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Charles Diggs
Chair of the House District of Columbia Committee

In office
January 3, 1973 – January 3, 1979
Preceded by John L. McMillan
Succeeded by Ron Dellums
Member of the United States House of Representatives
In office
January 3, 1955 – June 3, 1980
Preceded by George D. O'Brien
Succeeded by George Crockett Jr.
Member of the Michigan Senate
from the 3rd district

In office
Preceded by Henry Kozak
Succeeded by Cora Brown
Personal details
Born Charles Coles Diggs Jr.
(1922-12-02)December 2, 1922
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Died August 24, 1998(1998-08-24) (aged 75)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Anna Johnston (m. 1960; div. 1971)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1943–1945
Battles/wars World War II

Charles Coles Diggs Jr. (December 2, 1922 – August 24, 1998) was an African-American politician from the U.S. state of Michigan. Diggs was an early member of the civil rights movement. He attended the trial of Emmett Till's murderers, and was elected the first chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Diggs resigned from the United States House of Representatives and served 14 months of a three-year sentence for mail fraud, although he maintained his innocence. He was the first African American elected to Congress from Michigan.

Early life

Born in Detroit, Charles was the only child of Mayme E. Jones Diggs, and Charles Diggs, Sr. He attended the University of Michigan, Detroit College of Law (1952-52) and Fisk University.[1] and served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1945. After his discharge, Diggs worked as a funeral director. He served as a member of the Michigan State Senate from the 3rd district 1951-54, just as his father had from 1937 to 1944.

He was rooted in his family's business, the House of Diggs, which at one time was said to be Michigan's largest funeral home.[2]

Political career

In 1954, Diggs defeated incumbent U.S. Representative George D. O'Brien in the Democratic Party primary elections for Michigan’s 13th congressional district. He went on to win the general election to the 84th Congress and was subsequently re-elected to the next twelve Congresses, serving from January 3, 1955, until his resignation June 3, 1980.

The first African American to be elected to Congress in Michigan, Diggs made significant contributions to the struggle for civil rights. In April 1955, he gave a well received speech to a crowd of about 10,000 in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, at the annual conference of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), probably the largest civil rights group in the state. His host was the RCNL's leader, Dr. T.R.M. Howard, a wealthy black surgeon and entrepreneur.[3]

The same year that he was sworn into congress, Diggs received national attention as the only congressman to attend and monitor the trial of the accused killers of Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago who was murdered during a trip to the state. The outrage generated by the case gave a tremendous momentum to the emerging civil rights movement. Although he was a member of Congress, the sheriff did not exempt him from Jim Crow treatment. Diggs had to sit at a small table along with black reporters.[3] Following the trial, he continued the fight for justice, calling upon President Eisenhower to call a special session of congress to consider civil rights.[4]

In 1969, Diggs was appointed to the post of Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, where he strongly advocated ending Apartheid in South Africa. He was a committed publicist for the liberation cause in South Africa, and his 'Action Manifesto' (1972) displayed his support for the armed struggle against Apartheid. In it, Diggs criticized the United States government for decrying the use of such violence when it failed to condemn measures used by the South African government to subjugate the majority of its own people.[5]

Diggs was additionally a founding member and the first chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, a group of African American representatives and senators working to address the needs and rights of black constituents. While chairman, Diggs successfully led a caucus boycott of President Nixon's State of the Union Address, following Nixon's refusal to meet to discuss issues relevant to African Americans.[6] This and similar work contributed to Diggs being named on the Master list of Nixon political opponents.


In March 1978, Diggs was charged with taking kickbacks from staff whose salaries he raised. He was convicted on October 7, 1978, on 11 counts of mail fraud[7] and filing false payroll forms. Diggs insisted he had done nothing wrong, and was re-elected while awaiting sentencing. He was censured by the House on July 31, 1979, and resigned from Congress June 3, 1980.[7] He was sentenced to three years in prison and served 14 months.

He was a member of Mount Sinai Holy Church of America founded by Bishop-Mother Ida B. Robinson.

Diggs died of a stroke at Greater Southeast Community Hospital in Washington, D.C. He is interred at Detroit Memorial Park in Warren, Michigan.[8]


  1. "Diggs, Charles C., Jr. (1922-1998)". Martin Luther King Jr. And the Global Struggle for Freedom. Retrieved May 3, 2014. 
  2. Pearson, Richard, Staff Writer (August 26, 1998). "Charles Diggs Dies at 75". p. B06. Retrieved May 3, 2014. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito, Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard's Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009) ISBN 0-252-03420-1.
  4. Congressional Record, V. 144, PT. 14, September 9, 1998 to September 21, 1998
  5. James Sanders, South Africa and the International Media (London, 2000).
  6. Clemons, M.L. (2010). African Americans in Global Affairs: Contemporary Perspectives. University Press of New England.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Rudin, Ken (2007-06-06). "The Equal-Opportunity Culture of Corruption". Retrieved 2007-07-29. 
  8. Warikoo, Niraj. "Advocate of civil rights in Congress". Detroit Free Press. Archived from the original on February 3, 1999. 

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
George D. O'Brien
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Michigan's 13th congressional district

Succeeded by
George Crockett Jr.
New office Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
Succeeded by
Louis Stokes
Preceded by
John L. McMillan
Chair of the House District of Columbia Committee
Succeeded by
Ron Dellums

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