Appreciation: The Honorable Augustus F. “Gus” Hawkins, 1907-2007

I first met Congressman Augustus F. Hawkins during the summer of 1964, my first in the Nation’s Capitol, and during his first term in the House of Representatives following his election to the 88th Congress in 1962 to represent the 21st congressional district of California. “Gus,” as he was affectionately known by friends, family and his colleagues in the House, was a man of modest stature but extraordinary energy and legislative accomplishments.        
    

Congressman Hawkins had been elected to the House following 28 years in the California General Assembly. He had defeated the first Black American elected to the Assembly — a Republican, Frederick Madison Roberts — and developed an impressive legislative record that included more than 100 laws that he authored affecting adult education, apprenticeship training, workman’s compensation, low-cost housing, pensions for senior citizens, and childcare centers for working families. He fell a few votes short of being elected Speaker of the California General Assembly during his last term in that body. Hawkins was the first Black congressman elected to the House from west of the Mississippi River.

Gus didn’t waste any time getting to work on behalf of the people from his Watts district in Los Angeles. Amazingly, Rep. Hawkins played a major role in writing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in employment, based on race, color, national origin and religion, and established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This was a remarkable achievement for a freshman member of the House.

He continued to labor in the House for 29 years, achieving several milestones, including primary authorship or co-authorship of several laws, including the Historically Black College and University Act of 1986.

Hawkins chaired the Committee on House Administration and the Committee on Education and Labor from 1984 until he retired in 1991. He was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969.

The Committee on Education and Labor acknowledged the former chairman with spoken tributes by Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) and Rep. “Buck” Mc Keon (R-Calif.) and by adopting an amendment by Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), naming a new initiative to strengthen teacher education programs at minority-serving institutions the “Augustus F. Hawkins Centers of Education Excellence” in the Higher Education Act in Hawkins’ honor.

The American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, the National Education Association, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and the United Negro College Fund all supported adoption of the Scott amendment.

Speaker Pelosi, during her remarks at the Nov. 16, 2007 celebration of life service, repeated Hawkins’ own words in describing his philosophy of service and leadership:

The leadership belongs not to the loudest, not to those who beat the drums or blow the trumpets, but to those who day in and day out, in all seasons, work for the practical realization of a better world — those who have the stamina to persist and to remain dedicated. To those belong the leadership.”

Bud Blakey serves as Washington Counsel to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

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