D’Army Bailey, who served on Berkeley City Council in the 1970s and went on to establish the National Civil Rights Museum, died Sunday in Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of 73.
The causes of his death were lung cancer and complications due to pneumonia, according to his brother, Walter Bailey Jr.
As a candidate under the Black Caucus, Bailey was elected to City Council in April 1971 with support from students. He formed an alliance with members of the April Coalition, which championed student representation in city government and greater accountability on the University of California’s part. In about two years, he was recalled from the council in a contentious city vote.
The April Coalition-Black Caucus’ general platforms included securing greater community oversight of police, localizing control over taxes and transforming the city manager’s role in Berkeley government, according to Walter Bailey Jr.
In an interview with The Daily Californian after his election, Bailey said that “government has to be decentralized to the point where people in neighborhoods can make decisions that would affect their neighborhoods.”
Shortly after assuming his position on the council, he came into conflict with the more conservative members of the majority at the time — known as the Berkeley Four — for his aggressive approach towards achieving social change.
“There is no requirement that a politician be likeable or follow a certain manner,” Bailey said in a 1973 interview with the Daily Cal. “I decided to be unpopular and to get things passed.”
Even in his early adulthood, Bailey was dedicated to promoting social change and to fighting racial and economic discrimination. While attending Southern University, a historically black institution in Louisiana, he was arrested during an anti-segregation demonstration and subsequently expelled from the university, according to Walter Bailey Jr. After the expulsion, he received a scholarship to Clark University in Massachusetts and later graduated from Yale Law School.
According to his brother, Bailey’s fervor for activism grew even stronger and become “entrenched in his conscience” after his expulsion from Southern University.
Jim Wilkes, a founding partner of Wilkes & McHugh, P.A. who worked in private practice with Bailey, affirmed his passion for racial equality and said Bailey was “extremely concerned about the loss of corporate conscience in America.”
As Bailey’s City Council term continued, many who had originally supported his 1971 campaign grew wary of his political decisions. Although it endorsed his platforms at first, the April Coalition began to clash with Bailey over women’s and students’ issues as his term continued.
By February 1973, then-vice mayor Wilmont Sweeney and then-councilmember Ed Kallgren, members of the Berkeley Four, had formed a committee to propose a recall election, charging Bailey with “obstructionism on the council.”
Bailey said the recall campaign had racist underpinnings, contending that the election — scheduled for Aug. 21 — was purposely timed during summer vacation so that the student vote, expected to swing in his favor, would be stifled.
“What we really have here is the establishment coming together to get rid of someone who is in their way,” he said to the Daily Cal about a month before the recall. “As long as I’m there, the machine can’t function smoothly.”
Students vocalized their support for Bailey throughout the recall process, with both the Black Student Union and the Daily Cal’s Senior Editorial Board publishing opinion pieces against his recall.
In an op-ed published in the Daily Cal, Bailey wrote that defeating the recall election would represent laying the “groundwork for successful working alliances between honest and fair minded black and white people in this city.”
Bailey managed to secure strong allies in fellow activists and members of the black community in Berkeley. In July of that year, an anti-recall benefit rally was attended by more than 1,000, including renowned civil rights champion Jesse Jackson.
At the time, Jackson said that “a Bailey loss in the recall election would have a harmful effect upon the momentum of the black political movement in this country.”
Bailey ultimately lost the recall vote by about 7,000 votes after low turnout from student and black communities. He was replaced by William Rumford Jr., a pharmacist and assistant chief of police services for BART.
After his defeat, Bailey returned to Memphis to practice law. In 1982, he led a project to preserve the deteriorating Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated 14 years earlier. After gathering donations from several private donors, he won the foreclosure auction for the property. In 1991, the former motel reopened as the National Civil Rights Museum.
Bailey authored two books in the past several decades and appeared in several films. He was elected as a circuit court judge in 1990 and left briefly to practice in a private law firm before being re-elected in 2014.
Bailey is survived by his wife, Adrienne, and their two sons.