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Cardiss H. Collins, former US Congresswoman from Illinois, and the first African-American woman from the Midwest to serve in the House of Representatives, died recently in Alexandria, Va., 15 years after retiring from Congress. She was 81.

Collins was elected to Congress in June 1973 in a special election to replace her husband, George, who had died in the December 1972 United Airlines flight plane crash. After winning with 92 percent of the vote, Collins went on to serve in Congress for nearly 25 years. She is widely respected for her legislative successes in securing the rights of minorities and women.

For many years Collins was the strongest advocate in Congress for African-Americans on media and marketing issues, and she was the first to hold hearings challenging programming and ownership in broadcasting.

“She was a shrewd and perceptive warrior who believed strongly in the rights Blacks and women,” said Eddie Arnold, Collin’s former director of communications and public information. “She had a major concern about the image of black people in the media, and she had a big impact on improving that image.”

“Those of us in NABOB [National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters] who knew her personally were deeply saddened by the recent passing of former Congresswoman Cardiss Collins,” said Jim Winston, executive director and general counsel of NABOB. “Congresswoman Collins was one of NABOB’s earliest allies in promoting minority ownership of broadcast stations.”

As the only African-American member of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, in the mid-1980s, Collins held a Congressional hearing on “No Urban Dictates” when an ad agency sent out a written avail with the “no urban” language included. As a result, Collins introduced a bill in Congress proposing that any advertiser found to be engaging in advertising discrimination could not deduct the cost of such advertising as a business expense.

Collins was the first to convene Congressional hearings on the millions spent by the federal government on advertising. She formed the Advertising Fairness Task Force and in 1989 Collins ordered a General Accounting Office study on ad expenditures. The results revealed that, contrary to mandatory provisions of federal law, the Dept. of Defense, which accounted for most of the $166 million spent in federal advertising, “did not use small disadvantaged advertising firms as prime contractors and made only minimal use of small disadvantaged firms as subcontractors,” the GAO report said.

A memorial service for Congresswoman Collins was held on Monday, Feb. 11 at Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va.

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