Death Was the Only Way He'd Give Up His Seat

February 19, 2019

America post-slavery was a nation racially divided, including politically. The U.S. House of Representatives was flooded with white men serving tenures that typically lasted 35 to 50 years. Never before had a Black person served more than two decades.

Until William Levi Dawson stepped onto the scene.

With a degree in law and as a veteran lieutenant who served in the U.S. Army Infantry, Dawson was a man primed for a career in politics. So it’s no surprise that he made history in 1930 when he became the first Black Committeeman for the Congressional District of Illinois.

As the Civil Rights Movement waged forward, Dawson became well known for his activism through politics. Using his political power to sponsor voter registrations and support Black progress, he soon was elected as a Democratic Representative from Chicago, IL, becoming the 78th Congressman - and the 3rd Black one.

For 27 years, William Levi Dawson served the longest term a Black representative had to date until he suddenly passed away from pneumonia.

While his health issues halted a long career, he used his time well. And during his stay in Congress, he not only made history but he also contributed plenty to the Civil Rights Movement and to the Black community.

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