Democratic Rep. Mickey Michaux, currently North Carolina's longest-serving state legislator and a fixture at the General Assembly in the fight for voting rights and funding historically black colleges, said Thursday he won't seek re-election.
Michaux, a Durham attorney, first joined the House in 1973 and has been elected to 20 two-year terms, with a stint as a federal prosecutor and unsuccessful runs for Congress sprinkled in between.
"I figured it's just time," the 87-year-old Michaux said after he announced his decision on the House floor. Candidate filing for this fall's General Assembly elections begins Monday.
Michaux, who was born in Durham, was a civil rights activist during the 1950s and 1960s and counted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. among his friends.
"I came out of the movement," he said on the floor. "I was a rebel."
Michaux served as the senior budget chairman and in a host of other leadership positions while in the House. He has fought to preserve voting rights protections and warned repeatedly against attempts by Republicans now in charge of the General Assembly to change election laws he said would harm minority voters.
He said he was proud of efforts at minority economic development and for drawing judicial election districts in the 1980s that helped expand the number of black judges. The building housing the education department at North Carolina Central University, his alma mater, bears his name.
Michaux left the House when he became a U.S. attorney for central North Carolina in the late 1970s. He later ran unsuccessfully for Congress, losing to Tim Valentine in a Democratic primary runoff in 1982 and to Mel Watt in a 1992 primary.
Michaux returned to the state House in 1985 after a nearly eight-year absence. Michaux said he had many opportunities to join the state Senate or become a judge himself. Instead, he became the House's elder statesman, where colleagues stopped what they were doing when he got up to speak.
"There's a lot of sadness in doing this," Michaux said of his decision. He will serve out his current term through the end of this year.
Republican and Democratic House members wished him well after his speech. In a tweet, Republican Rep. David Lewis called Michaux "one of the greatest men I know."
"I value his wisdom and passion. My life and this state are better for his service," Lewis wrote.
Current state Democratic Party Chair Wayne Goodwin, who previously served in the House, called Michaux a "giant of Durham and North Carolina politics."
"He has worked tirelessly for more than 50 years to create a forward-looking, inclusive North Carolina where the color of one's skin mattered less than what they believed in their heart," Goodwin said in a release.