House Dems Elect Hakeem Jeffries As First Black Congressional Party Leader

Dubbed by the Washington Post as “Brooklyn’s Barack Obama,” Congressman Hakeem Sekou Jeffries was unanimously elected on Wednesday to become the Democratic Party’s top leader in the U.S. House of Representatives beginning in January, making him the first Black American to hold such a high-ranking position in Congress.

The vote by Jeffries’ fellow Democrats also marked the rise of a younger generation of leaders in the 435-member House, and the end of the Nancy Pelosi era and control by other Democrats in their 80s.

BW’s AJ Woodson and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries after town hall at Greater Centennial A.M.E. Zion Church in Mount Vernon, Tuesday, September 27th [Black Westchester]

Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, Chairman of the Conference of National Black Churches and Senior Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Mt. Vernon, NY, issued the following statement in reaction to the historic election of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries to the position of Democratic Minority Leader, the first Black person to hold this position.

“Today, history was made as a new generation of leaders were ushered in. This morning, House Democrats stood together to elect Rep. Hakeem Jeffries to be their leader. For the first time in history, an African American will be at the helm of leadership in the House. 

This is a proud day for all Americans. This decision comes at the tail end of a year filled with remarkable firsts, but also a year marked by continued injustice for Black people across the nation. This country has much more to do, many more wrongs to make right. Progress rests upon strong leadership. I take comfort in knowing that we will be led by Leader Jeffries, a long-time advocate for justice who will be an inspiration for many.”

Rev. Al Sharpton, Founder and President of the National Action Network (NAN), today issued the following statement on the historic selection of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries to become the nation’s first-ever Black party leader in Congress.

“Another barrier to equal representation has come down. Next year, Democrats will enter the House Chamber led by a Black representative for the first time. This has been a long overdue moment in America – more than 150 years after Joseph Rainey became the first Black American to serve in the House. I think today of one of my mentors, Brooklyn’s own Shirley Chisholm, who over 50 years ago became the first Black woman elected to the House. She fought to make sure Black voices didn’t only have a seat at the table – but that America listened when they spoke.”

52-year-old Jeffries Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) succeeds a history-making woman, making history of his own. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the first woman to hold that position, announced that she intended to pass the torch and would support Jeffries, another barrier-breaking leader, shortly before Thanksgiving.

On Tuesday, House Democrats granted Pelosi the honorific title of “speaker emerita”. Clyburn, now the highest-ranking Black member of Congress, intends to remain as assistant leader to help with the transition. That election, and votes for other leadership posts, will take place on Thursday.

Jeffries is a former lawyer who represents a diverse district in Brooklyn and Queens once represented by Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to serve in Congress. He is known on Capitol Hill as a disciplined tactician with a measured style and a penchant for pop culture references.

Brooklyn born congressman often taps into his Hip-Hop roots. On the 20th anniversary of his death, Rep. Jeffries paid tribute to rapper Biggie Smalls, who was professionally known as Notorious B.I.G., by reciting the lyrics to his 1994 song “Juicy” on the House Floor Thursday, March 9, 2017. He also invoked the lyrics of Biggie Smalls during a speech on the opening day of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, January 2020 to urge senators to call witnesses to the stand.

Reps. Hakeen Jeffries & Jamaal Bowman [Black Westchester]
Reps. Hakeen Jeffries & Jamaal Bowman at Town Hall at Greater Centennial A.M.E. Zion Church in Mount Vernon [Black Westchester]

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries joined Congressman Jamaal Bowman for a town hall at Greater Centennial A.M.E. Zion Church (312 South 8th Avenue) in Mount Vernon, Tuesday, September 27th. Both US Representatives held a discussion on the Black Agenda, fighting for our very democracy, education, our rights, the importance of everyone getting out and voting especially in this election, and a run down on what the Democrats have been able to accomplish in a polarized political atmosphere.

Jeffries will hold the position of House Democratic leader for the 118th Congress that convenes on Jan. 3.