Elected officials, religious leaders, music stars and Detroit sports heroes gathered Monday at a church to remember longtime U.S. Rep. John Conyers.
Former President Bill Clinton, civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer were among the speakers at Conyers’ funeral at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit. They were joined by several current and former members of Congress.
“I’d like to thank the people of Detroit for electing him 27 times,” Clinton said of Conyers, who died Oct. 27 at his Detroit home two years after resigning from Congress. “I’d like to thank you for giving him the space and support not just to represent his district but to represent people across the country and even around the world on the things we should all care about.”
“He was out there banging the drum against apartheid in South Africa long before it was a widely popular cause,” Clinton added. “He always supported the people of Haiti even when he couldn’t support their government. He worked for all of our cities and jobs and employment and opportunity and peace and justice everywhere. Not every district gives their elected representative the elbow room to do all those things.”
Known as the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, which he helped found, Conyers became one of only six black House members when he won his first election by just 108 votes in 1964. The race was the beginning of more than 50 years of election dominance: Conyers regularly won elections with more than 80% of the vote.
After a 15-year fight, he won passage of legislation declaring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday, first celebrated in 1986. He regularly introduced a bill starting in 1989 to study the harm caused by slavery and the possibility of reparations for slaves’ descendants. That bill never got past a House subcommittee.
“John is a champion,” Jackson said Monday. “He is a full-blown hall of famer.”
To some, Conyers’ legacy was damaged in 2017 following allegations that he sexually harassed female staffers. He denied the allegations but eventually stepped down, citing health reasons.