John Dingell, Jr., civil rights crusader

By Bankole Thompson

U.S. Representative John Dingell, Jr., from the 12tth Congressional District, at 86 is being celebrated as the longest serving member of the U.S. Congress, a milestone not easily reached, one that climaxes Dingell’s more than five decades in public service.

Elected to Congress at 29, to replace his father John Dingell, Sr., the younger Dingel, steadily built his public portfolio, becoming chairman of powerful House committees that have broad powers over the environment, energy and the auto industry.

He wielded incredible influence and for years almost single-handedly decided the fate of the American auto industry in Washington.

One of the watershed moments in Dingell’s political career came when he vehemently supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act, at a time when it was very unpopular to come out unequivocally in support of legislation to challenge Jim Crow.

It was a decision that almost cost Dingell re-election to Congress. He told the Huffington Post that he “damn near lost an election over it. The Wall Street Journal gave me a 1-in-15 chance of winning that race.”

The nation’s first African American president, Barack Obama, acknowledged Dingell’s crucial role and support for civil rights in the last 50 years.

“John has always worked tirelessly for the people of his beloved Michigan and for working families across America,” Obama said. “He has helped pass some of the most important laws of the last half-century, from Medicare to the Civil Rights Act to the Clean Air Act to the Affordable Care Act, and he continues to fight for workers’ rights, access to affordable healthcare, and the preservation of our environment for future generations to enjoy. Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to John and his family.”

Dingell, the dean of the House, never relented in his support for legislations that have an imprint on the nation’s growth.

In Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder called him a champion for the Great Lakes state.

“During his 57 years in Congress, John Dingell has been a champion for civil rights, clean air and clean water, and affordable health care. Most of all, he has been a champion for Michigan and its people. He has worked tirelessly to advance the interests of our state and all Michiganders,” Snyder said. “The United States and Michigan have been truly fortunate to have John Dingell serving them. He has brought great honor to himself, our state and our nation and continues to build on his historic legacy of leadership and service.”

Retiring Michigan U.S. Senator Carl Levin called Dingell “a remarkable figure, not primarily because of his historic length of service, but because of what he has done for America with his time in Washington. If you are a senior who depends on Medicare, a worker who punches a clock, or an American who wants clean air, water and land, you are a beneficiary of John’s extraordinary legislative legacy.”

Dingell and his wife of more than three decades, Debbie, are both a dynamic duo in Washington and in Michigan’s political circles. Mrs. Dingell currently chairs the Board of Governors of Wayne State University and is a member of many boards of organization,s including the Democratic National Committee.

A strong ally of labor, Congressman Dingell, addressing the 35th United Auto Workers Constitutional Convention, said, “Raising the standards of living for the middle class should be something that everyone, regardless of their political beliefs or their title in the workplace, can agree on. As we continue to work towards a better living for all families, it is imperative that we do not get sidetracked by partisan bickering, and it is also imperative that both business and labor join together to come before Congress with a set of shared priorities.”

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