The former congressman represented Brooklyn in the State Assembly from 1975 to 1982, then in the House of Representatives from 1983 to 2007. After retiring, Owens died in October 2013 from heart failure.
He was succeeded in office by Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, whom, along with Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, passed legislation late last year to rename the post office at 1234 Saint Johns Place.
Clarke said her predecessor’s legacy is defined by integrity, dedication and empowerment of the community.
“Major gave a lifetime of service,” she said. “He put action to his passion.”
Last Friday morning, dozens of community members, elected officials and postal workers gathered at the Beulah Church of the Nazarene in Crown Heights to pay tribute to Owens’s contributions and impact on the borough.
Clarke, whose family had a political rivalry with Owens, recalled the “days of rough and tumble politics.” But before the duels, she said, there was a mutual love for community and public service.
The congresswoman highlighted her predecessor’s passion for education and civil rights. Prior to serving in elected office, Owens was a librarian for the Brooklyn Public Library.
He also served as the vice president of the Metropolitan Council of Housing, executive director of the Brownsville Community Council and chairman of the Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
“Major Owens is the father of progressive politics,” Clarke said. “He really stretched his vision, recognizing so many of the values we’re fighting for right now.”
She noted that he was known in Congress as the “Rapping Rep,” infusing poetry into his political speech.
“He shared with us a vision for who we should be as a community,” Clarke added, “who this nation should be in embracing us as a people.”
Former Congressman Ed Towns, who served in the halls of the Capitol with Owens for 24 years, said his colleague was known for his integrity.
“When he was for something, he was for it,” Towns said. “You didn’t have to come back and check with him to find out if he was still going to vote for something.”
He recalled fondly the moment Owens convinced him to run for chair of the Congressional Black Caucus in the early 1990s. According to Towns, the late congressman only gave him one night to mull over the chairmanship.
“At 7:30 in the morning, he calls me. He says, ‘I’m putting together a team for you,’” Towns recalled. “He was that kind of person.”
“I just can’t think of anybody that you can name this post office after other than Major Owens,” he added. “He deserves it, Brooklyn deserves it.”
Christopher Owens, the late congressman’s son, said if his father was still here, he would be educating the community about the importance of communication, connecting with each other and exchanging information.
“He saluted the power of ideas,” he said. “He stated that those who control the ideas would be the most powerful people on earth.”
Owens added that his family is moving forward with other measures to honor his father’s memory. Among them are possibly renaming Eastern Parkway as “Major Owens Parkway” and renaming a high school after him.
“That’s all part of the plan,” Owens said.