In 1980, Dymally returned to public office and became the first foreign Black to be elected to the United States Congress where he served for 12 years. During his tenure, he served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, and established important relations with developing nations in Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America.
As a congressman, he introduced legislation on behalf of Japanese-Americans to be compensated for their World War II internment experiences in detention camps. And in a move to correct another wrong, Dymally also introduced legislation to permit Filipino-Americans who were World War II veterans to stay in the U.S. and become citizens. These promises were reportedly made to them during the World War II era. He seemed to have an unusually keen sensitivity for suffering peoples, particularly those who lived in under-developed countries. In a recently-published book titled "Black Americans in Congress," the following quote is attributed to Dymally, "I have an obligation as a third world person. I make no excuses. I do have a very keen interest in the Third World. We do not live in just 50 states."
His advocacy for immigrant rights was borne out of his experiences coming from a developing country. So much so, his interest in human rights was directed on a global scale. Dymally advocated for Haitians immigrants; Russian Jews in the former Soviet Union; the creation of a Palestinian state; the dismantling of the apartheid system in South Africa; and against U.S. aid to oppressive regimes in Latin America. As chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Dymally flew to Brazil to accept a peace award for Nelson Mandela, while Mandela was still imprisoned in South Africa. He then flew to South Africa to deliver the award to Dr. Maki Mandela, Mandela's daughter, on behalf of her famous father.
When Dymally left Congress, he used his time to enhance many of the interests that he had legislated in Congress. He also used his time and experience cultivating relationships at home and in countries all over the world. His worldview allowed him to visit Fidel Castro, along with Rev. Jesse Jackson; to infuse politics in Trinidad (his homeland) with an American flavor; and create meaningful dialogue to assist Africa with its multitude of human problems. However, some in Dymally's homeland were not too generous about his attempts to become involved in Trinidad politics. In the opinion page of one of the local newspapers, the editor directed the following to Dymally: "We have done quite well without you, and we, certainly can continue to do (well) without you. You are just a passing cloud, which will soon pass us. We do not need any scattered showers, or drizzles, from your passing cloud." Had that editor known the true essence of Dymally's worth as a world renown statesman, he would have been able to appreciate the value of Dymally's experiences world-wide.
His focus on the disenfranchised can be readily discerned when he stated, "I have been to more than a hundred countries and no country offers opportunity for growth in education, economics and job security as the United States." He has traveled extensively to Africa, Asia and the Caribbean as a foreign affairs consultant. His focus on education could probably be traced as far back as his days as a schoolteacher in Los Angeles before entering politics.
Congresswoman Diane Watson who worked with Dymally when she was a state senator in Sacramento said, "Merv Dymally has always been a mover and shaker in state politics. There is probably no one out there more politically-seasoned than Merv, who has gone back to the State Assembly for a second time to show them how to get it done."
After a ten-year hiatus, Dymally returned to Sacramento where his political life started over forty years ago. At 82 years, he was probably one of the oldest, if not the oldest, lawmaker in the state legislature. He introduced the first legislation focusing on Blacks and HIV/AIDS, on elder care and abuse, and to create African American Political and Economic Institute at California State University, Dominguez Hills. When Dymally announced his candidacy for the State Senate in 2006–the second time in his career–many were critical of his age to which he said, "The United States is the only society in which age is a liability. Other nations look to their elders for wisdom and guidance, but in the United States, we are obsessed with age and not wisdom."
Dymally's political leadership is not confined to Black candidates or causes. He has brought along politicians from a wide spectrum. He has mentored former Assembly speaker Robert Hertzberg, former Councilman Richard Alatorre and many other non-African American politicians. To many, in and out of politics, he is an icon and a role model for American coalition politics. Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson, Jr. a former Assembly speaker commented on Dymally this way, "I have known Merv Dymally my entire life in politics. No one has opened more doors of opportunity for people than my friend, Merv. It was my privilege to serve as his Speaker of the Assembly for two years. He was always the most supportive and loyal ally any Speaker could have." He was referred to as the dean of the assembly and was affectionately called "His Excellency" by fellow assembly members, because of the many titles he has had during his 40 years in public service.
Now that it seems that Dymally is out of elective office, it is certainly a misnomer to say that he has retired. He may not be in public office but he has hardly retired. Still a dynamo of energy, Dymally has dismissed all fears of career extinction; he is scheduled to take the reins of leadership at Charles Drew University as its president. He will also be a visiting professor at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California.
Starting off as a teacher in elementary and secondary schools, Dymally is about to come full circle when he returns to the classroom as a visiting professor. He not only promoted education as the most needed path for the advancement of the disadvantaged, he clearly demonstrated the value and virtues of education in his own life, attaining the highest academic achievement, a Ph.D. The historical papers documenting Dymally's service are presently housed at California State University at Los Angeles, his alma mater; and at the University of California, Los Angeles, where, as lieutenant governor, he had been a regent.
His life work is a reflection of his ideas and ideals, and it can be glimpsed from the trail that he has blazed for those to come.
Mervyn Malcolm Dymally has been:
THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN STATE SENATOR IN CALIFORNIA;
THE FIRST (AND ONLY) AFRICAN AMERICAN LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA;
THE FIRST FOREIGN BORN AFRICAN AMERICAN MEMBER OF THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS.
He is an integral part of history and has earned the respect from all.
Dymally is not about to retire.