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U.S. Rep. G. K. Butterfield is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. (Courtesy Photo)

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus pledged Dec. 6 to fight for African Americans to be first-class citizens during a ceremonial swearing-in for current and newly-elected members of the 114th Congress.

Forty-six members were eligible to take the ceremonial oath of office for the CBC, which was an all-time high for the organization. President Obama, when he served in the Senate, was a member of the CBC and the organization’s only senator, but now Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, in the only senator in the CBC.  Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) is the only Black Republican, out of the three in Congress, who opted to join the organization.

“It is one of the highest honors of my life to lead the Congressional Black Caucus,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), newly elected chairman, said in his address. “Congressional Black Caucus members represent 22 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands with 30 million constituents. It is the largest caucus in the House of Representatives and we are committed to making a difference in the lives of all Americans.”

Butterfield said that Black America is in a state of emergency and that many African Americans are not experiencing the “American Dream.”

“Twenty-five percent of Blacks live below the poverty level as opposed to only eight percent of Whites,” he said. “Blacks earn $13,000 less than Whites generally and for every $100 of White wealth, there is only $6.”

Butterfield said that growing up in segregated Wilson, N.C. has shaped his views on political activism and public policy. “I saw racism at its worse,” he said. “I remember when Whites would come into the Black community and pick up Black women to work in their homes and when Black farmers would pick up Black workers on the edge of town to work all day in the tobacco fields for fifty cents an hour. Black schools were inferior to the White schools and the streets in the Black community were not paved.”

As chairman of the CBC, Butterfield said that the centerpiece of his tenure will be reforming the criminal justice system. “It is clear through statistics and video clips that Blacks are mistreated by police officers and we will submit legislation to reverse this trend,” Butterfield, a former state Supreme Court justice, said. “We are going to try to get rid of outdated sentencing laws and make sure that criminal defendants have competent counsel.”

Butterfield said that he will attempt to work with the House Republican majority to address persistent poverty in America. He will also focus on enhancing the educational opportunities of Blacks through strengthening historically Black colleges and universities, stressing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education, and seeking racially diverse directorships on Fortune 500 corporate boardrooms.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer praised outgoing CBC Chairman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) for her leadership of the CBC during the 113th Congress. “She was a strong, outspoken and effective leader,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi noted that seven CBC members will serve as the leading Democrats on major committees and that Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) will continue as the Assistant Democratic Leader.  Hoyer said that the CBC will comprise of nearly 25 percent of all Democrats in the House and that Blacks will make up 10 percent of all of the chamber’s members.

Butterfield and his team, Reps. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) as first vice chair, Andre Carson (D-Ind.) as second vice chair, Karen Bass (D-Calif.) as secretary, and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) as whip, were sworn into their offices by U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Judge James A. Wynn Jr.

Clyburn, a former chair of the CBC, said Butterfield is up to the task of leading the group. “I believe that he will take this caucus to a better place,” he said.