Former Rep. Ronald V. Dellums, a Marine-turned-antiwar activist who represented Oakland in the House and went on to chair the Armed Services Committee, died of cancer early Monday in Washington. He was 82.

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Dellums was elected to thirteen terms as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives and was the first African American elected to Congress from Northern California.

Though he ran as a Democrat, and caucused as a Democrat in Congress, Dellums described himself as a Socialist. He was the first self-described socialist in Congress since Victor L. Berger. In the 1970s, Dellums was a member of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC), an offshoot of the Socialist Party of America. He later became vice-chair of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which was formed by a merger between the DSOC and the New American Movement, and which works within and outside the Democratic Party.

Known for championing a progressive agenda that put civil rights and programs for people ahead of weapons systems and warfare, his career in politics spanned over 40 years, 27 of them in Congress and four as mayor of Oakland.

“I feel blessed to have called Congressman Dellums my dear friend, predecessor, and mentor. I will miss him tremendously, and I will hold dear to my heart the many lessons I learned from this great public servant,” Rep. Barbara Lee said in a statement. Lee had served as Dellums’ congressional chief of staff and then succeeded Dellums in the House in 1998 when he retired.

“If being an advocate of peace, justice and humanity toward all human beings is radical, then I’m glad to be called radical. And if it is radical to oppose the use of 70 percent of federal monies for destruction and war, then I am a radical.”
– Ron Dellums
Dellums’ stance against the Vietnam War earned him a spot on President Richard Nixon’s “Enemies List.” During his first run for Congress in 1970, Vice President Spiro Agnew labeled him “an out and out radical,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“If it’s radical to oppose the insanity and cruelty of the Vietnam War, if it’s radical to oppose racism and sexism and all other forms of oppression, if it’s radical to want to alleviate poverty, hunger, disease, homelessness, and other forms of human misery, then I’m proud to be called a radical,” Dellums told reporters in rebuttal.

He demanded a House investigation into American war crimes in Vietnam. When Congress refused, Dellums held his own ad hoc hearings.

When President Ronald Reagan vetoed Dellums’ Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, a Democratic-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate overrode Reagan’s veto, the first override of a presidential foreign policy veto in the 20th century.

Dellums’ voting records in Congress were “almost without exception straight A’s” from groups such as the Sierra Club, the National Organization for Women and the AFL-CIO. He received 100% on consumer group Public Citizen’s scorecard. In contrast, he received an “F” from conservative NumbersUSA, a group dedicated to limiting immigration.

His New York Times‘ obituary noted that:

In response to his death, Democracy Now! tweeted: