The Honorable Ronald V. Dellums
“When I went on Armed Services Committee as the first black person, that was important to knock that barrier down so that race is not a factor. It’s like when Martin Luther King stood up and opposed the Vietnam War, where people said, ‘Wait a minute. You’re a civil rights leader. Why are you raising your voice about national security matters? That’s not your business.’ Well, my going on the Armed Services Committee, in one sense, said, ‘Yes, it was our business, and we’re here.’ That was an important part of it. But my going there also was a larger human question, which was the role of non-intervention, the role of peace, the role of arms control, the role of appropriate priorities in our society.”
—The Honorable Ronald V. Dellums, April 19, 2012
U.S. Representative from California (January 3, 1971-February 6, 1998)
First elected to Congress in 1970, Ronald V. Dellums embodied the activist spirit of his northern California district during his 14 terms in the House. In his first interview, Dellums explains why an antiwar Representative would seek a spot on the Armed Services Committee and how he and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) devised a successful plan to overcome the objections of the influential Chairman F. Edward Hébert. As the first African American to serve on Armed Services, Dellums talks about the historic milestone and how he worked to earn the respect and support of his colleagues. He continued to break barriers in the House serving as the first African-American chairman of Armed Services during the 103rd Congress (1993–1995). Dellums speaks about his rise to committee chair, his leadership style, and the portrait commissioned commemorating his historic chairmanship. Dellums also provides details on how he selected an artist, the reactions to the portrait, and the personal significance of having his likeness painted and hung in the halls of the House.
Throughout his career Dellums played a leading role in the anti-apartheid movement in Congress. In his second interview he describes his early involvement in the push for U.S. economic sanctions against South Africa, including getting arrested during a peaceful protest at the South African Embassy in Washington, DC. Dellums worked closely with the CBC to apply legislative pressure on the South African government to end apartheid. He offers a unique, behind-the-scenes look at how he skillfully shepherded a sanctions bill through the House that few thought had a chance to pass. The California Congressman also recalls the first time he met Nelson Mandela and how he had the privilege of escorting the anti-apartheid activist and first president of the new democratic government of South Africa onto the House Floor for a Joint Session of Congress.
DELLUMS, Ronald V., a Representative from California; born in Oakland, Alameda County, Calif., November 24, 1935; attended the Oakland public schools; A.A., Oakland City College, 1958; B.A., San Francisco State College, 1960; M.S.W., University of California, 1962; served two years in United States Marine Corps, active duty, 1954–1956; psychiatric social worker, California Department of Mental Hygiene, 1962–1964; program director, Bayview Community Center, 1964–1965; associate director, then director, Hunters Point Youth Opportunity Center, 1965–1966; planning consultant, Bay Area Social Planning Council, 1966–1967; director, Concentrated Employment Program, San Francisco Economic Opportunity Council, 1967–1968; senior consultant, Social Dynamics, Inc. (manpower specialization programs), 1968–1970; part-time lecturer, San Francisco State College, University of California, and Berkeley Graduate School of Social Welfare; member, Berkeley City Council, 1967–1970; delegate to Democratic National Convention, 1972; elected as a Democrat to the Ninety-second and to the thirteen succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1971–February 6, 1998); chairman, Committee on District of Columbia (Ninety-sixth through One Hundred Second Congresses), Committee on Armed Services (One Hundred Third Congress); served from January 3, 1971, until his resignation on February 6, 1998; Mayor of Oakland, Calif., 2007–2011; died on July 30, 2018, in Washington, D.C.
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Representing the 1960s
Representative Dellums discusses representing the diverse movements coming out of the Bay Area in the 1960s.
Bringing the Human Family Together
Representative Dellums recounts his experience of becoming the first African American to represent a majority-white district.
First African-American Member on the House Armed Services Committee
Representative Dellums describes an important meeting with Speaker of the House Carl Albert of Oklahoma, and his historic appointment to the House Armed Services Committee.
Sharing a Chair on the First Day
Representative Dellums recalls the unusual circumstances he and Congresswoman Pat Schroeder of Colorado faced on their first day on the House Armed Services Committee.
Consequences of Historic Appointment
Representative Dellums reflects on how his appointment to the House Armed Services Committee affected the Congressional Black Caucus.
Changes During the 94th Congress
Representative Dellums describes the impact of the Watergate scandal on Congress.
Chairmen and Seniority
Representative Dellums shares memories of his ascension to chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Anti-Apartheid Movement in the House
Representative Dellums recalls the early days of the anti-apartheid movement in the House.
The Dellums Amendment: Part One
Representative Dellums provides background on the passage of his amendment calling for U.S. economic sanctions against South Africa.
The Dellums Amendment: Part Two
Representative Dellums reflects on the possible impact of the passage of his measure for U.S. economic sanctions against South Africa in 1986.
The Dellums Amendment: Part Three
Representative Dellums describes the “highest point” in his political life.
Getting Arrested for the Cause
Representative Dellums remembers the protests by House Members outside the South African Embassy in Washington, DC.
Meeting President Nelson Mandela
Representative Dellums shares his memories of his first meeting President Nelson Mandela of South Africa.
Selecting an Artist
Representative Dellums recalls the process of choosing an artist for his portrait.
Reactions to the Portrait
Representative Dellums recounts the reactions to his portrait.
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