The Honorable Ronald V. Dellums, 82, who died July 30, 2018 after a valiant fight with cancer, described as a “warrior for peace and justice,” was interred with military services at Arlington National Cemetery May 9 — followed by a memorial tribute the next day at Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Northwest.
An announcement about the two-day farewell shared these words: “The time has come to lay down the lion to a well-deserved rest” — an apropos summation of the former Bay Area social worker whose understanding of the importance of access to local power led him to pursue a life in electoral politics — from a seat on the Berkeley City Council to 27 years in Congress — even a four-year stint as mayor of Oakland after his retirement from the House at the behest of the electorate from his beloved hometown.
Dellums, from his first days on the Hill in 1971, exhibited no qualms in challenging the status quo including standing head and shoulders above many others — 6 feet 4, svelte, mustached and decked out in the garb representative of the West Coast including bell bottoms and an afro. In addition, he would forever remain a stanch opponent to the more popular insistence on and support of principles of war, unequivocally critical of the Vietnam War while lobbying for the reduction of the military budget.
He resolutely joined 12 other members of Congress to found the Congressional Black Caucus during his freshman year — an organization whose tenets fit well with his commitment to activism. But it would be his leadership in sponsoring legislation against apartheid in South Africa which eventually led to U.S. companies divesting holdings in the country and, after years of undaunted advocacy, successfully persuading enough of his colleagues from the House, and the Senate, to override a veto by President Ronald Reagan and pass the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, Oct. 2, 1986, that would, in his own words, serve as the “highest point” of his political career.
Dellums, survived by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well as a cadre of younger Black men and women for whom he willingly became a mentor, continues to be revered as one who remained true to an agenda that elevated and advanced programs for people and civil rights over warfare and weapons.
His wife, Cynthia Dellums, while still mourning his death, has become a vocal proponent for medical research and care specifically targeting Black men facing prostate cancer — the disease from which Dellums would eventually succumb.
She spoke with The Washington Informer about his life, his work and shared a few of her treasured memories from their years of love and friendship.
“I continue to feel his spirit surrounding me and he possessed a powerful spirit,” she said. “Ron was definitely comfortable in his own skin, had great compassion and was one who put significant thought into the forming of his decisions. He believed in always being prepared and followed the same advice that he would give to reporters: be sure to do your homework.”
“While going through some of his papers and speeches, I was reminded that he viewed challenges and issues from the perspective of a social worker even while serving in the political arena. His training taught him to accept people where they were instead of attempting to move them where you think they should be. Many politicians, he felt, failed those who elected them because of their insistence on understanding people through the prism of their own self-interests rather than the needs and interests of their constituents — the people.”
“Some in the District may be familiar with his passion to end apartheid but he was equally committed to the District gaining statehood and all of the rights that come with that. In his first year in Congress, he introduced legislation for D.C. statehood because he objected to its citizens living as if they were members of a colony within a country dedicated to democracy. He would say just imagine what D.C.’s citizens felt on Election Day when every citizen in America had been able to vote for representatives to promote their interests in Congress while residents in the District were denied that right. He saw it as a denial of one’s rights as a full citizen — a situation that at the least was insulting.”
“Those who wish to honor his legacy and continue along the path that he blazed should be mindful that Ron believed that we are all citizens in a global community — we are all part of the human family. That’s one of the reasons that he was so committed to the politics of coalition building. If there was ever a time we needed to recommit ourselves to the global community and human family, based on our common objectives and strengthening our partnerships through coalitions, now is the time.”
“He advised newcomers to Congress to understand that while being an agitator for justice wouldn’t always be the more popular stance, that it was always the right way to serve the people. To that end, he said, “despite the urge to sprint, we have to become long distance runners in this game. Real problems require real solutions — solutions which can only be realized if one is committed to the long haul.”
Editor’s Note: The Dellums family has requested that those who wish to provide lasting tributes to Ronald Dellums consider making donations to the Prostate Cancer Foundation (www.pcf.org/RVDellumsMemorial) so that funds can be used to specifically focus on improving the health needs of men of color while also raising awareness about prostate cancer which continues to disproportionately impact Black men in the U.S.