Cottrell Laurence "C.L." Dellums (January 3, 1900 – December 6, 1989) was a civil rights activist, a labor leader, one of the organizers and leaders of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), and the uncle of U.S. Representative and Oakland mayor Ron Dellums.
Born in Corsicana, Texas, C.L. Dellums was the son of William Henry Dellums and Emma Dellums. In order to escape the racial segregation of the South, Dellums moved to Oakland at the age of 23. Although he had dreams of attending the University of California, Berkeley so as to obtain a law degree, the only jobs available for most African Americans at the time were in the service such as laborers, janitors, and waiters. Unable to afford law school, in January 1924 Dellums began work as a Pullman porter.
Dellums rose to the position as the International President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. He was also a member of the Fair Employment Practices Commission, and active in the NAACP. Dellums and BSCP president A. Philip Randolph were instrumental in getting FDR to open the wartime industries to Blacks.
“We should never set a precedent that we recognize that the people have a right to vote on anything they want to vote on. The rights I have been fighting for all my life, they are now called civil rights, I call human rights, God-given rights. White people have been using their majority and their control of the law enforcing agencies and firearms to prevent us from exercising our God-given rights…. We were never really asking white people to grant or give us any rights. Only to stop using their majority and power in preventing us from exercising our God-given rights.” 3
A building near the African American Museum and Library of Oakland is named for him, and a statue of him stands at the Jack London Square Amtrak station which is named for him. The statue was unveiled in 1999. 6
From at least 1938, C.L. and Walter Lee lived at 829 Brockhurst in the Hoover-Foster neighborhood. 1,2 His 1928 voter registration shows him living at 547 Center St in Oakland; the 1930 census shows him living at 3118 Ellis Street in Berkeley; the his 1936 voter registration lists him at Walter Lee at 1220 - 8th Street.
Much of the following info comes from the Marva Dellums folder in the Robert L. Allen papers at the Bancroft Library. The notes were subsequently used in Allen's book about the BSCP, published in 2015. 3
C.L.'s income was uneven, and Walter worked as a maid. C.L. never took vacations, only taking off Sundays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Walter had gotten pregnant several times but lost the children, so it came as a bit of surprise when Marva Dellums (Benton) was born in 1944. The first sentence C.L. taught Marva to say was "I know my rights!" Walter was Catholic and took Marva to church, and they transferred her to Sacred Heart Catholic School in fourth grade. She later graduated from Oakland Tech.
C.L.'s brother Verney (father of Ron Dellums) was also a Pullman porter and lived a few miles away on Wood Street, so Ron and his sister Theresa were childhood playmates of Marva's.
Dellums was protective of Marva; he had received anonymous death threats. When she was younger, she was generally unaware of what her father did.
She gradually learned the charming visitors to her home, such as A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Ralph Bunche, Tarea Pittman, Milton Webster, Thurgood Marshall and others, who came to meet with her father, enjoy her mother's good cooking, and sometimes play with her, were important figures in Black community life.
Marva first heard C.L. speak when she was thirteen (c.1957), at an event at the Oakland Auditorium.
"That’s the first time I heard him speak," she recalls, "and I was absolutely dumbfounded. It was incredible. I was inspired."
To Marva’s surprise, Walter arranged a ploy for her to go onto the stage to make a donation, and be proudly introduced by her father as his daughter. The crowd roared with delight; many were surprised to learn that C.L. had a daughter, so guarded had he been about his family.
In 1947, C.L. brought his aging mother Emma to Oakland. She lived with the family until she died in 1949. When Walter's mother Parilee became ill in 1953, C.L. encouraged Walter to bring her to Oakland. She lived with the family until she died of cancer in 1955.
Links and References
- C.L. Dellums, 89; Led Rail Porters Union New York Times December 9, 1989
- C.L. Dellums on Wikipedia
- Conversation With Ron Dellums
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters on Wikipedia
C.L. Dellums on the Black Liberation Walking Tour
Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California by Daniel Martinez HoSang UC Press, 2010
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters: C. L. Dellums and the Fight for Fair Treatment and Civil Rights by Robert L. Allen, Routledge, 2015
Dellums, Marva - BANC MSS 2017/193 UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library collections
- Cottrell Laurence Dellums Papers at AAMLO
- Interview with C.L. (Cottrell Laurence) Dellums
- Labor Leader Honored In Oakland / Bronze statue unveiled of C.L. Dellums San Francisco Chronicle December 6, 1999