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December 2005 - African-American News (US Web)

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Seasoned Civil Rights Fighter

by Darwin Campbell

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

For African Americans, the collective theme of this generation must focus on maintaining civil rights gains and keeping voting rights alive, according to Houston Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee.

"We must never rest and never stop," Lee said. "The generation that lives today must fight for equality of all Americans and help all voices will always be heard."

Lee is known for her awareness of the issues affecting African Americans and for having the tenacity to take on those same tough issues affecting the Black community. According to Lee, vigilance is important because of the voting rights bill that is up for reauthorization. Loss of that reauthorization could have wide ranging political ramifications for African Americans and Black communities.

She was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1994 to represent the 18th Congressional District of Houston, Texas. Rep. Lee has distinguished herself as a staunch defender of the Constitution, civil rights and juvenile justice, protection of America's health needs, the elderly, children, gun safety and responsibility, economic empowerment for low and middle income America. She also serves in the House Committees on the Judiciary, Science and Homeland Security.

Lee knows firsthand why African Americans must remain in the fight to maintain freedom, having grown up in a segregated South in the 1950s. Her public life began at an early age with her involvement in many volunteer activities as a youth.

"The ills affecting African Americans were very apparently clear when I grew up and I always considered myself a problem solver," she said. "I wanted to be part of the solution and that led me to become actively emerged in the Black student movement."

Lee received her undergraduate degree from Yale University, graduating from the Honors Program in Political Science. She went on to receive her Juris Doctorate from the University of Virginia School of Law.

Her activity led her to work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as an organizer and that took her across the South to South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and other areas to educate and encourage African Americans to register to vote and become active in the political process. Lee and others spent time going to plantations, dealing with sharecroppers and spreading information that strengthened the message about Martin Luther King, Jr. and voting rights.

"It was a high calling, but it really meant exposing yourself at the time," she said. "It was a time when voting empowerment and rights had not trickled down to the people and our work then is the same as now and that is to make sure people are empowered and able to do for themselves and fight for themselves."

Lee pointed out that like in the past, today's electoral and election system and voting procedures are antiquated, flawed, broken and needs sweeping changes. Without monitoring, African Americans could place themselves at significant political disadvantage for decades.

She said it is also important to remember and not disappoint those great civil right pioneers who worked so hard on behalf of African Americans to reopen the halls of Congress to African Americans after Blacks were systematically thrown out of Congress after Reconstruction.

"Anyone who ignores this is doomed to repeat the egregious mistakes of the past," she said. "At some point, you could end up having no African Americans in Congress and the possibility you could have no voting rights and at some point not be able to elect a president that would be representative of all the people, if we don't find a way to count every vote and ensure that everyone that comes to the polls is treated with dignity."

According to Lee, it is the responsibility of African Americans to not only build on the gains of King and Rosa Parks, but also prepare the children to be leaders of tomorrow. "The Bill of Rights is a fascinating document and included in it is my rights and freedoms in the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments," she said. "We must teach that to our children and insist they must never rest on the laurels and successes of the past or advantages of the past or today." She added that today's leaders, activists and educators are the vanguard who must lead the charge for freedom forward into the future.

"There are many national issues impacting the community and generation today and we cannot rest while we are still not free in America," she said. "There will always be the need for someone to sit in the way and get in the way of adversity and denials of opportunities that seem to always be a part of society in this country."

One of Jackson Lee's priorities and hopes for her legacy involves her fight to ensure young people are ready to take on the battles and struggles of this generation.

"My work is centered on my commitment to the enhancement of children, because we want people to empower children so that they can be the leaders of tomorrow," she said. "I hope to be noted for this and also hope that I will be remembered for fixing the broken judicial system in this country."

Lee is currently working on a bill offering good time early release for federal prisoners who committed non-violent crimes serving long sentences.

While some refer to Lee as the gentle warrior in Congress, she looks at herself as someone who continues to fight on the battlefield.

"I do this to make people's lives better," she said. "I'm a doer who believes in working for the people, getting results and getting the job done."

Visit Rep. Jackson-Lee's website at

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