How the Congressional Black Caucus boycotted President Nixon’s State of the Union Address

Stephen Nartey March 20, 2023
Congressional Black Caucus/Photo credit: WSLS 10

The Congressional Black Caucus made screaming headlines in 1971 when it boycotted President Richard M. Nixon’s State of Union Address. It was the first public boycott of the State of the Union Address by members of Congress; a defiance that came about as a result of the President’s deliberate refusal to meet the representatives to discuss the administration’s policies.

Prior to the sixties, the number of black representatives in congress was negligible and did not have a unified voice. This caught the attention of Representative, Charles Diggs – the Democratic Representative for Michigan, who established the Democracy Select Committee; geared towards galvanizing black members of congress who were tired of consistently being sidelined (because of their insignificant number) into a unified force.

Consequently, there was a turn of events for the Democracy Select Committee when the number of black members in congress increased from nine to 13. Feeling it was long overdue that they were given the recognition they deserved, they decided the platform to demand the rights of the thousands of African Americans they represented was President Nixon’s State of the Union Address. They then petitioned the President, informing him of their decision to boycott the address; viewing his action as a lack of interest in matters affecting the black community.

Taking their war to the court of public opinion, they received wide media attention and temporarily triumphed in the following month of March, when President Nixon succumbed to the pressure of the caucus and finally met them. The committee presented 61 recommendations to the President to address and minimize racism, address the housing challenges facing African Americans, and help increase the number of Blacks in governance.

The Congressional Black Caucus later became the conscience of congress, who were vociferous in calls for the impeachment of the President in 1973, and ensured that equality no longer became rhetoric among the elected representative of the people.

The Committee Chair, Charles Coles Diggs Jr., once stated that irrespective of the political administration, equality must be given a real meaning in the interest of the black populace. These efforts eventually compelled the White House to publish a 115-page response to the recommendations of the Congressional Black Caucus, which political watchers deemed as historic.

Though the committee found the response disappointing, they believed they had attained the status of recognition they always fought for and were of the view that the response was a rehash of the President’s existing agenda. Since then, it has provided guidance and influence for future policies of successive US presidents who occupied the White House and their engagements with black lawmakers.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: March 20, 2023


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates