November 24, 1935
Congressman Ronald Vernie Dellums was born and raised in Oakland, California. He received undergraduate degrees from Oakland City College and San Francisco State University before earning an M.S.W. degree in psychiatric social work from the University of California at Berkeley. He served on the Berkeley City Council from 1967 to 1971 and in 1970 mounted a successful campaign for Congress. Dellums's victory in the Democratic primary over longtime representative Jeffrey Cohelan, a white liberal who was slow to oppose the Vietnam War, was largely due to his militant opposition to the war in a district that was a center of the peace movement. Dellums's Eighth District, which encompasses Berkeley, Oakland, and the surrounding suburbs, was 70 percent white in 1993 and the eighth best-educated district in the nation. But the district also includes West Oakland and East Oakland, two of the largest and poorest black ghettoes in the western United States. The district has been described as "a mixture of poverty and intellectual ferment."
Dellums's unique constituency has enabled him to maintain his stance as one of the nation's most radical national politicians. The legislation he sponsored included bills to impose sanctions against apartheid South Africa, to remove restraints on abortion and marijuana, to create a national health care system, and to grant amnesty to all Vietnam War resisters. Unlike most of his legislation, the South African sanctions bill actually passed, after fifteen annual submittals, in 1986. Dellums has been a consistent and unabashed gadfly from the left. In 1977 he shocked Congress with his characterization of the American class system: "America is a nation of niggers. If you are black, you're a nigger. Blind people, the handicapped, radical environmentalists, poor whites, those too far to the left are all niggers."
Dellums was the leading congressional dove and consistently opposed expansion of the military and U.S. intervention abroad. He was the first to introduce legislation to preclude funding for the MX, Pershing II, Midgetman, and B-1 weapons programs. In 1991 he was one of very few members of Congress to remain opposed to the war in the Persian Gulf after it began. Because of his seniority on the House Armed Services Committee, he became chair of the committee in 1993. He also served as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus from 1989 to 1991. Dellums retired from Congress in February 1998.
See also Congressional Black Caucus
Clay, William L. Just Permanent Interests: Black Americans in Congress, 1870–1991. New York: Amistad, 1992.
Dellums, Ronald V., and H. Lee Halterman. Lying Down with the Lions: A Public Life from the Streets of Oakland to the Halls of Power. Boston: Beacon Press, 2000.
thaddeus russell (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005