A granddaughter of slaves, Maudelle Shirek left her rural Arkansas home for California in the middle of World War II, and before long she was campaigning for fair housing and other civil rights for African Americans.
Recruiting Ron Dellums
Ron Dellums gave up a scholarship to work on a Ph.D at Brandeis University and agreed to run for Berkeley City Council.
He went on to serve 28 years in Congress in a career marked by a steadfast pacifism, leadership in the Congressional Black Caucus and tenure as the first African American to chair the powerful House Armed Services Committee.
Partly at Shirek's suggestion, he had been corralled into a meeting of black leaders in Berkeley seeking a candidate for the council.
He didn't want to run and his name was about to be erased from the list of possibilities on the blackboard after he told the group, "I feel very strongly about things. I don't think politics is ready for me, and I'm not ready for politics." At that moment a woman with "a beautiful gray Afro" who hadn't said much all evening asked Dellums: "Would you run on your own terms?"
"That moment changed my life," said Dellums,"That woman was testing my integrity. "
Dellums couldn't say no and gave a noncommittal answer about political idealism. Shirek told the group to keep his name on the chalk board and that he had her vote. Dellums won the endorsement and the seat.
Berkeley City Council
In 1984, the leftist Berkeley Citizens Action party was having its nominating convention. Shirek was on the list of possible candidates but had not shown up as the packed auditorium waited.
The man who was later her aide, Mike Berkowitz, set out on a desperate search and found her cleaning the house of an elderly resident. "Maudelle, you've got to come!" he recalled telling her. "It's the nominating convention!"
"Yes," she replied, "but I've got to finish cleaning these floors."
In 2000 Shirek was elected to her eigth term on the Berkeley City Council, receiving 73.7 percent of the vote, the largest margin of victory of all four council races on the ballot.
Maudelle Shirek has traveled to Africa, Moscow, Prague, Nicaragua and Cuba, where she dined with Fidel Castro.
She was 77 when she joined the first delegation from North America to visit the newly occupied Palestinian territories in protest of Israeli policies there.
"Everybody was 35 to 40 years younger than Maudelle," recalled the trip's organizer, Barbara Lubin, director of the Berkeley-based Middle East Childrens Alliance. "She was the only one who never fell asleep. She was out in front of all of us."
Shirek was also on the front line when she and other members of the delegation were arrested for chaining themselves to the fence of the Pennsylvania factory that made the tear gas used on the Palestinians.
Arrested with Angela
CoC National Conference endorser
In 1992 Maudelle Shirek, Berkeley City Council endorsedthe Committees of Correspondence national conference Conference on Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 90s held at Berkeley California July 17-19.
Employed CoC leader
- Black Liberation in Conservative America (M. Marable) page 66