Ronald Vernie Dellums, 82, the third Black mayor for the city of Oakland, California, and a 13-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, died on Monday, July 30, ending an extended battle against prostate cancer.
The former D.C. lobbyist, U.S. Marine Corps veteran, first African American elected to Congress from Northern California as well as the first openly-identified, non-incumbent Socialist to successfully mount a political campaign for Congress since World War II, will probably be most remembered for his leadership in ending the apartheid policies of South Africa — an initiative that would take more than 14 years before Dellums’ legislation, the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, passed in the House with broad bipartisan support.
The bill, which called for sanctions against South Africa and the release of all political prisoners, did not sit well with then-President Ronald Reagan who favored a policy of “constructive engagement” and vetoed the bill. However, Congress would override the president’s veto making it the first time in the 20th century that a presidential foreign policy veto had ever been overridden.
Born Nov. 24, 1935 into a family of labor organizers, the grandfather and father of eight children, Dellums would achieve other firsts, including being one of the first to support the integration of gays and lesbians into the military.
According to reports from ABC News affiliates in the Bay Area, Oakland’s current mayor, Libby Schaaf, has ordered that the city’s flags fly at half-staff and recalled being proud, as a young girl, to have Dellums serve as her Congressman because of his “relentless commitment to social justice.”
Dellums served in Congress from 1971 until the late 1990s and then served as mayor of Oakland from 2007 to 2011.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) issued a statement upon the death of her close friend and colleague.
“District of Columbia residents will always be grateful to Ron for his championship of the District, before and after home rule. He chaired the Committee on the District of Columbia, which no longer exists, for 14 years, and always sought increasing empowerment for the city, from strengthening our role in Congress to fighting for D.C. statehood. In effect, Ron Dellums took care of two districts — his own in the East Bay area and the District of Columbia. At a time when I was new to Congress, I personally benefitted immensely from his wisdom and use of his chairmanship and seniority on our behalf.”
“I know of no precedent in Congress for a member known as a principled leader for peace who, at the same time, managed to gain the confidence of his peers to become chair of the Armed Services Committee. Ron Dellums will be remembered as one of the most transformational men to serve in either chamber of Congress.”
Rep. Barbara Lee, who took Dellums’ seat in Congress, released a similar statement.
“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,” she wrote.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced. However, Oakland’s mayor, who remains closely connected to Dellums’ family, could not say whether services would be held in the Bay Area on in D.C.