In Memoriam

Augustus Freeman Hawkins (1907-2007)

Augustus F. “Gus” Hawkins, who served for more than a quarter-century in the U.S. House of Representatives, died earlier this month at a hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. He was 100 years old.

In 1962 Hawkins was the first African American to be elected to Congress from California. He was assigned to the Education and Labor Committee and played a role in drafting the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1984 he assumed chairmanship of this important House committee. Hawkins was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Hawkins was a native of Shreveport, Louisiana. As a young boy, Hawkins, who had very light skin, followed the rules of Jim Crow and sat in the back of racially segregated city street cars. But conductors, thinking he was white, routinely moved the colored section to behind where the young Hawkins was seated.

The Hawkins family moved to Los Angeles when Gus was 11 years old. He worked as a gymnasium janitor to pay his tuition at the University of California at Los Angeles. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1931 and did graduate work at the University of Southern California. In 1934, at the age of 27, Hawkins was elected to the California State Assembly. He served there for 28 years before running for Congress.

Hawkins retired from Congress in 1991 and lived in Washington for the remainder of his life.