Charles Diggs

Charles Diggs
Charles Diggs
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Michigan's 13th district
In office
January 3, 1955 – June 3, 1980
Preceded by George D. O'Brien
Succeeded by George W. Crockett, Jr.
Personal details
Born December 2, 1922
Detroit, Michigan
Died August 24, 1998(1998-08-24) (aged 75)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic
Religion Baptist

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, having been present at the murder trial of Emmett Till and 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, Diggs attended the University of Michigan and Fisk University. He 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 did from 1937 to 1944.

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.

From the beginning, Diggs took an interest in civil rights issues. 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.[1]

Diggs was Howard's guest again in September 1955 to attend 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. Diggs' decision to attend the trial received high praise from the black press. 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.[1]

He was appointed to the post of Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in 1969 and was first chairman of Congressional Black Caucus (1969–71), which landed him on the Master list of Nixon political opponents. He was a committed publicist for the liberation cause in South Africa. His 'Action Manifesto' (1972) displayed his support for the armed struggle against Apartheid and criticised 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.[2]

Allegations of corruption

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[3] 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.[3] He was sentenced to three years in prison and served 14 months.

Diggs was a Baptist and a member of American Legion, Freemasons, Alpha Phi Alpha and Elks.

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


  1. ^ a b 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 0252034201.
  2. ^ James Sanders, South Africa and the International Media (London, 2000).
  3. ^ a b Rudin, Ken (2007-06-06). "The Equal-Opportunity Culture of Corruption". Retrieved 2007-07-29. 

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
George D. O'Brien
United States Representative for the 13th Congressional District of Michigan
1955 – 1980
Succeeded by
George W. Crockett, Jr.

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