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Caribbean-born, former US Congressman dies


Friday, October 12, 2012 | 8:32 AM    

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LOS ANGELES, California – Trinidadian-born former United States Congressman, whose political career spanned more than four decades, died earlier this week after a period of declining health, his family said on Thursday.

Mervyn M Dymally, the former teacher whose ground-breaking career included a stint as California's only black lieutenant governor and leader of Los Angeles rising African American political establishment in the early 1960s, died on Sunday. He was 86.

“For more than 50 years, Mervyn Dymally was a recognised force for good in state and national politics,” said Dr Claire Nelson, the Jamaican-born president of the Washington-based Institute for Caribbean Studies (ICS), stating that Dymally was the first Caribbean-born national to serve in the US Congress.

He also rose through legislative circles to become California's highest-ranking black politician, Nelson said.

“He fought for justice and equality for all people and served as a great role model for the next generation, his success is a testament to the integration of Caribbean Americans into the American landscape and their contributions to the political and social fabric of the US,” she added.

A former teacher and self-described civil rights champion, Nelson said Dymally was first elected as a California assemblyman in 1962, just when Trinidad and Tobago became independent.

He rose to become the state's first black state senator in 1966 and its first and only black lieutenant governor in 1974.

In 1980, Dymally won a congressional seat representing Compton and its surrounding area, one of the most solidly Democratic bastions in Los Angeles County, Nelson said.

In Congress, he served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“He was a stalwart for disenfranchised people and struggling communities at home and abroad,” said Nelson, stating that Dymally championed economic and humanitarian aid for Africa as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In 1992, Dymally retired from the US Congress but re-entered California State politics at 76, winning the same Assembly seat he held at the start of his political career.

“Merv knew how to build a political network better than nearly anyone,” said Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives.

“He opened doors for the next generation of minority leaders,” she added. “He remained committed to public service for his entire life, serving not just as an elder statesman but a public official well into his 80s.”

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