Image Courtesy of the U.S. House of
Representatives Photography Office
Augustus Freeman Hawkins was born on 1907 in Shreveport, Louisiana. His paternal grandfather was an English-born African explorer. Hawkins complexion was so light that sometimes he was mistaken for a white man. By the time he was ten years old, his parents had sold the small pharmacy business they owned in Shreveport and moved to Los Angeles. Hawkins attended local schools and graduated from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1931 with a degree in economics.
After graduating college, Hawkins attended the University of Southern California’s Institute of Government. It was here that he fell in love with politics and began to work on campaigns. By 1934, he believed himself well known enough to run for a seat in California’s state assembly. He won the seat representing the Sixty-Second District.
Hawkins remained in the California’s state assembly until 1962. During that long tenure he pushed for a variety of bills which promoted fair housing and reduced unemployment. Hawkins was the major sponsor of the California Fair Employment Practices Act which passed the assembly in 1959.
With almost thirty years in the state legislature, Hawkins decided to continue to address these issues at the national level. In 1962 he won the Twenty-first District Seat in Congress, becoming the first black Congressman from the West. He held the seat until 1991. Hawkins championed the cause of people of color and the economically deprived. He forcefully opposed tax reforms that assisted the wealthy more than the poor. While not a critic of the Vietnam War, Hawkins authored legislation such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee and Job Training Partnership Act designed to help veterans who had fought in Southeast Asia, obtain homes through low interest loans and jobs through employment training. Hawkins was the co-sponsor of the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act which he wrote while serving as chair of the House of Education and Labor Committee. This act, passed on October 27, 1978, was designed to push the United States towards a goal of full employment for every citizen. In 1991 Augustus Hawkins retired from Congress. He passed away in Los Angeles on November 10, 2007.
Maurine Christopher. America’s Black Congressmen. (New York: Thomas Y.
Crowell Company, 1971); Biographical Directory of the United States
Congress. Hawkins, Augustus Freeman.
University of Washington