BY WALTER OPINDE
Nobody could ever imagine of an African-American serving for more than two decades in the U.S. House of Representatives during the racially-divided post-slavery era. Nevertheless, to overcome this stereotypical perception, Mr. William Levi Dawson (a Black American) broke the records for representing Chicago, Illinois for more than 27 years in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Born on 26th April 1886 in Albany- Georgia, William joined a local public school and later graduated in 1905 from Albany Normal School. In 1909, he joined the Fisk University and later relocated to Illinois in 1912 to study Law at the Northwestern University in Evanston. William served as a lieutenant in France from 1917 to 1919 in the U.S. Army Infantry. Later, by 1930, Dawson commenced his political career by joining the Republican Party. He became the first Black Committeeman for the Congressional District of Illinois from 1930 to 1932, becoming the third Black American elected the U.S. Congress in the 20th century. Thereafter, he was elected, in 1933, as an alderman in Chicago’s second ward.
By 1940s, William Dawson was already active in the U.S. politics, thereby going down in history as one of the African-American activists who supported the civil rights movements and sponsored registrations. He became a prominent Black American in the U.S. post-slavery politics.
Dawson was subsequently elected as a Black Democratic Representative from Chicago, Illinois. He was the seventy-eighth Congressman, and served for thirteen successive Congresses; serving from 3rd January, 1943 to 9th November, 1970, when he suddenly died from Pneumonia. This went to the historical records as the longest service by an African-American in the U.S. House of Representatives during the post-slavery era.
However, by the early and mid-1950s, Dawson was slowly getting allied to the Democratic City Machine. He progressively collaborated with Richard Daley, who was by then the Mayor of Chicago. Through his new acquired roles, Dawson primarily focused on the patronage for his constituents, and consequently avoiding his involvement in the issues of civil rights and movements. For the interest of shaking the city politics, he hardly gave support to Martin Luther King Jr. who was a prominent civil rights activist and dominant African-American politician by then.
During the 1952 first annual conference of the “Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL)” held at Mound Bayou (all-black town) in Mississippi, Dawson was featured as a vocal speaker at the civil rights organizations. William Levi Dawson received an invitation from the head of RCNL – Dr. Howard, T. M. R., which made him enter the historical records as the first African-American Congressman to speak at such a conference since the end of Reconstruction in 1877.
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