Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (0.59 Mb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Access Restrictions
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Processing Information
  • Biography / Administrative History
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms
  • Other Finding Aids

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Cottrell Laurence Dellums papers
    Dates: 1928-1995
    Collection number: MS 14
    Creator: Dellums, C. L. (Cottrell Laurence).
    Collection Size: 7.25 linear feet (14 boxes + 1 oversized box)
    Repository: African American Museum & Library at Oakland (Oakland, Calif.)
    Oakland, CA 94612
    Abstract: The C.L. Dellums papers provide insight into Dellums' career as a civil rights activist and labor leader. They encompass files he maintained as both the International Vice-President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and as a member of the Fair Employment Practices Commission. In addition, they include some biographical materials and associated artifacts.
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English


    Collection is open to the public.

    Access Restrictions

    Materials are for use in-library only, non-circulating.

    Publication Rights

    Permission to publish from the Cottrell Laurence Dellums Papers must be obtained from the African American Museum & Library at Oakland.

    Preferred Citation

    Cottrell Laurence Dellums papers, MS 14, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

    Acquisition Information

    The Cottrell Laurence Dellums Papers were donated to the Northern California Center for Afro-American History and Life by C.L. Dellums' daughter, Marva Dellums, on September 2, 1992.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Marianne Carden and Maria Ortiz (photographs), 08/05/1995. Updated according to DACS by Sean Heyliger, 10/25/2013.

