I am troubled by the recent allegations of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior levelled against Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), but there is no way I can be impartial. Although I am disturbed to learn of the documented evidence that he used taxpayer dollars to cover up a scandal, I still believe he warrants due process, so let the House Ethics Committee continue with its investigation.
In the wake of the accusations, Rep. Conyers, 88, who has been in office more than 50 years, resigned as the senior member of the House Judiciary Committee. Most egregious of the complaints is that he reportedly arranged to have his accuser drop her complaint, sign a document that Conyers had done no wrong and agree not to disparage him or make any subsequent claims. For her part, she would be re-hired as a temporary “no show” employee and paid more than $27,000 over the course of three months. She accepted the terms, and Conyers continues to deny her claims.
What is undeniable is Conyers’ political legacy that includes his role as an incomparable civil rights leader. When Rosa Parks had to flee Alabama, her life at risk after her heroic stance against segregation, it was Conyers who provided a safe refuge and guaranteed her employment for almost the remainder of her life.
His legislative record is marked with major milestones, and the nation will never forget his unwavering, forthright commitment to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. For more than a generation, he has repeatedly put forth House Resolution Bill 40, demanding reparations as compensation for the hundreds of years of unpaid servitude for African-Americans during the slave era.
Artists in Detroit recall how he championed their cause, facilitating federal funds from the National Endowment of the Arts and securing the survival of struggling painters, poets, sculptors, dancers, actors and musicians.
These things I wrote about in my book “Black Detroit—A People’s History of Self-Determination,” and few elected officials have been as unflinching and determined as Conyers in providing for his constituents. When he expressed appreciation for my book and endorsed it with a blurb, that is one reason I speak out now on his behalf.
In the book there is a photo of the two of us together, when we were the leadership of the Detroit Jazz Center. That moment is indelibly stamped in the pages and in my memory. To be sure, there will come a time when the good that Conyers has done over the years will be weighed against his misdeeds, as on the Kemetic scales of Maat.
If all the accusations against him are true, then his behavior is inexcusable and justice should prevail.
But what is not accusable about Conyers is that he lacks compassion—Rosa Parks disproves that; he neglected his constituents—too many appreciative letters and voice messages dispel that; he has turned his back on the ancestors—his ongoing struggle to acquire reparations belies that charge; and he has lost touch with common people—well, I am one among many who know that isn’t true.
Again, we are confronted with the charge and possibility that an icon is not worthy, that an idol has clay feet, that a trusted public servant has gone astray. There appears to be incontrovertible evidence against Conyers, but it is also true that he has been, during his long years in Congress, an incontrovertibly loyal and productive servant. We can’t ignore the alleged misconduct, but neither can we brush aside his invaluable contributions.