Oct. 9 (GIN)–California lawmaker and activist Mervin Dymally will be remembered for a storied career of numerous legal and moral accomplishments.
California’s first foreign-born Black state assemblyman when he was elected in 1962, he rose quickly in the ranks, becoming the state’s first Black senator and, in 1974, its first Black lieutenant governor. In 1980 he became one of the first foreign-born Blacks elected to Congress, where he served six terms. He also led the Congressional Black Caucus for a time.
Dymally worked to improve health care for the poor and sponsored legislation to lower the state voting age to 18 and to expand civil rights protections for women. As lieutenant governor under Gov. Jerry Brown, Dymally joined Cesar Chavez in trying to protect farm workers from automation, which was taking away jobs.
“Most members of Congress are influenced by op-ed pieces, pundits and ideology,” Dymally said during an interview in March. “My position was just the opposite. I traveled all over the world–187 countries–talking to democrats, autocrats, socialists and fascists to educate myself about them. It was part of my intellectual curiosity.”
As chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Operations, Dymally was a leading spokesperson on human rights and economic development, particularly in Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean. He was an outspoken opponent of the apartheid regime in South Africa and helped advocate for sanctions against the minority white government there.
Born May 12, 1926, in Bonasse village, Cedros, Trinidad, Mervyn Malcolm Dymally migrated to Southern California, where he graduated from California State University, Los Angeles, and later earned master’s and doctoral degrees. He taught special education in Los Angeles schools before entering politics.
Besides his daughter, Lynn, he is survived by his wife of 44 years, the former Alice Gueno; his son, Mark; three sisters, Marjorie, Courtney and Hazel Dymally; two brothers, Bing and Malcolm; and three grandchildren.