A picture of Senator Richard J. Durbin
Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Remembering Cardiss Collins

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2013-02-07

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, today, I want to pay tribute to an exceptional, Illinoisan who passed away this weekend.

    Congresswoman Cardiss Collins served my State and the city of Chicago with distinction for more than two decades, and I was honored to have served with her in the House.

    Representative Collins did not plan for a political life. She was an accountant and a mother. But when her husband, Congressman George Collins, died in a place crash, Cardiss was convinced to run in a special election to succeed him. And she won, becoming the first African American woman elected to Congress from Illinois.

    When she arrived in Washington, she learned the job quickly and became a leader on a variety of issues--from women's rights, to children's rights, to healthcare. Her colleagues quickly recognized her leadership qualities. After just a few terms, they elected her chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. She also soon became the first African American woman to be elected Democratic Majority Whip At- Large.

    I am glad that I had the chance to get to know Cardiss Collins. I-- and countless Illinoisans--will remember her fighting spirit, her conviction in what was right and, of course, her sense of humor.

    In 1993, a newly elected Illinois Senator by the name of Carol Moseley-Braun had decided--along with Senator Barbara Mikulski--to do something no woman had ever done on the Senate floor: wear pants, instead of a dress or skirt. At the time, women were actually prohibited by the Senate rules from wearing trousers. And these Senators' decision ruffled a few feathers around here.

    Well, this didn't sit right with Congresswoman Collins, and she had something to say about it. What she said was, ``They shouldn't be concerned about the dress code, unless the men Senators start wearing dresses.'' Soon after, the Senate amended its rules.

    Congresswoman Collins played a part in tearing down that barrier, just as she did for so many other barriers and inequalities for women and minorities across the country. That is the kind of person she was: a fighter.

    I will close by simply acknowledging for all the good she did, both here in Congress and back home in Chicago, fighting the good fight. Congresswoman Cardiss Collins will be missed.


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