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Former Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums Dies At 82


One of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus has died. Ron Dellums was 82. He represented Oakland, Calif., in the U.S. House until 1998. And he was an outspoken opponent of apartheid in South Africa. From member station KQED, Guy Marzorati reports.

GUY MARZORATI, BYLINE: Over nearly three decades in Congress from the early '70s to the late '90s, Dellums kept the pulse of the Bay Area's activist community. Year after year, he introduced resolutions against the South African government, finally leading the push to economic sanctions in the mid-'80s. In 1990, Dellums hosted a recently freed Nelson Mandela for a celebration at the Oakland Coliseum.


RON DELLUMS: We want Nelson Mandela and the people of South Africa to know that we will stand shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip until apartheid is eradicated.

MARZORATI: Former California state assemblyman Sandre Swanson - back then an aide to the congressman - says Dellums took the fight for Mandela's freedom personally.

SANDRE SWANSON: That's when he grew a beard. He said, I'm going to not shave this beard until Nelson Mandela is free - although he did keep his beard after Mandela was free (laughter).

MARZORATI: Swanson says the future South African president did not forget Dellums' efforts.

SWANSON: Nelson Mandela, when he came to Oakland, he said he came specifically to thank Ron Dellums.

MARZORATI: His daughter, Piper Dellums, remembers her father's stands on issues before they were popular, including opposing apartheid and the Vietnam War.

PIPER DELLUMS: My dad was always a voice crying in the wilderness by himself. He was before his time.

MARZORATI: As he projected the Bay Area's progressive ideals on a national stage, Dellums fought back criticism that he had lost touch with the community he represented, Oakland. Here he is in a 2006 interview.


R. DELLUMS: This is my home. My mother is here. My family is here. I've buried four generations of my family here. This is reality.

MARZORATI: That criticism grew louder during his one term as mayor of Oakland from 2007 to 2011. The city was hit hard by the Great Recession, and critics say Dellums was too detached from the nuts and bolts of local governance. Dellums' aides continued to rise in politics, like his successor in Congress, former intern, now-U.S. Representative Barbara Lee.

BARBARA LEE: He said, always ask yourself, is this the right thing to do? And he said, if it is, then just go on and do it.

MARZORATI: Lee points out that Dellums' legacy is carried on by his former staffers, who now represent northern California in local, state and federal office. For NPR News, I'm Guy Marzorati in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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