Crusader Staff Report
Ron Dellums, a fiery anti-war activist and politician who became Oakland’s third Black mayor decades after he helped found the Congressional Black Caucus, died of cancer on Monday, July 30 at his home in Washington, DC. He was 82.
Funeral arrangements had not yet been announced as of Crusader press time Wednesday.
Black leaders in Chicago and around the country sent tributes praising Dellums as a champion of civil rights and a progressive statesman who valued people over politics.
“Having last spoken to my dear friend, my brother beloved, former Congressman and Oakland mayor, Ron Dellums, just two-weeks ago, I am shocked and heartbroken at his death,” said Reverend Jesse Jackson of Operation Rainbow PUSH. “The dash between his birth and death portrays a man of integrity and courage, a man who became a leading progressive voice to persuade Congress on many issues, especially on the vote to sanction South Africa’s apartheid system.”
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), who still holds Dellums’ old seat in the House, said on her website, “The contributions that Congressman Dellums made to our East Bay community, the nation, and the world are too innumerable to count. I feel blessed to have called Congressman Dellums my dear friend, predecessor, and mentor. I will miss him tremendously, and I will hold dear to my heart the many lessons I learned from this great public servant. My condolences are with the Dellums family, friends, and loved ones. His legacy and spirit will be forever with us.”
Congresswoman Robin Kelly said “Throughout his life, Mayor Dellums stood on the right side of history, no matter the headwinds, risks or snickers from detractors. I remember him standing strong as he helped found the Congressional Black Caucus and led Congressional efforts to end apartheid in South Africa. At home and abroad, he proved himself to be a giant in yesterday’s and today’s efforts to end racism and discrimination.”
Born in Oakland, CA to a longshoreman and an organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Dellums joined the Marine Corps in 1953 after graduating from high school. After he was discharged in 1956, Dellums earned an associate degree from Laney College on the G.I. Bill. In 1960, he earned a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State College before obtaining a master’s degree in social work from the University of California at Berkeley in 1962.
Dellums was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1971. Concerned that the Armed Services Committee had no Black members, Dellums along with Shirley Chisholm, Charles Rangel of New York, Illinois’ Robert Metcalfe and other Black Congressional leaders became a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Dellums’ steadfast work ethic and oratorical ability earned admiration among his colleagues, even those who often disagreed with his strong liberal views. During his career in Washington, Dellums served as Chair on the House Armed Services Committee and was a ranking member of the House Armed Services committee.
With his signature Afro, and crisp three-piece suits Dellums was an imposing 6-foot-7 figure who had as many detractors as he did admirers. He often spoke out against war and U.S. military intervention in other countries. Dellums demanded a House investigation into American war crimes in Vietnam. He opposed nearly every military intervention during his Congressional career. Dellums drew national attention after he held his own informal hearings when his demands were ignored. His detractors labeled him a radical and a communist, but Dellums continued to be outspoken in the face of criticism.
In 1991, Dellums unsuccessfully sued to block President George H.W. Bush from deploying troops in the Persian Gulf against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
In 1986 Dellums wrote legislation that required trade embargoes and divestment by American companies and citizens who had holdings in South Africa. In 1991, the sanctions were lifted when South Africa repealed its apartheid laws.
After leaving Washington, Mr. Dellums returned to California where he successfully ran for mayor of Oakland. Under his leadership, more police officers were hired and new teachers and programs were added to reduce dropout rates in underperforming public schools.
Dellums on occasion has written a column on issues of interest to the Black community. His last column, where he addresses Trump’s healthcare plan as it relates to drug prices, was written just days before his death. It is published in the August 4 issue of the Crusader on page 15.