By Jenna Anderson
I was sitting in class, waiting for the bell to ring, when the Digital Daily notification popped up on my phone. The first story was breaking news: John Conyers has passed away.
The name sounded familiar but, shamefully, I couldn’t remember who he was. I clicked on the story and read a few basic facts. He was the longest serving African American Congressman representing parts of Detroit. The lightbulb went off, but I didn’t recall much else.
So I did some more research. I read about his creation of the Black Caucus in 1969. I read about his work as the first African American Dean of the House. I read about his fight to establish Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I read about his part in the Detroit Riots, where he took to the streets to urge African Americans to stop destroying their own community.
And I read about Marion Brown.
Brown worked for Conyers for 11 years. Allegedly, he sexually harassed her during that time.
“Violating my body, propositioning me, inviting me to hotels with the guise of discussing business, and then propositioning for sex,” Brown told Savannah Guthie on the Today Show in 2017. “He just violated my body. He has touched me in different ways, and it was very uncomfortable and very unprofessional.”
Conyers denied the claims. However, he paid Brown $27,000 in a settlement in 2015. Brown broke the nondisclosure agreement in 2017 amid the #MeToo movement and Harvey Weinstein allegations. More women who worked for Conyers started to come forward. It is widely believed the accusations against Conyers prompted his resignation at 88 years of age.
I soaked in the information, but I couldn’t form an opinion. When remembering Conyers, it would be easy to simply leave out the allegations. After all, he has done tremendous things for the African American community. His career was over 50 years long. That is three times my age. Saying he was dedicated to the betterment of African Americans would be an understatement.
But I can’t forget the women.
There is no physical evidence of their claims. It’s a matter of “he said, she said.” I’m in no position to decide if their accusations are true, but I won’t silence them.
“You can form your own opinion about it, but you can’t overlook it,” said Taylor Strobridge, 27, the teacher of my “Cultural Studies of Gender” class.
She said we can’t close our eyes to these women. If we do, those who are really being abused will never feel safe.
When considering the legacy of John James Conyers Jr., it’s important to mention these claims.
“If a person is looking back at the history books, everything you’ve done is going to be out there,” Strobridge said.
Although, in the case of Conyers, the double standard for African American politicians is blinding. How can Donald Trump brag about sexually assaulting women in a video, then become the president? How can the Senate hear Professor Christine Ford’s compelling accusations against Brett Kavanaugh, then confirm him to the Supreme Court? But when the longest serving African American Congressman faces claims of sexual harassment, he is forced to resign.
So I hope John Conyers is remembered for his 50 years of impactful service. I hope kids think of him when they celebrate MLK Day. I hope soldiers are inspired by his service in the Korean War. I hope people remember all he has done for African Americans. And I hope they save a thought for the women, too.