William L. Dawson
William Levi Dawson (April 26, 1886 – November 9, 1970) was an African American politician and lawyer who was involved in local politics in Illinois representing the state for over twenty-seven years in the United States House of Representatives.
William Dawson was born in Albany, Georia and attended the Kent College of Lawin Chicago, Illinois. He graduated from Albany Normal School in 1905, magna cum laude from Fisk University in Nashville,Tennessee in 1909, and then moved to Illinois in 1912 to study at Northwestern University Law School in Evanston.
After the entry of the U.S. into World War I, Dawson served overseas as a first lieutenant with the Three Hundred and Sixty-fifth Infantry of the United States Armyfrom 1917 until 1919. After returning home, he was admitted to the bar in 1920 and commenced private practice in Chicago. He began his political career as a member of the Republican Party in 1930 as a state central committeeman for the First Congressional District of Illinois. He held this position until 1932. He then served asalderman for the second ward of Chicago from 1933 until 1939 and as a Democratic Party committeeman after 1939.
Attorney Dawson was elected as a Democratic Representative from Illinois to the Seventy-eighth and to the thirteen succeeding Congresses, serving from January 3, 1943 until his death. During his tenure in the House, he was a vocal opponent of the poll tax, and is credited with defeating the Winstead Amendment, which would have allowed members of the U.S. armed forces to opt out of racially integrated units.
In 1952, Dawson was the featured speaker at the first annual conference of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (a civil rights organization) held in the all-black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi. He came at the invitation of Dr. T.R.M. Howard, who headed the RCNL. No other black congressman had spoken in the state since the 19th century. While it was not a campaign appearance as such, Dawson, a member of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), probably accepted because it contributed to his long-time goal of expanding national black support for the party. Ironically, Howard was Dawson’s Republican opponent in the 1958 election.
Congressman Dawson was the first African American to serve as the chairman of a regular congressional committee. He served as chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments
President John F. Kennedy offered Dawson the position of United States Postmaster General as a reward for his work on Kennedy’s 1960 election campaign. Dawson declined, however, believing that he could accomplish more in the House. Dawson died in Chicago on November 9, 1970. He was cremated, and his ashes were placed in the columbarium in the Griffin Funeral Home in Chicago
Dawson was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African Americans.
Congressman Dawson partnered with Dr. Marjorie Joyner and Dr. Mary Bethune to orrganize Alpha Chi Pi Omega Sorority & Fraternity, Incorporated, the Greek Letter Cosmetologists.