    Biography / Administrative History

    Cottrell Laurence Dellums was born to William H. and Emma Dellums on January 3, 1900 in Corsicana, Texas. At age twenty-three, he moved to Oakland, California in an effort to escape the strict racial segregation prevalent in the South. His initial goal was to obtain a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley, but most African Americans in Oakland worked in the service sector as waiters, janitors, laborers, and railway porters. Realizing that he could not afford to attend law school on the salary of a service worker, Dellums abandoned this dream and started work as a Pullman porter in January 1924.
    This job proved to be a pivotal point in Dellums' life, for it opened his eyes to the many injustices suffered by African-American workers and led to his lifelong involvement in the labor and civil rights movements. As the terminus of both the Southern Pacific and Western Pacific Railroads, Oakland provided a large segment of African American men with employment opportunities on the railways. However, as C.L. Dellums soon discovered, African Americans were refused consideration for any non-service jobs. By 1925, C.L. Dellums had tired of the inadequate salary and frequently demeaning working conditions. He urged his fellow porters to join him in fighting for better working conditions. With the arrival of A. Philip Randolph in Oakland in the fall of 1925, Dellums discovered a vehicle for achieving his aims, the newly formed Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
    Dellums took charge of organizing porters on the Pacific coast. Bitterly opposed by the Pullman Company, the union struggled to survive. Many members, including Dellums, were fired for union activities. After his dismissal by the Pullman Company in 1927, Dellums began assisting the union on a full-time basis and became National Vice-President of the BSCP in 1929.
    Official recognition from the Pullman Company did not come until 1937, when the union successfully negotiated an agreement concerning working conditions and wages. Through affiliation with the American Federation of Labor, the union also gained the recognition of other international labor unions. Dellums' participation in the BSCP led to his involvement in many facets of the civil rights movement as the union fought for the passage of fair employment legislation. He organized plans for a mass march on Washington in the late 1930s to demand jobs for African Americans in the defense industry. When news of the intended march reached the Oval Office, President Roosevelt passed Executive Order 8802, which ended segregation in military industries under government contracts. Dellums called off the march and turned his attention once again to fighting working conditions within the Pullman Company and discrimination in other railway brotherhoods.
    In the 1940s, Dellums joined the NAACP and worked with local branches to combat racial discrimination. A charter member of the Board of Directors of the Alameda County Branch and later first chairman of the Oakland Branch, Dellums was elected the first President of the West Coast Region of the NAACP in 1948. He oversaw chapters in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. In 1959, Dellums received an appointment from Gov. Edmund G. Brown to serve on the newly established California Fair Employment Practices Commission. He became involved in investigations concerning racial discrimination in employment and housing and participated in working for the passage of the California Fair Employment Practices Act, the first anti-discriminatory law issued in the country. From 1965-66, he served as chairman of the commission and oversaw investigations concerning both individual cases of discrimination and county-wide affirmative action programs.
    Although passenger rail travel declined in the sixties and the BSCP diminished in numbers, it continued to meet until 1978, when it was finally disbanded. Randolph nominated Dellums as his successor to the office of International President in 1968 and he was officially elected at the union's national convention in New Orleans. Dellums continued to work out of his office at 1716 Seventh St. in Oakland until his retirement in 1978. His service on the California Fair Employment Practices Commission continued until 1985.
    Dellums married his wife, Walter Lee Allen, in 1927. They had one child, Marva. Along with his service to the BSCP, the FEPC, and the NAACP, Dellums also participated in various clubs, such as the Masons, the Shriners, and the Elks. He died at age 89 on December 6, 1989.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The C.L. Dellums papers provide insight into Dellums' career as a civil rights activist and labor leader. The papers include files he maintained as both the International Vice-President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and as a member of the Fair Employment Practices Commission. In addition, they include some biographical materials and associated artifacts.
    Dellums' roles in the BSCP at the local, national, and international levels are documented in papers relating to the Oakland district and various western divisions, files on national mediation procedures and agreements, and records relating to international conventions and affiliations. Several letters and memoranda written by Randolph in the early thirties provide evidence of how he and Dellums worked together to formulate strategies for gaining recognition from the Pullman Company. Correspondence and financial records from the 1930s through the 1970s offer insight into the operation of the local union headquarters in Oakland. The papers also include a few records from other districts and divisions, such as the San Francisco District, the Salt Lake Division, and the Western Division. These encompass lists of members, timesheets, and memoranda and correspondence.
    Files on agreements reached between the BSCP and various national railways are available from the 1940s-1970s. Along with copies of the official agreements, the agreements contain related paperwork in the form of correspondence, legal opinions, and data sheets concerning rates of pay and benefits. The agreements concern a wide variety of issues, including travel time and expenses, rates of pay and benefits, uniforms, hours of work, and overtime and holiday pay.
    Also included are Dellums' files on mediation proceedings and labor negotiations and relate to individual disputes brought to the local district union for mediation, as well as investigations carried out by the National Mediation Board. Several folders of correspondence are available concerning a separation allowance dispute between porters and the Pullman Company in the late 1960s. In addition, these files include documentation on employee suspensions, stabilization of employment, and job transfers. The files on BSCP negotiations concern efforts to obtain wage increases and better health and retirement benefits. Most of these records date from the period between 1968-78, when Dellums served as President of BSCP, although there are a few files relating to earlier disputes concerning the Southern Pacific Railroad.
    The organizational structure of the BSCP, as well as its goals and procedures, are outlined in printed materials from the union. Dellums' papers include copies of the union's constitution dating from the 1940s-1960s, as well as pamphlets on labor issues and two issues of the union's official newsletter, The Black Worker. The growth and gradual decline of the union can be traced through souvenir programs from its annual conventions dating from the 1940s to 1970s. Several programs from conferences of the Ladies' Auxiliary of the BSCP are also present.
    BSCP correspondence files give additional insight into the union's relationship with other labor organizations and with various railroad companies. These also date primarily from the 1960s and 1970s, when Dellums served as International President. A few files are also present on A. Philip Randolph, the union's founder. These include correspondence with Dellums and other labor officials, records of awards and special honors which highlight Randolph's contributions, and information regarding the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
    Dellums' twenty-six year tenure on the Fair Employment Practices Commission is also well- documented. His papers encompass documents relating to his initial appointment in 1959 and to the formulation of the program's objectives. In addition, they include several folders documenting commission meetings in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Dellums' testimony before the Governor's Committee on Fair Housing is present, as are case files relating to individual claims of discrimination in employment and housing. A selection of printed materials produced by the FEPC are accompanied by pamphlets Dellums collected regarding other discrimination commissions and civil rights issues.
    Although the papers do not provide very much insight into Dellums' personal life, they do include several folders of personal correspondence, as well as such miscellaneous materials as certificates and club pamphlets, lists of favorite quotes, newspaper clippings, and daily planners. The biographical series also encompasses a folder of material on Dellums' role in the NAACP. His personal finances are documented in personal tax returns, employer's tax returns, and sales and use tax returns.
    Photographs included in the collection highlight Dellums' involvement in the BSCP. They also include a small number of portraits and family shots. Dellums' desk and typewriter, the official seal maker of the BSCP, and other artifacts are located in AAMLO's museum collection.


    Series I. Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Series II. Fair Employment Practices Commission Series III. Biographical Series IV. Photographs Series V. Oral history interview

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Dellums, C. L. (Cottrell Laurence) -- Archives.
    Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
    Pullman Company.
    Railroads -- Employees -- Labor unions -- Pacific Coast (U.S.).
    California. Fair Political Practices Commission.

    Other Finding Aids

    Cottrell Laurence Dellums papers, MSS 72/132c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.