Black leaders pay tribute to Sen. Dianne Feinstein

By Antonio Ray Harvey

Contributing Writer

SACRAMENTO — Condolences and tributes poured in from California’s Black community after the death of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein Sept. 28.

Lawmakers, business leaders, and political service organizations expressed their condolences and sympathy to family, friends and staff of Feinstein, 90, who died of natural causes in Washington, D.C.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said, “I am saddened by the passing of Senator Dianne Feinstein, one of our nation’s great leaders and someone I was blessed to call a colleague and friend. Senator Feinstein was a trailblazer on whose shoulders I, and women in elected office all across America, will always stand. She worked harder than anyone I knew on Capitol Hill and she will be remembered as one of the most effective and impactful Senators in American history.”

Feinstein made history as the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from California. She served over three decades in the Senate and was the oldest lawmaker on Capitol Hill.

“California lost a trailblazer and a giant today,” wrote Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland. “Senator Feinstein broke glass ceilings for women in politics and fought fearlessly for safer communities free of gun violence. My deepest condolences go out to her family and loved ones.”

Feinstein built a reputation as an independent voice, working hard to find practical solutions to issues confronting California and the nation. She was the first woman to chair the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, a position she held for six years beginning in 2009.

“We have fond memories to cherish of the work accomplished together on behalf of our most vulnerable and underserved communities,” said Dezie Woods-Jones, founding member and state president of the Black Women Organized for Political Action, a group that seeks to empower and educate African-American women about politics encourage involvement, and address issues affecting the African-American community.

Woods-Jones recalled that Feinstein hosted the organization’s first board retreat.

“May her profound legacy of supporting women’s rights and leadership continue to be front and center. Thank you for your years of service, senator,” Woods-Jones said. 

Feinstein was instrumental in helping another Black political organization grow and become a force to be reckoned with in California politics, the Black American Political Association of California (BAPAC). The group is dedicated to amplifying the economic, social, and political influence of the Black community in California.

According to BAPAC Sacramento Regional Director Rory Kaufman, the group’s growth and influence were bolstered by the support of former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, former two-time Gov. Jerry Brown, and Feinstein. The organization was founded by Percy Pinkney, an outspoken champion for solutions to challenges facing Black Californians, who also served as a senior state field representative for Feinstein.

“The bottom line is that Dianne Feinstein helped keep BAPAC alive because she had Percy Pinkney on her staff,” Kaufman said. “If history serves me correctly, it was either Brown or Feinstein that sent Pinkney to Indiana where he discovered an organization similar to BAPAC and brought it back here (to the West Coast) to start the organization.”

The California Black Women’s Collective also issued a statement on the passing of Feinstein. CBWC serves as a resource for lawmakers, elected officials, business leaders and advocacy organizations.

“We are all saddened by the passing of Senator Diane Feinstein, who paved the way for women to serve their communities in California and nationally,” said Kellie Todd Griffin, founding convener of CBWC. “It is imperative that we all take a moment to honor her contributions that positioned California as a beacon for others to follow.”

State Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Inglewood, vice chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, called Feinstein an “icon for her service and leadership.”

“Senator Dianne Feinstein dedicated her life to public service,” Bradford said. “As the longest-serving woman in the U.S. Senate, she was a trailblazer who served our state with strength, vision, and compassion.

“Her career was forged through the tragedy of gun violence which fueled her unwavering resolve to pass groundbreaking gun control. A true giant has left us.”

Former President Barack Obama issued a statement also calling Feinstein a “trailblazer” for breaking glass ceilings for women at various levels of politics.

“But once she broke those barriers and walked through those doors, she got to work,” Obama said. “I first got to know Dianne in the Senate, where she was a fierce advocate for gun safety measures and civil rights. Later, when I was president, I came to rely on her as a trusted partner in the fight to guarantee affordable health care and economic opportunity for everyone.

Former Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden called Feinstein a “great public servant,” saying he hosted the first Southern California fundraiser on her behalf when she made her initial run for the U.S. Senate. He said he gave his endorsement early to Feinstein and Boxer.

“Senator Feinstein and [Boxer] made great strides in Washington for women and other people who have been denied opportunities,” he told City News Service. “And we’re going to miss her.”

Antonio Ray Harvey is a reporter for California Black Media. City News Service also contributed to this story.