Former Congressmember Major Owens dead at 77

October 22, 2013 Helen Klein
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Retired veteran Congressmember Major Owens, who represented portions of Brooklyn in the House of Representatives from 1983 to 2007, died on the evening of Monday, October 21, at the age of 77.

Owens, who succeeded maverick Representative Shirley Chisholm in what was then New York’s 12th Congressional District, is best known for having been an outspoken liberal whose legacy includes the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A member of the House’s Progressive Black Caucus, Owens – who was originally from Tennessee – was unique in the legislative body as its only professional librarian.

Described by Councilmember Jumaane Williams as “a man who helped paved the way as one of the first African Americans elected to Congress to represent the people of East Flatbush, Flatbush, Crown Heights, Brownsville and Park Slope,” Owens, said Williams, “fought to reduce poverty and for the rights of working class New Yorkers. He also secured millions of dollars for the improvement of historically black colleges and universities across the nation. Until Congressman Owens’ passing, he was giving back to the next generation as a professor at Medgar Evers College.”

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“Major had a long and accomplished career in public service, starting with his anti-poverty work in New York City in the 1960s and through the 12 terms he served in Congress,” said Congressmember Carolyn Maloney. “Major dedicated much of his life’s work to empowering the disempowered. He was a public servant of the highest order, and he will be greatly missed.”

Borough President Marty Markowitz agreed. “Congressman Major Owens was an intellectual giant in public service and a true believer that government exists to advance the quality of life for its residents,” he noted.

Owens is survived by wife, Maria, and five children. Among them are Chris Owens, a Democratic district leader who ran for his father’s seat after Owens announced his retirement, and Geoffrey Owens, an actor who played Elvin on “The Cosby Show.”

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