The Congressional Black Caucus is a racial organization representing the black members of the United States Congress. Membership is exclusive to blacks, and its chair in the 111th Congress is Representative Barbara Lee of California.
The Caucus describes its goals as "positively influencing the course of events pertinent to African-Americans and others of similar experience and situation," and "achieving greater equity for persons of African descent in the design and content of domestic and international programs and services."
The CBC encapsulates these goals in the following priorities: Closing the achievement and opportunity gaps in education, assuring quality health care for every American, focusing on employment and economic security, ensuring justice for all, retirement security for all Americans, increasing welfare funds and increasing equity in foreign policy.
Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Tx., has said:
"The Congressional Black Caucus is one of the world's most esteemed bodies, with a history of positive activism unparalleled in our nation's history. Whether the issue is popular or unpopular, simple or complex, the CBC has fought for thirty years to protect the fundamentals of democracy. Its impact is recognized throughout the world. The Congressional Black Caucus is probably the closest group of legislators on the Hill. We work together almost incessantly, we are friends and, more importantly, a family of freedom fighters. Our diversity makes us stronger, and the expertise of all of our members has helped us be effective beyond our numbers."
Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African-American studies and popular culture at Duke University, wrote a column in late 2008 regarding the relevancy of the Congressional Black Caucus and other organizations such as the NAACP in the wake of Barack Obama being elected to the United States presidency. Neal wrote that he believes the Congressional Black Caucus and other African-American-centered organizations are still needed, but they must adapt to a changing political atmosphere and take advantage of "the political will that Obama's campaign has generated."
The Caucus is officially non-partisan, but in practice it has been closely identified with the Democratic Party, and tends to function as a lobbying group within the wider Democratic Party. Only four black Republicans have been elected to Congress since the Caucus was founded: Senator Edward W. Brooke of Massachusetts, Representative Gary Franks of Connecticut, Delegate Melvin H. Evans of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Representative J. C. Watts of Oklahoma, who became the first black member of Congress who elected not to join the group because of its closely Democratic affiliation and goals. Watts said of his refusal to join the caucus, "...they said that I had sold out and Uncle Tom. And I said well, they deserve to have that view. But I have my thoughts. And I think they're race-hustling poverty pimps." White members of Congress have never been welcomed into the caucus, although CBC by-laws specifically prohibit any discrimination.
The Caucus has grown steadily as more black members have been elected. In 1969 the Caucus had nine members. As of 2008, it had 43 members, including two who are non-voting members of the House, representing the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Over the years, the question has arisen, "Does the Caucus allow only black members?" Pete Stark, D-Ca., who is white, tried and failed to join in 1975. In January 2007, it was reported that white members of Congress were not welcome to join the CBC. Freshman Representative Steve Cohen, D-Tn., who is white, pledged to apply for membership during his election campaign to represent his constituents, who were 60% black. It was reported that although the bylaws of the caucus do not make race a prerequisite for membership, former and current members of the Caucus agreed that the group should remain "exclusively black." Rep. William Lacy Clay, Jr., D-Mo., the son of Rep. William Lacy Clay Sr., D-Mo., a co-founder of the caucus, is quoted as saying, "Mr. Cohen asked for admission, and he got his answer. He's white and the Caucus is black. It's time to move on. We have racial policies to pursue and we are pursuing them, as Mr. Cohen has learned. It's an unwritten rule. It's understood." In response to the decision, Rep. Cohen stated, "It's their caucus and they do things their way. You don't force your way in."
Clay issued an official statement from his office:
"Quite simply, Rep. Cohen will have to accept what the rest of the country will have to accept - there has been an unofficial Congressional White Caucus for over 200 years, and now it's our turn to say who can join 'the club.' He does not, and cannot, meet the membership criteria, unless he can change his skin color. Primarily, we are concerned with the needs and concerns of the black population, and we will not allow white America to infringe on those objectives."
On January 25, 2007, Representative Tom Tancredo, R-Co., spoke out against the continued existence of the CBC as well as the Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Republican Congressional Hispanic Conference saying, "It is utterly hypocritical for Congress to extol the virtues of a color-blind society while officially sanctioning caucuses that are based solely on race. If we are serious about achieving the goal of a colorblind society, Congress should lead by example and end these divisive, race-based caucuses."
In the 110th Congress, Barack Obama was the only black member of the United States Senate. Obama was elected President of the United States on November 4, 2008, and resigned from the Senate on November 16 to devote his full attention to the presidential transition.
As of November 2009, the only currently serving black member of the Senate is Roland Burris, who was appointed by then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on December 30, 2008 to fill the seat vacated by Obama's resignation. Blagojevich was at that time emmired in a corruption scandal for which he was impeached on January 9, 2009, and removed from office on January 29. Burris was sworn into the Senate on January 15, 2009, two weeks after the start of the 111th Congress, because of the controversy surrounding his appointment.
The Caucus was founded in 1969 by a group of black members of the House of Representatives, including Shirley Chisholm of New York, Louis Stokes of Ohio and William L. Clay of Missouri. Black representatives had begun to enter the House in increasing numbers during the 1960s, and the formation of the Caucus reflected their desire for a formal organization. Originally a "Democratic Select Committee", which was formed in January 1969, it was named the Congressional Black Caucus in February 1971 on the motion of Charles B. Rangel of New York.
