By MIYA IWATAKI
The Japanese American community has lost a great friend with the death of Mervyn M. Dymally on Oct. 7, 2012.
The NCRR mourns the passing of Mervyn Dymally as an important loss to the many Japanese Americans who fought for and who benefited from JA redress and reparations (R/R).
There were many landmarks in Dymally’s long and illustrious career. He arrived here from Trinidad at 19, and went on to become a teacher. A recognized advocate for justice and equality who organized a new black Democratic base, Dymally was elected the first foreign-born black California assemblyman in 1962, first black California state senator in 1966, and first black lieutenant governor in 1974 under Gov. Jerry Brown.
But he won a special place in the hearts of the Nikkei community as U.S. congressman during the historic struggle for R/R.
The legislation that created the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. The CWRIC held hearings across the country in 1981.
Too little has been written about Dymally’s very early role in R/R, and his support for NCRR’s legislative and grassroots work. He aligned with NCRR to immediately and wholeheartedly endorse monetary restitution before it was “safe” to do so. Working with NCRR, Dymally introduced redress legislation in 1982 that sought individual monetary reparations of $25,000, before the commission issued its findings. The bill did not pass, but provided impetus for this issue among members of Congress.
The CWRIC released its report, “Personal Justice Denied,” in 1983; its recommendations included individual monetary reparations of $20,000, reinforcing the need for individual compensation. House Majority Leader Jim Wright introduced a bill incorporating the commission’s recommendations. The bill was reintroduced in 1985, passed by the House in 1987, and signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.
At that time, Dymally was chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). He immediately embraced the new bill and led the CBC and the Hispanic Congressional Caucus in their unanimous support for R/R legislation – they were among the first to sign on to the bill.
Congressman Dymally commended NCRR’s grassroots lobbying efforts, and put the full support of his offices behind our lobbying delegations. Our historic, massive lobbying delegation to Washington, D.C. in 1987 illustrates the type of unconditional support he provided.
Rep. Dymally opened his D.C. office and staff resources to NCRR, offering generous use of his phones, fax, etc. for delegates from various states to call in daily R/R updates to their local newspapers.
I was his press director at that time, and he sent me to D.C. weeks in advance; and together helped to orchestrate 101 congressional visits for the NCRR delegation of over 140. Also, his office became a haven for lost delegation members trying to navigate the halls of Congress (much to the chagrin of his busy staff).
We in NCRR were honored to have known and worked side-by-side with Mervyn Dymally; and are very deeply moved by the loss of this wonderful humanitarian who valued and lived and practiced justice, equality and appreciation for diversity.
NCRR will remember his contributions, and extends its deepest sympathy to his family – Alice, his wife, and son and daughter Mark and Lynn.
(Editor’s note: A viewing will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday, Oct. 17, at Holy Cross Mortuary, 5835 W. Slauson Ave., Culver City. The funeral service will be held at 12:30 p.m.)
Nikkei for Civil Rights/Redress (formerly National Coalition for Redress/Reparations) is a grassroots community organization dedicated to winning justice and redress for Japanese Americans imprisoned in camp during World War II. Miya Iwataki was NCRR’s national legislative director during that time. She served as press director for Rep. Mervyn Dymally, maintained a close friendship with him, and considers him a mentor. NCRR continues its commitment to communities and individuals whose civil rights are threatened.