Oct. 28 (UPI) — John Conyers Jr., the longest-serving black congressman and a civil rights leader, has died at the age of 90, officials said.
Conyers died at his Detroit home on Sunday, his spokeswoman Holly Baird confirmed.
In a statement, his wife, Monica Conyers, called her husband a “fighter.”
“When your back was up against a wall, he was right there with you,” she said. “Not just for me, but for everyone.”
Carl Conyers, one of his two sons, said the Congressman taught him “how to be the man I am today.”
“I’ve lost count over the years of how many people have come up to me to talk about my father,” he said via Twitter. “And not a single one had something negative to say. I always have and still do want to be the kind of person that my father was. Thank you for all that you’ve taught me.”
The Michigan Democrat served in Congress since he was first elected in 1964 and had a long illustrious career that spanned over five decades during which he fought for civil rights, to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday and for universal healthcare. He is also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, among other accomplishments.
One of his first votes in Congress was to pass the Voting Rights act of 1965, and he spent his entire life fighting to “ensure every citizen could vote [and] have their voice heard,” said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
“May we all carry that cause forward and continue the fight for a fair, accessible and secure democracy,” she said via Twitter.
His career, however, came to a dramatic and abrupt end in December 2017, when he retired amid allegations of sexual harassment, which he denied. He stepped down following calls for him to do so from then-Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and then-Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“My legacy can’t be compromised or diminished in any way by what we are going through now,” Conyers said at that time. “This, too, shall pass.”
Following news of his death, Democrats took to social media in mourning, with Rashid Tlaib, a Michigan congresswoman, calling Conyers “our Congressman forever.”
“He never once wavered in fighting for jobs, justice and peace,” she said in a statement. “We always knew where he stood on issues of equality and civil rights in the fight for the people. Thank you, Congressman Conyers, for fighting for us for over 50 years.”
Former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said Conyers was a “tireless advocate” for racial and economic justice.
“As a CBC co-founder, he focused the nation’s attention on inequality and so many overlooked issues,” she said in a tweet. “My heart is with his family today.”
During a campaign rally in Detroit, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said he sought Conyers out when he was first voted into Congress in the early 1990s because of his “strong progressive leadership.”
“John was a champion of civil rights, he was the man most responsible for having a national holiday for the great Martin Luther King Jr. and long before it was popular, John Conyers understood that healthcare is a human right,” he said. “So John, I want to thank you for a life of extraordinary service.”
He is survived by his wife and his two sons, John III and Carl Conyers.