Owens died Monday at NYU Langone Medical Center of renal failure and heart failure, his son Chris said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
The congressman served in the House for 24 years from 1983 to 2007, representing a district within Brooklyn. He was known as the “Rappin’ Rep” for reading political raps he wrote on the lower chamber’s floor and entering them into the Congressional Record.
Among his legislative accomplishments were helping to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
“He was always committed to the empowerment of those with less power,” his son Chris told the Daily News. “He never forgot his roots, and he always believed the power to be used for good.”
He began his political career in the 1960s working for former New York City Mayor John Lindsey. Owens was then elected to the state Senate in 1974.
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Education and Workforce Committee, released a statement about his former committee colleague.
“Major Owens was a valued member of the committee who led a decades-long fight for educational equity and pushed for poor students to have access to the opportunity to succeed in school by having equal educational resources available to them,” Miller said.
“Major loved the hard work of fighting for America’s poor and middle class families, for workers, and for the rights of minorities. I offer my condolences to his wife Maria and their children, but I also offer them my sincere appreciation for the work that Major did for our country.”
Owens is survived by his wife, five children and eight grandchildren.