Succeeded by
Craig Washington