DETROIT (WXYZ) — For more than 50 years, U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. represented the people of Detroit.
Police say he died in his sleep of natural causes at his home in Detroit on Sunday. As news of his passing spread, people in the community came forward with story after story.
Conyers, elected for the first time in 1964, would become the longest-serving black member of Congress in history. During his career he developed a reputation as a warrior for civil rights. He co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus, which amplified the voices of African American lawmakers.
“His motto has always been jobs, peace and justice,” said his wife, Monica Conyers.
She says he was proud of his work passing the Voting Rights Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and making Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Day a national holiday. He had a record of working for laws he thought were right, even when there was not support.
“When no one wanted to talk about it, John Conyers every year put forth legislation to study reparations,” said Rev. Charles Williams II of the National Action Network’s local chapter.
People who live in Detroit who reached out to him with ideas say they remember him as a man of action.
Civil Rights Activist Sam Riddle says Conyers made the Million Man March possible.
“It was important to assert our humanity when our humanity has been rejected by systemic racism and wealth inequality over and over again,” Riddle said.
Cheryl Major, who runs the Children’s Spa for Childen with Disabilities, says when she told him about the struggles she witnessed disabled people face, Conyers worked on amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act, inspiring and empowering her clients.
“He inspired me to do everything I need to do to become a better person like him,” said Tabitha Watson, a client at Children’s Spa for Children with Disabilities.
“Congressman Conyers always made sure they could be included in everything,” Major said.
His career ended in 2017 after controversy. Former staffers accused him of sexual harassment. His attorney Arnold Reed says Conyers maintained his innocence and health issues played into his decision to step down.
“John Conyers, what he has done has been set in stone," Reed said. "He will be remembered as a civil rights champion."