“My heart is with California and the Caribbean,” he once told New York audience
A former U.S. Congressman with strong Caribbean roots whose ground-breaking political career catapulted him to a heart-beat away from the California governor’s mansion has died in Los Angeles at the age of 86.
Mervyn Dymally, who was born and raised in Cedros in Trinidad and Tobago in 1926 spent most of his adult life in Los Angeles, rising to become California’s Lieutenant-Governor, the only Black person elected to that office. Popular in the LA Black community in the early 1960s, Dr. Dymally first won a seat in the California Assembly in 1962, becoming the first foreign-born Black lawmakers elected to lower chamber. In 1966, Dymally captured a state Senate seat and in 1974 he won the Lieutenant-Governor’s race in an open election in 1974 but was defeated for re-election by a Republican, Mike Curb in 1978. The loss didn’t diminish his spirit or desire for high political office, so much so that two years later voters sent him to the U.S. Congress, a seat he held until 1992.
While in the House, Dymally worked hard to forge a strong Caribbean immigrant community in New York by spearheading the creation of the Caribbean Action Lobby which helped to press Capitol Hill to pass immigration reform legislation and provide aid to Caribbean countries. He worked closely with former New York State Senator Waldaba Stewart and in the 1980s encouraged Caribbean-Americans to lobby both the House and the Senate to enact the Caribbean Basin Initiative.
“My heart is with California and the Caribbean. The islands have always been close friends of the United States,” he once told an audience in New York. “We in the United States owe something to the Caribbean.”
Dymally didn’t seek re-election to the House in 1992 but the itch to get back into state politics forced him to return to the campaign trail and he won a seat in the California Assembly in 2002. He was termed out of the chamber in 2008 and when he ran again at age 82 for the State Senate, he was defeated in the Democratic primary by Rod Wright, a public figure who was 32 years his junior.
A special education teacher in the 1950s, Dymally was a graduate of the California State University at Los Angeles and later earned a Master’s degree from California State at Sacramento in 1969. He subsequently earned a PhD from the United States International University in San Diego.
He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Alice Gueno Dymally, a daughter, Lynn Dymally, a son Mark and three sisters.