Thegrandson of a British explorer and the son of a pharmacist, Augustus Freeman “Gus”Hawkins was born in Shreveport, Louisianabut moved with his family to Los Angeles, Californiain 1918. He earned a degree in economicsfrom the University of California at Los Angeles in 1931 and later attendedgraduate classes at the University of Southern California. Inspired by the socialist writer UptonSinclair, he assisted in Sinclair’s failed run for California governor andlater worked to get out the vote for Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Presidentialelection of 1932.
Learning from these experiences, in 1934 he successfully challenged the state’sfirst black Assemblyman, Frederick M.Roberts, a Republican representing the 62nd District. A low-key but highly effective Assemblyman,over a the next 28 years, Hawkins, a former real estate salesman, introducedlegislation impacting urban redevelopment, workmen’s compensation,apprenticeship training, mass transportation, day care, fair housing, and also chairedcommittees pertaining to labor, rules and procedures, legislative organization,and public utilities. In 1959 henarrowly missed being voted Speaker of the Assembly.
In 1962 Hawkins, with the enthusiastic support of President John F. Kennedy,was elected to serve in the US House of Representatives from California’s 29thDistrict, thus becoming not only the state’s first black Congressman but alsothe first black elected to Congress west of the Mississippi River. At the pinnacle of this political career hewas chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and co-sponsored withMinnesota Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Actof 1978 (better known as the Humphrey-Hawkins Act) which promoted the goal offull employment and required the Federal Reserve Board report to Congressconcerning the nation’s economic health. Among other measures he championed were TitleI of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (better known as “No Child LeftBehind”) and Title VII of the 1964 CivilRights Act which