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Prominent Black Congressman Augustus Hawkins Dies at 100

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Augustus Hawkins, the first African American from California to serve in Congress and helped form the Congressional Black Caucus, has died. He was 100.

Hawkins died Saturday at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md., of symptoms related to old age, his niece, Susan Jefferson, said Monday.

Hawkins, a Democrat, represented South Los Angeles for more than half a century, first starting off in the state Legislature in 1935 and then getting elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1962.

Black politicians said Hawkins was an inspiration and a mentor to them.

“It was Gus Hawkins who gave us the credibility,” said Rep. Diane Watson, D-Los Angeles. “It was Gus Hawkins who gave us the ideas. . . . He has left a sterling legacy.”

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, who hold Hawkins’ former seat, said in a statement that he was “the author of some of the most significant legislation ever passed in the House . . . particularly in the areas of education and labor. He cared about poor and working people.”

Among his legislative accomplishments were sponsoring the equal employment section of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act that created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and helping create the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971.

Hawkins also co-wrote the Humphrey-Hawkins Act of 1978 that was designed to reduce unemployment and inflation.

He also made sure he stood up for his constituents. As Watts burned during the 1965 riots, Hawkins said police had been “abusive and arrogant and have attempted to control things by force, not by more modern methods of control.”

Hawkins was able to raise substantial funds to fight poverty following the riots.

Born in Shreveport, La., in 1907, he was the youngest of five children. The family moved to Los Angeles soon after World War I and Hawkins attended Jefferson High School and earned a degree from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1931.

Hawkins retired in 1990 and lived in the Washington, D.C., area. He was director of the Hawkins Family Memorial Foundation of Educational Research and Development, which he founded in 1969 to give college scholarships to young women in his district.

Hawkins’ first wife, Pegga Adeline Smith, a concert singer, died in 1966. His second wife, Elsie, whom he married in 1977, died two months ago.

He is survived by two stepdaughters, Barbara Hammond and Brenda Stevenson; a stepson, Michael A. Taylor; two grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

Services are pending.

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