The Mickey Leland International Hunger Fellows Program serves as a living legacy to Mickey Leland (November 27, 1944 – August 7, 1989), a Member of Congress who made hunger and poverty a focal point of his work. Representative Mickey Leland died at the age of 44 in a plane crash during a humanitarian mission to Ethiopia. While his untimely death robbed the world of a true leader and advocate for the poor, his passion and dedicated efforts serve as inspiration and foundation for the Congressional Hunger Center’s anti-hunger work. In a memorial service for Leland, then House Speaker Tom Foley said:
Mickey Leland was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas’s 18th district in 1979. He worked closely with Representative Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) to establish the House Select Committee on Hunger in 1984 and served as its chairman until his death in 1989. The Select Committee generated awareness within Congress of national and international hunger and prompted a bipartisan effort to find solutions to hunger in the U.S. and around the world. During his time in office, Representative Leland led numerous humanitarian missions, returning to Washington, D.C. to relay to fellow Members of Congress his firsthand accounts of acute hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa. During one humanitarian mission to a famine-stricken region of Africa, a starving child died in his arms, an experience that compelled him to amplify his efforts, resulting in a significant increase in the U.S. response to the 1984-85 famine in Ethiopia.
During the eleven years he was a Member of Congress, Mickey Leland successfully brought attention to human rights issues and rallied support that resulted in both public and private action. Called the “conscience of the House” by colleagues, Representative Leland emerged as a passionate leader in the fight to eradicate hunger. His mission knew no political bounds, and his partnership and friendship with Representative Bill Emerson demonstrated his bipartisan approach. He entered Congress with a clear agenda for social justice that he worked tirelessly to achieve throughout his career.