According to Congressman G. K. Butterfield, the “American Dream” is something that everyone should be able to pursue. Many people in the United States, however, will never achieve this ideal. North Carolina has an unacceptably high proportion of impoverished residents. As a result, Rep. Butterfield is working hard to give people from all socioeconomic backgrounds a stronger voice in government. G. K. Butterfield has never wavered in his commitment to upholding people’s constitutionally protected rights to fair treatment, whether in the courtroom or in the halls of Congress.
Butterfield’s upbringing in Wilson, North Carolina instilled in him a strong work ethic as well as a sense of personal accountability. Dr. G. K. Butterfield Sr., his late father, was a well-known dentist and politician in their community. Dr. Butterfield spent the next half-century after graduating from Meharry’s dental school providing care to the low-income and racially isolated residents of East Wilson. Unfortunately, many of his patients had never visited a dentist before because they lacked the financial means to pay for treatment. Dr. Butterfield, on the other hand, never turned away patients in desperate need of medical attention, regardless of their ability to pay for the care they received. He considered medical care to be a fundamental human right, not a privilege reserved for a select few.
Addie Butterfield, the congressman’s mother, worked as an educator and advocate for education her entire life. She taught elementary school for 48 years, the majority of which she spent in some of North Carolina’s poorest neighborhoods. Reading was a skill that was frequently denied to people of African descent in the South, including Mrs. Butterfield’s children, and Mrs. Butterfield was deeply concerned about this.
Butterfield’s parents modeled for him the importance of giving back to one’s community and assisting others in reaching their goals, which he now uses as a guiding principle in his work as a member of Congress. Butterfield’s parents instilled in him the importance of giving back to the community.
Because Congressman Butterfield was raised in the predominantly segregated community of Wilson, North Carolina, he had a front-row seat to the fight for civil rights in the South. Dr. Butterfield was instrumental in establishing the Wilson Branch of the NAACP in the late 1940s in order to increase the number of opportunities for African Americans living in Wilson County to register to vote. In 1953, the late Representative G. K. Butterfield’s father became Wilson’s first Black city councilman and the first Black elected official in eastern North Carolina since Reconstruction. He was also the first African-American elected official in North Carolina.
Dr. Butterfield’s efforts to register new voters were frowned upon by the other council members, who worked together to defeat his reelection bid. During Mr. and Mrs. Butterfield’s absence on business, the city council met in a special session to discuss changing the way elections are conducted. Members of the city council would be elected citywide rather than from specific electoral districts under the proposed reform. As a result of this change, Dr. Butterfield was unable to run for office in a predominantly Black district and was forced to seek office at the citywide level. As a result of this, Congressman Butterfield’s father was unable to win the election in 1957. Rep. Butterfield saw firsthand how political power could be abused to suppress ordinary citizens’ voting rights. This experience left an indelible impression on him, and as a result, he was inspired to pursue a legal career and advocate for the protection of civil liberties.
G. K. Butterfield, a current United States Representative from North Carolina and a graduate of Wilson’s Charles H. Darden High School, graduated from North Carolina Central University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Sociology (NCCU). Congressman Butterfield was very involved in voter registration in the Durham area while a student at NCCU. Following the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Butterfield led a student march from Raleigh’s state capital to the Wilson County courthouse. The march’s goal was to draw attention to the importance of registering to vote. Following the conclusion of the rally, Congressman Butterfield registered to vote.
Workers at Duke University formed a union in 1965 to advocate for higher pay and better benefits. Rep. Butterfield, who had previously worked as an intern and orderly at Duke University Hospital, sided with the staff in their fight for better working conditions. They would later go on to form AFSCME Local 77, which is the union’s local chapter that represents workers in the state, county, and municipal governments.
During his junior year at NCCU, Congressman Butterfield was called up for military service and assigned to the Fort Bragg Army post in Fayetteville. He returned to North Carolina Central University (NCCU) to finish his undergraduate degree after honorably serving his country in the Army. He went on to pursue a legal education at the NCCU School of Law after finishing high school. Congressman Butterfield went to law school with the goal of learning how the law can be used to protect people’s liberties rather than infringe on them.
