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Tue, 01.02.1894

Charles Diggs Sr. born

Charles Diggs Sr.

*On this date in 1894, Charles Coles Diggs Sr. was born.  He was a Black politician.   

Born in Tallula, Mississippi, to John Diggs and Etta Jones, Diggs moved to Detroit in 1913, where he owned a successful funeral home on the lower east side.  A follower of Marcus Garvey during the 1920s, Diggs first became involved in politics as a Republican, and then changed affiliation to the Democrats in 1932.  He was an early organizer of the Black Democratic Clubs in Detroit.  The first Black democrat elected to the Senate of the State of Michigan, Diggs was a member of the Michigan State Senate from the 3rd District from 1937-1944 and was a delegate from Michigan to the Democratic National Convention in 1940.   

Diggs Sr. gained a reputation as a friend of organized labor and a civil rights champion. Diggs had a personal story of traveling to Lansing in 1938 for his first session in the Legislature, and then being denied a room because of his race at the Olds Hotel across the street from the State Capitol. Diggs was forced to live during the week in one of Lansing's segregated neighborhoods. Diggs responded with a series of bills aimed at strengthening Michigan's civil rights laws, and the Diggs Law (Equal Accommodations Act of 1938—Act 117, signed by Governor Frank Murphy) made discriminatory service based on color, race or creed a misdemeanor.   

In 1944, Diggs was defeated in the Democratic primary. Later, Diggs was an unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Representative from Michigan (1st District) as a Republican in the 1948 primary, and then as a Democrat in the 1952 primary.  On January 22, 1944, Diggs and 19 other current or former state legislators were charged with accepting bribes. Diggs was convicted and sentenced to three-to-five years in prison. In 1945, Diggs was convicted in a different bribery case. On July 20, 1946, Diggs and 18 other legislators were charged with accepting bribes to vote against a banking bill. The case was dropped when the witness for the prosecution, Charles F. Hemans, refused to testify.  

He was rooted in his family's business, the House of Diggs, which at one time was said to be Michigan's largest funeral home; he was a member of the Elks.  Diggs was also the father to politician Charles C Diggs, Jr.  On April 25, 1967, Diggs committed suicide at Detroit Memorial Hospital after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage and a stroke, jumping from his fourth-floor hospital room window to his death.  He was interred at Detroit Memorial Park in Warren.  

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