A funeral was held for the mother of Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums at small, semi-private services Wednesday morning at Fouche’s Hudson Funeral Home in North Oakland.
The 89-year-old Willa Mae Dellums, a Texas native but an Oakland resident since the age of five, passed away from natural causes a week ago.
While the funeral services were not closed to the public, the Dellums family deliberately played down the event, with no public notices sent out. Family members, family friends and staff members were in attendance, along with a handful of local political officials, including longtime Dellums political ally Mayor Tom Bates of Berkeley.
Dellums staff members—including Congressmember Barbara Lee in remarks put into the Congressional Record—described the mayor’s mother as a second mother, who could always be counted on to give help or advice. Her Congressional Record remarks noted that Lee would sometimes accompany Mrs. Dellums, who was several decades older, on walks around Lake Merritt, and that Mrs. Dellums walked so fast that Lee could barely keep up. It seemed an apt description of the life of Mayor Dellums’ mother, who never let her humble beginnings hold her or her children back.
Lee herself could not be in attendance because of the Democratic National Convention.
In remarks during the eulogy, Mayor Dellums said that his lifetime role as a political leader, social worker and social justice fighter was “in my genes,” particularly from his mother. The mayor described his mother as a “strong black woman” who inspired him to be a fighter but also taught him pride in himself and his race, as well as how to land a straight right-hand punch, which she had learned from her brother.
Dellums said his mother was “unafraid of anything or anybody” and “did not suffer fools lightly” but also said that she was “not judgmental,” and added that his mother “could have been anything she wanted to be, but she decided to put her personal ambitions aside and be a mother to myself and my sister.” The mayor told a story in which he came home after a fight with a white junior-high-school classmate, thinking his mother would be pleased with him for standing up for himself. Instead, Dellums said his mother asked him why he had fought the boy. “Because he called me a dirty black African,” the young Dellums replied.
The mayor said his mother told him that he shouldn’t have let the classmate call him dirty, but that he shouldn’t be upset about being called black or African, since he was of African descent and should be proud of the fact. The mayor said that his mother, who had dropped out of high school to have her two children after marrying the mayor’s father, took it upon herself to teach Dellums and his sister about black history out of “dusty books and old magazines,” becoming, as the mayor described it, “my first Black Studies instructor.”