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Mary Mitchell: Cardiss Collins was respected, committed

Updated: March 7, 2013 10:16AM

Just as my career in journalism was beginning, Cardiss Collins was winding down her storied career in politics.

I knew her by her reputation. She was so respected, so committed that people were still evoking her name long after her retirement in 1995.

A member profile of “Black Americans in Congress” at describes a woman who made the most of her opportunities.

In 1973, Collins won a special election to fill the seat left vacant by her husband and became the first black congresswoman from Illinois. She was elected to 12 consecutive terms, making her one of the longest-serving black women in the history of Congress.

She served her West Side constituents during a time when black politicians weren’t confused.

Collins knew her purpose was to improve the quality of life for her constituents.

She did that by boldly influencing and crafting legislation that addressed gender and racial inequality — no matter where they occurred.

This black woman from the West Side drew attention to “unfair hiring practices in the airline industry” and “helped to prevent federal tax write-offs for advertising firms that discriminated against minority-owned media companies.”

This black woman from the West Side drafted the legislation that helped elderly and disabled women receive Medicare coverage for mammograms.

This black woman was also the woman who introduced the law designating October as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

No other black female politician from Illinois has been able to top Collins’ accomplishments.

I’m sorry I never had the chance to sit at her feet.

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