Advance Notice: Briefs

On this day in 1980: Capitol Hill vet Diggs faces former judge for U.S. House seat

By: - April 21, 2022 3:35 am

In 1952, George Crockett Jr (on the right wearing eyeglasses) represented union activist and future Detroit mayor Coleman A. Young (in the center) during a U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee hearing in Detroit. | Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

On April 21, 1980, George Crockett Jr., a retired Detroit Recorder’s Court judge and current acting city of Detroit corporation counsel, announced that he would challenge embattled incumbent U.S. Rep. Charles Diggs Jr., a Detroit Democrat.

Diggs, who became Michigan’s first Black member of Congress in 1955, was indicted in 1978 by a grand jury on multiple charges, including taking kickbacks from his congressional staff. He was sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison and had been appealing the sentence to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, he was reelected in November 1978. 

U.S. Rep. Charles Diggs Jr. (D-Detroit) in 1979 | Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Crockett and Diggs had been friends. Crockett said that the Capitol Hill veteran should plead for probation.

“Our friendship goes back many, many, many years,” said Crockett as reported by the Detroit Free Press in 1980. “I regret that he fell to temptation. But I continue to feel it is unfair for the Justice Department to do to Diggs what they have not done in other cases.

“I don’t feel any congressman should be let off the hook completely. But I feel at a minimum Charles Diggs should be given probation.”

Diggs, a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, ultimately decided not to run for the U.S. House seat in May 1980 and began serving his prison sentence just before the August primary. 

Crockett, age 70 at the time, had established himself as a noted labor lawyer going back to the New Deal days of the 1930s. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College, a historically Black institution in Atlanta in 1931 and a degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1934. 

He held the distinction of being the first African American lawyer to serve in the U.S. Department of Labor and worked on the United Auto Workers’ Fair Practices Commission during the early 1940s. 

In 1946, he and fellow partners Ernest Goodman, Morton Eden and Dean Robb founded what was considered by many to be America’s first racially integrated law firms. In 1952, Crockett represented Coleman A. Young, a union activist and future Detroit mayor, during a U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee hearing in Detroit. The lawyer was elected to Detroit Recorder’s Court in 1966 and served there until his retirement in 1978.

Crockett’s campaign was run by Dennis Archer, a future Michigan Supreme Court justice and Detroit mayor. Crockett faced a group of noted African Americans in the primary election for the U.S. House seat, including state Sen. David Holmes (D-Detroit), Detroit City Council Member Clyde Cleveland and Nicholas Hood III, the son of longtime Detroit City Council Member Nicholas Hood Sr. 

George Crockett Jr. as a Detroit Recorder’s Court judge | Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Crockett, however, won the primary handily and the November general election, too. 

During his 10-year tenure, Crockett was one of the U.S. House’s most liberal members. In 1984, the House approved House Bill 430, the “Mandela Freedom Resolution,” sponsored by Crockett. The measure called for the release of jailed South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, a man who had challenged his country’s racist apartheid social and economic system.

Crockett died in 1997. A school in Detroit is named after him.

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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.

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