Rumford, ‘Jackie Robinson of Black Politics,’ Dies

From Times Wire Services

William Byron Rumford Sr., who became Northern California’s first black legislator in 1948 and wrote the state fair housing law that bears his name, has died at age 78.

Rumford, who died Thursday, was a pharmacist and represented Berkeley as a Democrat in the Assembly from 1948 to 1966.

The Rumford Fair Housing Act of 1963 became the main legal weapon against housing discrimination in California until passage of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1968. Rumford also sponsored public health legislation, anti-pollution measures and anti-discrimination laws, including the Fair Employment Practices Act.

He was appointed assistant director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in 1970.


Born in Arizona, Rumford moved to then-predominantly white Alameda County in 1940, established a pharmacy and began to organize black political efforts.

“He was a hero--the Jackie Robinson of black politics,” party activist Paul Cobb said.

Rumford’s pharmacy became an unofficial political office in Berkeley, and people such as Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson and state Supreme Court Justice Allen E. Broussard were among those whose dreams were fueled there.

“I simply would not be where I am today if it were not for Byron Rumford,” Broussard said. “Byron was a true pioneer, and he did so much so modestly and so effectively.”


While growing up in Phoenix, Rumford shined shoes in front of Goldwater’s department store. During those years he also was a boxer and later credited his boxing for much of his political success.

“I fought four years in the ring, and I don’t give up easily,” he said. “I hope I never run over people . . . but I don’t like people pushing me around when I’m right.”

Survivors include his wife, Elsie, a son and a daughter. Funeral services were scheduled for Tuesday at Beebe Memorial Temple.