William Levi Dawson, U.S. House of Representatives   Leave a comment


William Levi Dawson (April 26, 1886 – November 9, 1970) was an African-American politician and lawyer who represented Chicago, Illinois for more than 27 years in the United States House of Representatives.

 Early life and education

Dawson was born in Albany, Georgia in 1886. He attended the local public school and graduated from Albany Normal School in 1905, which prepared teachers for lower schools. He went on to graduate magna cum laude in 1909 from Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee. There he also joined Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

He moved to Illinois in 1912 to study at Northwestern University Law School in Evanston.

 Career

After the entry of the U.S. into World War I, Dawson served overseas as a first lieutenant with the Three Hundred and Sixty-fifth Infantry of the United States Army from 1917 until 1919. After returning home, he was admitted to the bar in 1920 and commenced private practice in Chicago.

He began his political career as a member of the Republican Party in 1930 as a state central committeeman for the First Congressional District of Illinois. He held this position until 1932. He then served as alderman for the second ward of Chicago from 1933 until 1939 and as a Democratic Party committeeman after 1939.

Dawson was elected as a Democratic Representative from Illinois to the Seventy-eighth and to the thirteen succeeding Congresses, serving from January 3, 1943 until his death. During his tenure in the House, he was a vocal opponent of the poll tax, which in practice was discriminatory against poorer voters, preventing many blacks from voting. He is credited with defeating the Winstead Amendment, which would have allowed members of the U.S. armed forces to opt out of racially integrated units after World War II.

In 1952, Dawson was the featured speaker at the first annual conference of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (a civil rights organization), held in the all-black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi. He was invited by Dr. T.R.M. Howard, who headed the RCNL. No other black congressman had spoken in the state since Reconstruction ended in the late 1870s.

While it was not a campaign appearance as such, Dawson, a member of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), probably accepted because his speech contributed to his long-time goal of expanding national black support for the party. Howard became Dawson’s Republican opponent in the 1958 election.[1]

Dawson was the first African American to serve as the chairman of a regular congressional committee, leading the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments in the Eighty-first and Eighty-second Congresses. He served on the Committee on Government Operations in the Eighty-fourth through Ninety-first Congresses.

President John F. Kennedy offered Dawson the position of United States Postmaster General as a reward for his work on Kennedy’s 1960 election campaign. Dawson declined as he believed that he could accomplish more in the House.

Dawson died in Chicago on November 9, 1970. He was cremated, and his ashes were placed in the columbarium in the Griffin Funeral Home in Chicago.

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Posted February 19, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Uncategorized

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