Advance Notice: Briefs

Barbara-Rose Collins, the 1st Michigan Black woman to serve in Congress, dies at 82

By: - November 5, 2021 6:09 am

Former U.S. Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins | Wikimedia Commons

Barbara-Rose Collins, the first Black woman to serve Michigan on Capitol Hill and a fixture in local, state and national politics for a half-century, has died at age 82, her family confirmed Thursday. 

Collins died of coronavirus complications. She had been vaccinated for COVID-19, according to her son, Christopher Collins, but had other health issues. 

Rep. Collins, a Detroit Democrat, served on several levels of government. She was a member of the Detroit Board of Education, state House, Detroit City Council and U.S. House during the 1970s, ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s. 

Elected to the state House in 1974, she helped to advocate for requiring grocers to print expiration dates on food and legislation banning sexual harassment in the workplace.

When the state House in 1975 passed a bill banning the use of state funds for abortions performed on welfare recipients, Collins frowned upon the action.  

“A lot of people here are very perturbed at the rising cost of welfare, and they think they’re cutting costs,” she said. “But you’re really voting for 18 more years of welfare payments. Weigh the cost of medical abortion against the cost of raising a child.” 

After serving in the state House from 1975 to 1981, she was elected to the Detroit City Council in 1982, where she was a strong ally of Mayor Coleman A. Young. 

Collins fought for racial equity and inclusion in government contracting and employment. In 1984, she sponsored a City Council resolution calling for local divestment in South Africa. The measure forbade city government from using general or pension fund dollars with companies that do business in South Africa, which was practicing racial apartheid.

Collins went on to serve in Congress from 1991 to 1997. After reports centering on improper use of taxpayers funds in connection with her congressional office, Collins lost a primary reelection bid in 1996 to Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, a fellow Democrat and mother of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.  

She was elected to a second stint on the City Council and served until 2009.

“Barbara-Rose was the glue of the [Michigan] Legislative Black Caucus,” Virgil C. Smith, a former state House and Senate member, posted on Facebook Thursday. “We would have meetings at her Lansing apartment. Her fried chicken was delicious and kept us coming back.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.