Former US Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins dies after bout with COVID-19

Detroit – Long-time community activist and former Detroit Congressman Barbara-Rose Collins died after contracting COVID-19, her family confirmed Thursday. She was 82.

“She’s lived in the same neighborhood all her life, in the same house she was born in, on the Lower East Side,” said her son Christopher Collins, 51. “That says a lot about a person.”

Collins said his mother received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine but got sick anyway. She had been hospitalized for days before she died around 2 a.m. on Thursday, he said.

Councilor Barbara-Rose Collins attends a council meeting in the City-County Building in Detroit on February 5, 2008.  The longtime community activist and Detroit congresswoman died aged 82, her family said in a statement on Thursday, November 4, 2021.

Barbara-Rose Collins was the first Michigan black woman to be elected to Congress.

Her political career began 50 years ago. In 1971, at the age of 32, Collins ran for an elected office for the first time for a seat on the Detroit Board of Education.

In 1974 she ran for a seat in the Michigan House of Representatives and won. She served for three terms.

According to her congressional biography, Collins wanted to run a congressional congressional in 1980, but was advised against it by her mentor, Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, who thought a run on the city council would be better.

Collins listened and was elected one of three new members to Detroit City Council in 1981.

After putting her Congress dream on hold for nearly a decade, Collins successfully ran for Detroit in 1990 to represent Detroit in the US House of Representatives.

“Queen Mother Barbara-Rose inspired the next generation of black men and women to pursue civil service careers,” said City Council President Brenda Jones. “First as a school board member, later as a national representative and then on the city council – you would have thought that would be enough.

During her time on Capitol Hill, Collins was named majority leader. She promoted sexual harassment laws, equal pensions for women, and helped bring the neighborhood corporate zones to Detroit.

As a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Women’s Caucus, she was also on the Public Works and Transportation Committee; the Science, Space and Technology Committee; the Special Committee on Children, Youth and the Family; and Government Operations and the Post Office and Civil Service Committee, according to her biography.

Collins urged farmers to address food shortages with donations to city food banks and opposed President Bill Clinton’s anti-crime law, “which they viewed as an attack on black men in particular,” her family said in a statement.

She was arrested while demonstrating with colleagues in Congress for the rights of Haitian refugees outside the White House in 1994. Over the next year, Collins worked with other Detroit executives to sponsor the Million Man March, which she acted as a speaker, her family said.

Adolph Mongo, a longtime Detroit politician, served as Collins’ district leader while in Congress. He called his late boss a “bad mom-jamma”.

South African President Nelson Mandela gestures on Capitol Hill after meeting the Congressional Black Caucus on October 4, 1994.  From left are Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins, D-Mich., Mandela, Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., And Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., Chairman of the Caucus.

Mongo said Collins’ rise from single motherhood to school board to Detroit City Council to Congress inspired a generation of Detroiters and showed what is possible.

But if people say she just smiled, Mongo said, don’t believe it. She took her job seriously.

Mongo noted that Collins played an important role in printing expiration dates on food products.

“She was a difficult person to deal with. She required perfection,” said Mongo. “She could hand it out and she could take it.”

Christopher Collins called his mother a “trailblazer” and noted that long before the Juneteenth became a public holiday in 2020, she was the first to urge it.

Other reactions from friends and colleagues poured in on Thursday evening.

US MP Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, said on social media that she honored Collins with the Shirley Chisholm Unbought and Unbossed Award in 2018, named after another black woman pioneer in Congress.

“She has been a lifelong fighter for her communities and is sorely missed,” said Lawrence.

Coleman Young II, who won a seat on Detroit city council on Tuesday, counted Collins as a mentor. She was also a former boss.

“Everything she touched increased and multiplied,” Young said Thursday. “The world is a little emptier and a little less bright.”

The Michigan Democratic Party noted that Collins “will not forget contributions to the betterment of Detroit and Michigan.”

Long-time community activist and Detroit Congresswoman Barbara-Rose Collins, who fought for Congress here on August 9, 1990, died at the age of 82, her family said in a statement on Thursday, November 4, 2021.  Collins was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1990 as the first Black woman from Michigan to be elected to Congress.

Collins was born Barbara Rose Richardson on April 13, 1939.

She graduated from Cass Technical High School and then Wayne State, where she studied political science and anthropology before embarking on a career in politics.

“After attending a historic speech at the Shrine of the Black Madonna Church, a torchlight was lit from Stokely Carmichael’s oratorio, leading her not only to join the shrine but also to devote herself to grassroots movement and the liberation of Black people. “Said the family on Thursday.

During her first tenure on the city council, she initiated ordinances on the alienation of South Africa, the disposal of toxic waste and the occupancy of single rooms for the homeless.

During her convention, she launched an annual forum on black families, The News reported.

“She was a strong advocate of the black diaspora because of her grassroots background and advocacy,” said Jones. “As a member of the Shrine of the Black Madonna Church, the Queen Mother often led community and national efforts to bring justice and fight for civil and human rights.”

Alisha Bell, chairman of the Wayne County Commission, called the former lawmaker “a role model and source of inspiration for a generation of young women who have chosen public office.”

“She had a remarkable career, serving courageously on Detroit city council and as a representative in the Michigan House of Representatives and in Congress,” said Bell.

Her time in the spotlight was not without controversy.

The Detroit Democrat was criticized for missing votes in Congress, fired an adviser whose partner died of AIDS, and spending irregularities.

The US Department of Justice and the House of Representatives Ethics Committee were investigating her for misuse of office, campaign and scholarship funds when she lost a re-election bid to Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick in the Democratic primary in 1996.

Shortly after their term ended in January 1997, the ethics committee did nothing but issue a statement of alleged violations of Collins because voters had fired them and the group ran out of time before the end of the 104th Congress, The News reported.

Collins denied wrongdoing.

She was re-elected to Detroit City Council in 2001, re-elected in 2005, and retired in 2009.

Collins earned praise for standing up for the downtrodden, but also for his behavior, which some thought was unusual. On her birthday she wore tiaras, sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” in the council chamber and compared the handover of the city’s own Cobo Center to imperialism.

Jones, the Council President, recalled Collins telling her, “‘Baby, you remind me of me when I was that age.’ We have bonded and have found many common areas over the years. ”

Young said Collins hired him as a legal analyst when she was on the council.

“She was someone who picked up other people,” he said.

Former councilor JoAnn Watson said she reluctantly taught her English class in the Wayne County Community College District Thursday night knowing her friend and former councilmate was gone.

Watson remembered Collins’s 80th birthday party at Bert’s in Eastern Market with hundreds of guests.

“She loved Detroit. Loved, loved, loved, loved Detroit. She loved spending time on Belle Isle. Lived in the same house all her life. Detroit suffered a loss when it joined ancestors, ”said Watson.

Ken Cockrel Jr., who previously served as Detroit Mayor and City Council President, also served on Collins for eight years. He said it was spectacular to work with. “This is a big loss,” said Cockrel on Thursday.

Cockrel said he admired her skills and her ability to debate politics, even if it got bitter.

“You could get into a fight on the ground with her, but she would invite you over to her house a few days later. She always understood that it was business and never personal, ”he said.

“I think, in a way, that was the time she grew up and I don’t know that there is any more.”

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