The New York Times reports (here) today on the death of Cardiss Collins, “who reluctantly ran for a Chicago Congressional seat left vacant when her husband died in a plane crash and went on to become Illinois’s first black congresswoman, serving for nearly 25 years as a voice for racial and gender equality and expanded health care for the poor.” Here is an excerpt:
Mrs. Collins’s husband, George W. Collins, had served two years when he was among 45 people killed in the crash of United Airlines Flight 553 near Midway Airport in Chicago on Dec. 8, 1972. Local Democrats, led by Mayor Richard J. Daley, quickly endorsed Mrs. Collins to succeed him. Mrs. Collins, then 41 and an auditor for the Illinois Revenue Department who was worried about the couple’s 13-year-old son, Kevin, was wary of running but eventually agreed to do so.
She campaigned little but easily won the primary in April and cruised through the general election in June with 92 percent of the vote. Six years later, and after some early struggles in office — she had never considered a political career before she was thrust into one — she became chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. For much of the 1980s, she was the only black woman in Congress. * * *
Mrs. Collins, who rose to leading roles on a range of Congressional committees, was also a steady supporter of equity in college athletics, pressing the N.C.A.A. to honor the requirements of Title IX and requiring colleges to disclose more details about how they spent federal money.
She was particularly assertive on affirmative action and minority employment issues, criticizing various agencies and industries for what she called their poor records of hiring minorities. The Smithsonian Institution and the airline industry were among her targets.
She pushed through legislation in 1990 expanding Medicare coverage for mammography screening for older and disabled women and introduced resolutions designating October National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She wrote laws increasing safety labeling on toys, setting safety standards for bicycle helmets and expanding child care services for federal workers nationwide. She also sponsored several measures to make air travel safer.
May her memory be a blessing.