Founding members were Shirley Chisholm, William L. Clay Sr., George W. Collins, John Conyers, Ronald Dellums, Augustus F. Hawkins, Ralph Metcalfe, Parren Mitchell, Robert Nix, Charles Rangel, Louis Stokes, and Washington D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy. The first chairman Charles Diggs, from 1969 to 1971, landed on the master list of Nixon political opponents for his chairmanship.
In late 1994, after Republicans attained a majority in the House, they announced plans to rescind funding for 28 "legislative service organizations" which received taxpayer funding and occupied offices at the Capitol, including the CBC. Then-chairman Kweisi Mfume protested the decision, which never went through.
In 2004, independent presidential candidate and consumer activist Ralph Nader attended a meeting with the Caucus which turned into a shouting exchange. The caucus urged Nader to give up his presidential run, fearing that it could hurt John Kerry, the Democratic Party's nominee. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) called the upcoming election "a life or death matter" for the Caucus members' constituents. Nader accused Congressman Mel Watt of twice uttering an "obscene racial epithet" towards Nader; he alleged that Watt said: "You're just another arrogant white man - telling us what we can do - it's all about your ego - another f--king arrogant white man." Watt never offered an apology.
Nader wrote to the Caucus afterwards:
"Instead, exclamations at the meeting... end[ed] with the obscene racist epithet repeated twice by Yale Law School alumnus Congressman Melvin Watt of North Carolina. One member of your Caucus called to apologize for the crudity of some of the members. I had expected an expression of regret or apology from Congressman Watt in the subsequent days after he had cooled down. After all there was absolutely no vocal or verbal provocation from me or from my associates, including Peter Miguel Camejo, to warrant such an outburst. In all my years of struggling for justice, especially for the deprived and downtrodden, has any legislator--white or black--used such language? I do not like double standards, especially since our premise for interactions must be equality of respect that has no room, as I responded to Mr. Watt, for playing the race card. Therefore, just as African-Americans demanded an apology from Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz and Senator Trent Lott--prior to their resignation and demotion respectively--for their racist remarks, I expect that you and others in the Caucus will exert your moral persuasion and request an apology from Congressman Watt. Please consider this also my request for such an expression--a copy of which is being forwarded directly to Mr. Watt's office."
On June 26, 2009, the day after the death of Michael Jackson, members of the Caucus called for a moment of silence in Jackson's honor. Some members of the House walked off the House floor during the ensuing silence.
In June 2009, Kevin W. Tschirhart, of The D.C. Writeup, reported that the caucus pressed for the exemption of menthol cigarettes, a flavor of cigarettes favored by almost 75% of black smokers, from the ban on flavored cigarettes under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. 
During the 111th Congress (2009-10), the CBC had 1 Senator and 43 Representatives (2 of them non-voting delegates) as members:
|House of Representatives|
|Representative||Party||State - Congressional District|
|Sanford Bishop||Democratic||Georgia - 2nd|
|Corrine Brown||Democratic||Florida - 3rd|
|G. K. Butterfield - Secretary||Democratic||North Carolina - 1st|
|Andre Carson||Democratic||Indiana - 7th|
|Delegate Donna Christian-Christensen - 2nd Vice Chair||Democratic||U.S. Virgin Islands - At-large
(non voting congressional delegate)
|Yvette Clarke - Whip||Democratic||New York - 11th|
|William Lacy Clay, Jr.||Democratic||Missouri - 1st|
|Emanuel Cleaver - 1st Vice Chair||Democratic||Missouri - 5th|
|Jim Clyburn||Democratic||South Carolina - 6th|
|John Conyers, Jr. - Dean||Democratic||Michigan - 14th|
|Elijah Cummings||Democratic||Maryland - 7th|
|Artur Davis||Democratic||Alabama - 7th|
|Danny K. Davis||Democratic||Illinois - 7th|
|Donna Edwards||Democratic||Maryland - 4th|
|Keith Ellison||Democratic||Minnesota - 5th|
|Chaka Fattah||Democratic||Pennsylvania - 2nd|
|Marcia Fudge||Democratic||Ohio - 11th|
|Al Green||Democratic||Texas - 9th|
|Alcee Hastings||Democratic||Florida - 23rd|
|Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.||Democratic||Illinois - 2nd|
|Eddie Bernice Johnson||Democratic||Texas - 30th|
|Hank Johnson||Democratic||Georgia - 4th|
|Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick||Democratic||Michigan - 13th|
|Barbara Lee - Chair||Democratic||California - 9th|
|Sheila Jackson Lee||Democratic||Texas - 18th|
|John Lewis||Democratic||Georgia - 5th|
|Kendrick Meek -  "Foundation Chairman||Democratic||Florida - 17th|
|Gregory Meeks||Democratic||New York - 6th|
|Gwen Moore||Democratic||Wisconsin - 4th|
|Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton||Democratic||District of Columbia - At-large
(non voting congressional delegate)
|Donald M. Payne||Democratic||New Jersey - 10th|
|Charles B. Rangel||Democratic||New York - 15th|
|Laura Richardson||Democratic||California - 37th|
|Bobby Rush||Democratic||Illinois - 1st|
|Bobby Scott||Democratic||Virginia - 3rd|
|David Scott||Democratic||Georgia - 13th|
|Bennie Thompson||Democratic||Mississippi - 2nd|
|Edolphus Towns||Democratic||New York - 10th|
|Maxine Waters||Democratic||California - 35th|
|Diane Watson||Democratic||California - 33rd|
|Mel Watt||Democratic||North Carolina - 12th|