Mickey Leland: Champion of the Hungry

BEFORE the world's conscience was pricked in the mid-1980s by graphic images of famine, Rep. Mickey Leland (D) of Texas was pressing the United States to help feed hungry Africans, as it ultimately did. And after the issue had receded from headlines and television newscasts, Representative Leland still pressed on, noting that hunger and the hungry remained in Africa.

The 10-year Congressman, killed last week in a plane crash in Ethiopia, was one of Congress's ``most dedicated'' members, said House Speaker Tom Foley (D) of Washington. Leland, from Houston, was on his fifth trip to African refugee camps when the plane went down last Monday. Its wreckage was found Sunday.

Representative Leland was ``engaged in a noble cause - trying to feed the hungry,'' President Bush said in a statement. ``His sense of compassion and desire to help those in need has aided millions of people from Houston to Addis Ababa.''

Shortly after Leland joined the US House of Representatives in 1979, he began pushing for establishment of a House committee on hunger. Ultimately he succeeded, over the initial objections of some other representatives who feared it might intrude into the prerogatives of existing committees.

Using the platform that the chairmanship of the new committee provided him, Leland worked vigorously within Washington's political structure to get the US to provide food to the hungry in Africa and in the United States. In part as a result of his efforts, the US made massive food shipments during the worst of the African famines in the mid-1980s.

Coupled with his interest in feeding the hungry was his desire to see that the homeless obtain shelter. The hungry, he noted, often are homeless.

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