On Volunteerism: A. F. Hawkins, Civil Rights Lawmaker, Dies at 100

Today’s New York Times brought news of the death of A. F. Hawkins, a man I first learned about only by reading his obituary, which was written by David M. Herszenhorn, A. F. Hawkins, Civil Rights Lawmaker, Dies at 100..

The notice reads in part (emphasis added), with my comments in italic:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 — Augustus F. Hawkins, who was California’s first black representative in Congress, serving 14 terms in the House, and who had a hand in important civil rights legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, died on Saturday in Bethesda, Md. He was 100 and had lived in Washington since retiring from Congress in January 1991.

He retired in 1991, at a time when Congress actually tried to pass meaningful legislation. For the last several years it has made its principal business speeches, the release of press releases, and the every-growing activity of corruption.

Mr. Hawkins, who was known as Gus, represented south-central Los Angeles, including Watts. When he was first elected in 1962, he became one of only six black members of the House. After the elections in 1970, he helped found the Congressional Black Caucus, the influential organizing body for black lawmakers.

He was one of the first black members of the House. Shame on us.

But as he prepared to retire from the House, at the age of 82, he expressed some disillusionment with Congress and with his fellow black lawmakers, who he said often pursued individual interests instead of working as a cohesive group. “You could get frustrated by staying here,” he said in an interview in 1990.

You can get even more frustrated watching how those who have stayed there go about their business, which is, sad to day these days, not our nation’s business.

“Congressman Hawkins left his fingerprints on a host of historic pieces of legislation,” Representative Carolyn C. Kilpatrick, Democrat of Michigan and the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a statement.

Today, Congressmen leave their fingerprints on pork-barrel legislation and in the police stations when they are arrested.

Unlike other major civil rights figures, who used their advocacy as a platform from which to seek public office, Mr. Hawkins entered public office first, then used his increasing seniority to advance the cause of civil rights.

“By the time Martin Luther King became a national leader, Hawkins was already on the inside,” said Ben Highton, a political scientist at the University of California, Davis.

That’s why I write this piece. He entered public service to serve the public, not himself. This makes him a volunteer, just like all the others who serve us each day, whether in the military, police, firehouse or in an ambulance corps.

A. F. Hawkins — May His Memory Be a Blessing, And Also An Inspiration To Our Public Servants.

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