From Oakland to Birmingham, and Everything In Between

Deaths of two very different members of Congress highlight dynamism of the legislative branch

Rep. Ronald V. Dellums, D-Calif., right, talks with Ren Cooper of The Washington Post at the Democratic National Convention on July 15, 1992. Dellums died on July 30. (Maureen Keating/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The spectacle of politics and how it fits, or doesn’t, into the nation’s culture. Subscribe to our newsletter here.

The deaths of two very different former members of Congress this past week is a reminder of what a dynamic place Capitol Hill can be. Rep. Ronald V. Dellums, D-Calif., and Sen. Maryon Pittman Allen, D-Ala., did not have too terribly much in common. But they became a small part of the whole that is the American experiment.

He was a black man from Oakland, a Marine, a social worker, antiwar activist, the first African-American to chair the House Armed Services Committee and chief antagonist against South African apartheid. After being elected to 14 terms, he became a Washington lobbyist and eventually returned to California and was mayor of Oakland. 

Through it all he cut a dashing figure with his beard, spiffy suits and tall presence

Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Calif. watches the Million Man March from steps of the Capitol. October 16, 1995. (Photo by Maureen Keating/CQ Roll Call)
Dellums watches the Million Man March from the steps of the Capitol on Oct. 16, 1995. (Maureen Keating/CQ Roll Call file photo)

She was an appointed senator, tapped to replace her late husband, James B. Allen, who died in office. Born in Mississippi, reared in Birmingham, Alabama, she was a journalist before and after public life. She was only a senator for five months but still racked up the highest absentee rate of all time, according to her obituary in The Washington Post.

She once knocked conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly as “about as feminine as a sidewalk drill,” and pegged Alabama Gov. George Wallace as a “little swaggering, power hungry gamecock,” the Post noted. 

Sen. Maryon Allen, D-Ala., who died on July 23. (Courtesy U.S. Senate Historical Office)
Sen. Maryon Allen, D-Ala., who died on July 23. (Courtesy U.S. Senate Historical Office)

After losing her primary runoff and a shot at being elected to the seat in her own right, she wrote columns for the Post, then headed back South and became, among other things, a seamstress and interior decorator. It’s not hard to picture her, beehive hairdo and all, as an inspiration for one of the characters in the old “Designing Women” television show.

Dellums and Allen. They busted the molds. 

This Week’s Podcast

Director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering participate in a podcast recording at the offices of CQ Roll Call.
Amy Ziering, left, producer of “The Bleeding Edge,” and director Kirby Dick, second from right, stopped by for a little podcasting about their new documentary with CQ health editor Rebecca Adams and Political Theater podcast host Jason Dick. (Bian Elkhatib/CQ Roll Call) 

Medical devices might seem like an unlikely summer topic for discussion, but considering the hundreds of millions of people opting for everything from pacemakers to birth control inserts to be inserted in their bodies, and the virtual lack of regulatory or congressional insight, well, maybe it’s worth a listen to our latest Political Theater podcast, with “The Bleeding Edge” filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering and CQ health editor Rebecca Adams. 

The Kicker

UNITED STATES – JULY 31: A correspondent for CBS is seen outside of the United States District Court in Alexandria, Virginia where President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort stands trial July 31, 2018. (Photo By Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)
A correspondent for CBS News is seen outside the United States District Court in Alexandria, Va., where President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was standing trial. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Subscribe on iTunesListen on StitcherListen on RADiO PUBLiC


Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.