Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Lying Down with the Lions

Although perhaps he is now not widely known or remembered, this article is posted as a tribute to Ron Dellums, a man whom I long admired—and who died a year ago today, on July 30, 2018.  
Ron Dellums (1997 portrait by Andre White)
Who Was Ron Dellums?
Ronald Vernie Dellums was born in West Oakland, Calif., in 1935. Following a stint in the Marine Corps from 1954~56, Ron earned the B.A. degree from San Francisco State University in 1960 and his Master of Social Work degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1962.
After working for a few years as a social worker and a community organizer, in 1967 Dellums won his first political election and became a member of the Berkeley [Calif.] City Council. Three years later he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served for the next 27 years without interruption.
Dellums decided to retire from the House in 1998, although he would undoubtedly have won re-election for another term had he wished to remain in Congress. Later he did run for another political office and consequently succeeded Jerry Brown as Mayor of Oakland (Calif.), serving in that office from 2007~11.
At the age of 82, Dellums died of complications from prostate cancer.
Why Praise Ron Dellums?
You might wonder why I was such an admirer of Congressman Dellums and why I am writing about him now. In the early 1970s, I became aware of, and appreciative of, Dellums because of his thoroughgoing opposition to the war in Vietnam/Indochina.
(I probably first heard of Dellums from reading The Post-American, which began publication in 1971 largely as an anti-Vietnam War tabloid and which later became Sojourners magazine.)
All along I liked Dellums’s consistent opposition to increased military spending and support for more spending on anti-poverty programs. And then later I—and Nelson Mandela!—applauded his pivotal part in helping to end apartheid in South Africa.
Overall, I was an admirer of Dellums because of his commitment to the implementation of principles he learned from Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1967 he heard King give a speech in Berkeley. In that talk, King argued that “peace is more than merely the absence of war, it is the presence of justice.”
Dellums accepted the truth of what King said. He realized (as recorded in the book cited below), “By working for peace you must work for justice; by working for justice you work to bring about peace” (p. 49). His whole political career was rooted in that realization.
When he announced his retirement from Congress in 1997, he said that he knew he had “maintained faith.” He stated, “I had been comprehensive in my moral concerns; I had sought to live and work from a perspective of peace; I had sought to link the quest for peace with the quest for justice” (p. 198).
When he left his congressional seat, Dellums was succeeded by Barbara Lee, whom he mentored and whom I have also admired over the last 20 years. (Lee, b. 1946, still is serving in the House.)
Why Read Ron Dellums?
Dellums’s political memoir was published in 2000 under the title Lying Down with the Lions. It is an engrossing book that I greatly enjoyed reading.
Written with the assistance of H. Lee Halterman, a white man who was his chief aide for 28 years, Dellums’s book details the inspiration behind, the struggles in, and the accomplishments of his political career up to his departure from the House.
The title apparently comes from Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom (see Isaiah 11:6-7). It was inspiring to me and many others to have a U.S. Congressman with that kind of vision. May his tribe increase!


  1. There have been three others who offered brief words of thanks for this posting, but the first comments I want to post here are from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your comments about Ron Dellums.

    "Although controversial, I must admire Dellums' opposition to the Vietnam War and runaway military spending. U.S. foreign policy should be focused on resolving existing conflicts and reducing military spending across the globe, but unfortunately, it is moving in the opposite direction. And, yes, there is definitely a connection between justice and peace. Injustice breeds warfare."

    1. Thanks, Eric, for your comments.

      I was happy to hear some comments in the Democratic debates Wednesday evening about reducing military spending in order to better address the domestic problems of poverty, etc. But I'm afraid, just as it was in Dellums's day, those voices are far too few. The country, and the world, needs more people to take up his mantle.

  2. Leroy, I'm sad to say I had not heard of Ron Dellums before I read today's blog. At least I don't recall that I had. Thank you for bringing his public life and work to my attention. He must be worth reading if he was on Nixon's enemy's list!! I've found a used copy to buy through Alibris, so I'm going to order it and read it. Many thanks.

    1. David, I much appreciate you reading this article and posting your comments. Yours was the kind of response I was hoping to receive from many of my Thinking Friends.

  3. "Dr. Obery Hendricks has been called one of the most provocative and innovative commentators on the intersection of religion, politics and social policy in America today." So says a webpage of Columbia University, where Dr. Hendricks is currently a visiting professor.

    I was pleased yesterday when Dr. Hendricks responded to my Facebook message to him asking if he would like to share some comment about Rep. Dellums. Here is his response:

    "I am a fan of Ron Dellums. He was a fierce soldier in the fight for justice. And he wore his clothes quite well! I met him in the 70’s when he was in his prime. So charismatic. So inspiring."