Dymally, Mervyn 1926–
Mervyn Dymally 1926–
In 2003, after a ten-year retirement, Mervyn Dymally made his political comeback by winning a seat on the California Assembly. “It’s in my blood,” Dymally told Jessica V. Brice of the Associated Press. “I can’t get rid of the damn thing.” His forty-year career in politics began when he won a seat on the California Assembly for the first time in 1962. Dymally served in the California senate between 1967 and 1974, won the lieutenant governorship in 1974, and became the first foreign-born African American to win a U.S. Congressional seat in 1980. “Dymally is like a roguish character from a political novel,” wrote the Press Telegram. “He has always tended to go his own way, he has weathered a few controversies … and he still speaks with the faint Caribbean accent of his youth.”
Dymally was born in Cedros, Trinidad, on May 12, 1926, to Andried Richardson and Hamid Dymally. He worked as a staff reporter for a weekly paper called the Vanguard that was published by the Oil Workers Trade Union, and decided to pursue a career in journalism. Dymally moved to the United States at nineteen and enrolled in journalism at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri. He completed his education in California, earning a bachelor of arts degree in education from Los Angeles State College, and began his teaching career in special education at the Los Angeles Unified School District.
In 1962 he successfully ran for the California Assembly and in 1966 he became the first African American to serve in the California State senate. He was present to witness the contentious 1963 session of the legislature when Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh locked up the house Republicans for 26 hours for refusing to vote on a bill. Even though that first session proved contentious, Dymally would later look back fondly on the politics of the period. “People were not so uptight then,” he recalled to Carl Ingram in the Los Angeles Times. “We had very good social relationships. We’d fuss and fight, but we’d end up at the Firehouse [restaurant] that night.” Between 1967 and 1975 Dymally served in the California senate, chairing committees on veterans’ affairs, social welfare, and education and health. In 1969 he received his M.A. degree in government at Californian State University at Sacramento.
In 1974 Dymally made California history once again by winning the lieutenant governor’s race. He and Governor Jerry Brown, however, made a poorly matched
Born on May 12, 1926, in Trinidad, British West Indies; son of Hamid A. and Andried S. (Richardson) Dymally; married Alice M. Gueno, 1968; children: Mark, Lynn. Education: California State College, Los Angeles, BA, 1954; California State College, Sacramento, MA, 1969; University of West Los Angeles, LLD, 1970; Lincoln University, JD, 1975; California College of Law, JD, 1976; United States International University, PhD, 1978.
Career: Los Angeles Public Schools, Los Angeles, CA, elementary and secondary school teacher, 1954-60; California state government, assemblyman, 1962-66, 2003-, senator, 1967-74, lieutenant governor, 1975-78; U.S. Department of State, goodwill ambassador to East and Central Africa, 1964, goodwill ambassador to Guyana and the Caribbean, 1965; United States House of Representatives, rep. from South Los Angeles County, 1960-92; Doley Securities, dealer, 1993-late 1990s; Dymally International Group Inc., founder and president, 1990s; Metropolitan Applied Research Center (New York, NY), visiting fellow, 1990s; Claremont Colleges, lecturer in government, 1990s; University of California, lecturer in government, 1990s; Davis and Irvine College, lecturer in government, 1990s; Whittier College, lecturer in government, 1990s.
Selected memberships: Founder and chairman of board of directors, Urban Affairs Institute; founder and member of board of directors, Job Education and Training Center; American Political Science Assn.; American Academy of Political and Social Science; American Assn. of University Professors; founder, National Conference of Black Elected Officials.
Selected awards: Solomon Carter Fuller Award, Black Psychiatrists of America 1975; Adam Clayton Powell Award, Congressional Black Caucus 1975; Chaconia Medal Class 1 Order of Trinity for Public Service, Govt of Trinidad & Tobago 1975.
Addresses: Home —2366 West 23 rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90018. Office —State Capitol, Room 1028, Sacramento, CA 95814.
political duo, seldom collaborating or even speaking to one another. Dymally’s position nonetheless allowed him a crucial role in California politics in the mid-1970s. He was in charge of the State Commission for Economic Development and the Commission of the California’s, and cast the tie-breaking vote for one of the nations first gay rights bills in 1975. He lost his bid for re-election in 1978, and opted to run for the South Los Angeles County congressional seat in 1980. After defeating Representative Charles H. Wilson and three other opponents in the primary, he won the race easily and became the first foreign-born black American to serve in Congress. Dymally also finished his Ph.D. in human behavior at the United States International University in San Diego in 1978.
Over the next 12 years, Dymally carved out his reputation as one of the foremost experts on international policy. While his critics complained that he spent too much time on international issues, his constituents returned him to Congress five more times. “You’ve got to do what you think is right and what you think is just,” Dymally told Brice. “You’ve got to be more concerned about your sleep than your popularity.” During his years in the House, Dymally served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chaired a subcommittee on International Operations. He also served on the Civil Service and District of Columbia Committees, and headed the Congressional Black Caucus from 1987 to 1989.
Dymally survived a number of controversies during his lengthy political career. He has worked closely with controversial leaders like Fidel Castro of Cuba, the late Mobutu Sese Seko in the Congo, and Yasser Arafat in Palestine. He has been investigated, though never charged, by the IRS, FBI, and the Justice Department. In 1989 a political action committee asked the House Ethics Committee to launch an investigation concerning Dymally’s ties with South African businessmen. “You talk about race and justice and people think you are just paranoid,” he told Brice, “but everyone has investigated me for something. I’m not doing anything wrong. If they want to indict me, go ahead. Have fun.”
In 1992 Dymally retired from Congress but continued to keep a busy schedule. In 1993 he joined Doley Securities, a minority owned security dealer. “He knows government, and he knows California,” Harold Doley told Donald Yacoe in the Bond Buyer, “and that should certainly help us become more active in the municipal market.” He also founded the Dymally International Group Inc., which completed projects in the Caribbean, and held teaching positions at Central State University in Ohio and the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles.
In 2001 Dymally’s home district of Compton renamed their post office the Mervyn Malcolm Dymally Post Office to honor the congressman. “As a public servant,” Representative Juanita Millender McDonald was quoted in the Press-Telegram, “he was a diligent and capable advocate for California’s interest.” Dymally returned to the political ring in 2003 at the age of 76, successfully challenging three other candidates for a seat on the California legislature. Throughout the campaign, Dymally took the high road, and explained in a press conference that the election was won without negative campaigning “We chose to concentrate on the issues that people care about like education, crime, health, and jobs.” In many ways, his return to the legislature brought his forty-year career full circle. “Dymally is a trail blazer,” California Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson told Brice. “Every time he took a step up the ladder of success, he would turn around and pull someone else up with him.”
The Black Politician: His Struggle for Power, Dox-bury, 1971.
(Editor with Jeffrey M. Elliot) Voices of Zaire: Rhetoric or Reality, Washington Institute Press, 1990.
Associated Press, February 15, 2003.
Bond Buyer, September 13, 1993, p. 4.
Jet, March 25, 2002, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times, July 7, 2003, p. 18.
Press-Telegram, January 12, 2001, p. A4; February 8, 2002, p. A14.
“Mervyn M(alcolm) Dymally,” Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (October 29, 2003).
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
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