Trinidad born Mervyn M. Dymally, Who Broke Racial Barriers in California, Dies at 86

Mervyn Dymally shown with Gov. Jerry Brown

Mervyn M. Dymally, who broke barriers as a black lawmaker in California and in Congress after moving to the United States from his native Trinidad at age 19, died on Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 86.

Mr. Dymally became California’s first foreign-born black state assemblyman when he was elected in 1962, its first black state senator four years later and, in 1974, its first black lieutenant governor. In 1980 he became one of the first foreign-born blacks elected to the House of Representatives, where he served six terms representing Compton and other heavily black, low-income areas. He also led the Congressional Black Caucus for a time.

His success in winning office was rooted in his work organizing a new black Democratic base in areas around Los Angeles beginning in the 1950s and 1960s.

“This was a transformational period,” said Raphael J. Sonenshein, an expert in racial and ethnic politics in Los Angeles and the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles. “Between 1958 and 1962, the Democratic Party really came of age in the African-American community in California,” he said.

The area’s minority population had long been marginalized, but as the political climate changed, it created opportunities for new leaders like Mr. Dymally, Mr. Sonenshein said.

“If you came in from the outside and were able to put things together, it was fertile territory,” he said. “He was a very effective organizational leader.”

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