Barbara-Rose Collins, a lifelong Detroiter who rose from being a single mother to serving as Michigan’s first Black woman in the U.S. Congress, has died.
Collins contracted the virus and died of complications of COVID-19 after spending several weeks in a Detroit hospital, said her grandson Bruce Simpson. Although she was vaccinated against COVID-19, her advanced age and other underlying health problems eventually led to her death.
Her son Christopher Collins and her grandchildren shared their thoughts as they mourned her passing and reflected on her life and legacy.
“She believed that the people that are at the lowest rungs, that society really neglects, need a voice in the corridors of power,” said her son, Christopher Collins. “And she was that voice.”
Her voice was strong and very much heard. She won a seat on the Detroit School Board in the 1970s and then the Michigan State House in Lansing. She ran for and served on city council at the urging of former Mayor Coleman Young – first in the 1980s and later in 2001.
In-between her two stints on the council, Barbara-Rose, as she was known to Detroiters, ran for U.S. Congress and became the first Black woman from Michigan to be elected to the House of Representatives.
“For 40 years, she dedicated herself to public service, a strong Black woman to her people as an example of what you can do, and what you can be if you dedicate yourself,” Christopher said.
“This is a woman who was honored as a queen mother in Africa,” said Bruce Simpson, Jr., her grandson. “This was a woman who could orate with the best of them. This is a woman who has written constitutions and laws abroad. Not just at home as a congresswoman, but abroad, and she did it at a time when women of color were not necessarily empowered to do so.”
Collins’ legacy lives partly through her grandson Bruce Simpson Jr., who serves Detroiters as the city’s ombudsman, and her granddaughter, who bears the queen mother’s name.