On November 7, 1936, Charles Diggs Sr. became only the second African American and the first African American Democrat elected to the Michigan Senate.
Diggs had a personal story of traveling to Lansing in 1937 for his first session in the Legislature, and then being denied a room because of his race at the Olds Hotel across the street from the State Capitol. Diggs was forced to live during the week in one of Lansing’s segregated neighborhoods. Diggs responded with a series of bills aimed at strengthening Michigan’s civil rights laws, and the Diggs Law (Equal Accommodations Act of 1938—Act 117, signed by Governor Frank Murphy) made discriminatory service based on color, race or creed a misdemeanor.
Charles Diggs Sr., a mortician and successful businessman from Detroit’s Black Bottom and Paradise Valley area, became interested in politics later in life. He was one of the founders of the Michigan Federated Democratic Clubs, which encouraged many black Michiganders to switch their party allegiance from Republican to Democrat — and, in some cases, to run for office.
His son Charles Diggs Jr. made more history in 1955 when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming the first black person from Michigan to serve in the U.S. Congress. Diggs Jr. was also one of the original 13 founders of the Congressional Black Caucus, along with John Conyers, Shirley Chisholm, and Charlie Rangel, and was the Caucus’s first chairman.
Amy Elliott Bragg, “The House of Diggs“, Little Detroit History Letter, March 3, 2017.
Ken Coleman, “Charles Diggs Sr: Black Bottom and Paradise Valley business mogul“, Michigan Chronicle, February 8, 2017.