I rise today to honor the magnificent legacy of a courageous public servant, a great American, a great champion for the voiceless, a son of Detroit, my mentor, my colleague and my dear friend, the late Congressman John James Conyers Jr.
John Conyers was born in Highland Park, Michigan on May 26, 1929. He graduated from Northwestern High School in Detroit, served with distinction in the U.S. Army during in the Korean Conflict, and went on to graduate from Wayne University Law School.
Even before his first election to Congress in 1964, he became fully engaged in the struggle for civil rights and equal opportunity.
Among his many achievements, Congressman Conyers will forever be highlighted in American history for being the only candidate for the U.S. House to be personally endorsed by the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his first campaign for public office.
John Conyers was a remarkable legislator, playing a major role in the passage of more than 100 pieces of legislation, including the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1965, which he then fought to perfect and reauthorize throughout his career.
On April 8, 1968, just four days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, Congressman Conyers introduced legislation to designate Dr. King’s birthday as a federal holiday. For the next 15 years, across this nation, he led the public fight to gather grass roots support to pass that bill and saw it signed into law in 1983.
Congressman Conyers was also a powerful voice who helped author and pass the 1993 Motor Voter Bill and the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.
He was also a close friend and colleague of my distinguished father, former Congressman Bill Clay, who like Congressman Conyers, was an original cofounder of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971.
When I first came to Congress in 2001, one of the first mentors I sought out was John Conyers. And I was honored, as one of my first legislative acts in the U.S. House, to cosponsor Congressman Conyers’ groundbreaking Medicare for All-Single Payer Healthcare Bill – a cause which he devoted his career to.
Congressman Conyers believed, as do I, that healthcare is a fundamental human right which no American should be denied, without exception. I will continue Congressman Conyers’ fight to cover every American, not just to honor his memory, but because it is an urgent national priority.
John Conyers traveled the world, promoting human rights, demanding equal opportunity, and expressing the best of American values. And yet, he never forgot where he came from. He loved Detroit, and Detroit trusted him to be their voice in Washington for more than half a century.
On behalf of my father and myself, I want to express our deepest sympathies to Congressman Conyers’ family, to the community he served so well, and to his many admirers in this body and across this great country.
We give thanks for this remarkable public servant who never wavered in his commitment to equal justice for all, a truly historic Member of Congress and a great American: John James Conyers Jr.
U.S. Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-Missouri) represents Missouri’s 1st Congressional District.