Congressman Butterfield immediately began his illustrious legal career as a civil rights attorney after graduating from law school. This was the start of a career that would lead him to the United States Congress. Butterfield practiced law in eastern North Carolina for nearly a decade and a half, primarily representing low-income clients. He rose to prominence as a result of his work protecting civil rights, particularly voting rights, in which he was successful in multiple cases. He also established a reputation for himself as a principled attorney. Butterfield’s work in the courtroom contributed to ensuring that black communities could exercise their right to vote for the political candidates of their choice.
Representative Butterfield won the race for a seat on the resident bench of the Superior Court’s First Judicial Division. During that time, he presided over civil and criminal courts in 46 different North Carolina counties.
Butterfield was nominated for a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court by then-Governor Mike Easley in February 2001. Rep. Butterfield, who previously served on the state supreme court, wrote more than 15 decisions on judicial sentencing, eminent domain, and the administration of the death penalty.
Despite running a statewide campaign, Butterfield was unsuccessful in his bid to be re-elected to the Court in November 2002. Following that setback, he was reinstated to the Superior Court bench and returned to his previous position as a trial judge. He also received the same salary as before. He worked in the judicial system for 15 years in total.
In 2004, G. K. Butterfield resigned from the bench in order to run for the congressional seat vacated by Frank Ballance (NC-01). Butterfield, a former state senator, received 71 percent of the vote in the primary election to determine who will succeed Representative Dan Boren after his retirement.
Congressman Butterfield has been a consistent advocate for the people of eastern North Carolina who live in his district since he took office in July 2004. Rep. Butterfield initially joined the House Agriculture Committee because he perceived its members to be advocates for the First District’s agricultural and nutritional needs. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, he fought for the nation’s armed forces. His home state of North Carolina has a sizable population of service members. Representative Butterfield also contributed to the House SOC (Ethics Committee).
Representative Butterfield is currently a member of one of the most powerful committees in the House, the Energy and Commerce Committee. While on the Committee, he worked to improve people’s access to high-quality healthcare, expand internet access in rural areas, protect personal information, advance renewable energy sources, and lower energy costs in low-income neighborhoods. Butterfield serves on the House Energy, Health, and Technology Subcommittee, as well as the Communications and Technology Subcommittee. Previously served as the Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee’s Ranking Member.
Congressman Butterfield was appointed Chief Deputy Whip of the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives in January 2007. Representative Butterfield succeeded the late Representative John Lewis as the Democratic Party’s Senior Chief Deputy Whip in the 117th Congress. This is a position that necessitates close collaboration with the party’s leadership in order to establish policy and garner support from the Democratic Caucus’ legislative priorities within the House membership. During the 116th Congress, Representative Lewis held this position. Rep. Butterfield makes history by becoming the first Democrat to serve in the House of Representatives from North Carolina.
Congressman Butterfield was elected Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) for the 114th Congress in November 2014. Rep. Butterfield’s priorities as a member of the CBC include increasing corporate America’s leadership diversity, protecting voting rights, expanding economic development and job creation, advocating for the appointment of African Americans to judgeships and senior Administration positions, and protecting voting rights. He has been a vocal critic of the current administration since his election to the CBC in 2004.
Congressman Butterfield has worked tirelessly to serve the people he represents since his election to Congress. He has made it a priority to provide excellent service to his constituents and has worked to improve the quality of life for those he represents by introducing robust legislative initiatives and securing over $100 million in federal funding for the First District. He has never wavered in his support for local initiatives in his community that aim to improve the quality of life for its residents, whether through increased opportunities or higher educational standards. Rep. Butterfield has been a staunch supporter of the First Congressional District, and as a result, he has been successful in securing funding for critical health-care programs, as well as construction and transportation projects. Despite being a staunch opponent of efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he is a member of the committee that served as the legislation’s primary architect. Furthermore, Congressman Butterfield fights for his constituents in a variety of ways, including securing funding for veterans, servicemembers, and military bases; advocating for first responders and municipalities to be equipped with the tools they need to protect their citizens; and bringing over $14 million in federal funds to North Carolina’s First District to protect the state’s natural resources. All of these things demonstrate Congressman Butterfield’s commitment to his constituents.
His wife, Dr. Sylvia Butterfield, is a member of the Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church in Wilson, North Carolina, where he has been a long-time member. In addition to his three grown daughters, Valeisha, Lenai, and Tunya, he is the proud grandfather of four adult children.