Mervyn M. Dymally, pioneer in California politics, dies

Merdies Hayes | 10/7/2012, 5 p.m.

Mervyn Malcolm Dymally, who in 1962 became the first foreign-born Black to be elected to the California State Assembly, has died. Dymally, who's health had declined in recent months, succumbed Sunday, Oct. 7. He was 86.

According to a recent OurWeekly article by Gregg Reese (Sept. 27-Oct. 3.), a chance encounter at a Fresno conference in 1961 during which Dymally offered Assemblyman Augustus F. Hawkins a ride back to Los Angeles, the decision was made for Dymally to run for Hawkins' seat, which then included Compton, East Compton, Paramount, Florence-Graham and portions of Long Beach, South Los Angeles and Willowbrook.

Hawkins, who had been a pioneer and mentor to Blacks in California politics, went on the serve in Congress. Dymally would quickly take up Hawkins' mantel, also becoming a pioneer and mentor to Black politicians, including Maxine Waters, Julian Dixon, Diane Watson, Herb Wesson, Yvonne Burke, Mark Ridley-Thomas, the late Assemblywoman Teresa Hughes and the late congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald.

Dymally was born in Cedros, Trinidad in the British West Indies, on May 12, 1926, to Hamid A. and Andreid S. (Richardson) Dymally. He attended Trinidad's Cedros Government School, as well as St. Benedict and Naparima Secondary School.

In Trinidad, he once worked as a reporter and labor organizer, but he left home in 1946 to come to the United States. In 1954, he earned his bachelor of arts degree in education from Cal State Los Angeles.

Dymally taught secondary school in Los Angeles,also taught government and would eventually teach at the Claremont Colleges, UC Davis and UC Irvine. While teaching secondary school, Dymally volunteered as a campaign worker and joined the California Young Democrats where he served as state treasurer.

In 1960, he worked for the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles which nominated John F. Kennedy for president; he was also a field coordinator for the Kennedy presidential campaign.

In 1966, Dymally became the first African American to serve in the California State Senate and in 1974, the first to become the state's lieutenant governor. In the California Senate, Dymally once chaired the Democratic caucus, three full committees on social welfare, military and veterans' affairs, and a joint committee on women's legal equality. He authored legislation that eventually resulted in the state's ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Dymally was also chairman of the California State Black Caucus.

In 1980, Dymally was elected to the 31st Congressional District and became one of the that body's most prominent and effective advocates of civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, labor and wage laws and affirmative action programs.

Dymally's 31st Congressional District encompassed portions of Los Angeles County that were quite different from his early, predominantly Black and Latino constituencies. These neighborhoods included Koreatown, north to Eagle Rock, east to Lincoln Heights and a small portion of South Los Angeles. Dymally's political savvy and attention to the socioeconomic needs of his constituency allowed him to garner winning votes from Asian, Latino, White and Black communities.

In 1981, Dymally won assignments on the Foreign Affairs, District of Columbia and Science and Technology, and the Education and Labor committees. From 1987-89, he chaired the Congressional Black Caucus.