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The Honorable Barbara Lee

U.S. Congresswoman Honorable Barbara Lee was born on July 16, 1946 in El Paso, Texas. Her biological father, James Lewis, was a veteran of the Korean War; her mother, Mildred Massey, a clerk. In 1960, Lee’s family moved to the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, California. As a teenager, she immersed herself in music and won two music achievement awards from the Rotary Club and the Bank of America. Lee graduated from San Fernando High School in 1964. She worked for one year in the California Department of Labor Statistics, and then went on to receive her B.A. degree in psychology from Mills College in 1973 and her M.A. degree in social work from the University of California at Berkeley in 1975.

Upon graduation, Lee worked for Congressman Ronald V. Dellums after serving as a legislative intern there during graduate school. While there, she managed Congressman Dellums’ offices in Washington, D.C. and Oakland, California for eleven years and eventually rose to the position of senior adviser. In 1990, Lee was elected to the California State Assembly; and, in 1996, she was elected to the California State Senate. As a Democrat, she worked successfully with California’s Republican administration in those years and sponsored sixty-seven bills that were signed into law by then-Republican Governor Pete Wilson. Lee’s political agenda focused on issues such as education, public safety, environmental protection, health, labor, and women’s rights. In 1998, she became the first woman to represent the State of California’s then-9th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives and served as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus from 2009 to 2011. She was later elected as the first woman to represent the California’s now-13th Congressional District in 2013. Lee also published a memoir, Renegade for Peace and Justice: A Memoir of Political and Personal Courage (2008).

Lee’s honors and distinctions include receiving the Dean’s Appreciation Award from the University of California at Berkeley School of Social Welfare, and the Willie L. Brown, Jr., Leadership Award, both in 2001. Lee was also nominated for the Alfred R. Nobel Peace Prize. In 2009, The National Urban League honored her with the Congressional Leadership Award; and, in 2012, she received the Lifetime Legacy Achievement Award from the United Nations Association. Lee is the mother of two sons, Tony Lee and Craig Lee.

U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 5, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.249

Sex

Female

Interview Date

11/5/2013

Last Name

Lee

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

Jean

Schools

University of California, Berkeley

Mills College

San Fernando High School

San Fernando Junior High School

St. Joseph’s Elementary School

First Name

Barbara

Birth City, State, Country

El Paso

HM ID

LEE05

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Grenada

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

7/16/1946

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Bay Area/Oakland

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

U.S. congresswoman and state senator The Honorable Barbara Lee (1946 - ) was the first woman to represent the State of California’s then-9th and now-13th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Employment

California State Senate

United States House of Representatives

California State Assembly

W.C. Parish/Lee Associates

Office of Representative Ronald Dellums

Far West Laboratory for Educational Research & Development

Glendale Welfare Office

California Department of Labor Statistics

Favorite Color

Orange

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Barbara Lee's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Barbara Lee lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Barbara Lee describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Barbara Lee talks about tracing her African roots

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Barbara Lee describes her mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Barbara Lee talks about her mother's experiences of color discrimination

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Barbara Lee talks about her mother's education and career

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Barbara Lee describes her father's family background and how he met her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable Barbara Lee describes her stepfather

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - The Honorable Barbara Lee remembers moving with her family to California

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - The Honorable Barbara Lee describes her likeness to her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - The Honorable Barbara Lee lists her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - The Honorable Barbara Lee describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Barbara Lee remembers her house in El Paso, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Barbara Lee talks about her maternal grandfather's move to El Paso, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Barbara Lee remembers her neighborhood in El Paso, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Barbara Lee talks about the role of religion in her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Barbara Lee remembers her extracurricular activities

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Barbara Lee talks about her family's departure from El Paso, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Barbara Lee describes her early political participation

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Barbara Lee talk about her early influences

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - The Honorable Barbara Lee describes her experiences at San Fernando High School in San Fernando, California

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - The Honorable Barbara Lee describes how travel influenced her interest in politics

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Barbara Lee remembers her high school graduation

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Barbara Lee remembers the political events of the 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Barbara Lee recalls her time living in Europe

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Barbara Lee remembers her return to San Fernando, California

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Barbara Lee remembers moving to Northern California

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Barbara Lee remembers joining the Black Panther Party

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Barbara Lee talks about her maternal grandfather's emphasis on education

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Barbara Lee talks about her decision to attend Mills College in Oakland, California

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - The Honorable Barbara Lee describes her experiences at Mills College in Oakland, California, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - The Honorable Barbara Lee describes her experiences at Mills College in Oakland, California, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - The Honorable Barbara Lee recalls developing the African study abroad program at Mills College

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Barbara Lee recalls the influential figures she met through her activism

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Barbara Lee talks about the Black Panther Party

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Barbara Lee talks about her psychological training

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Barbara Lee recalls the founding of the CHANGE, Inc. mental health center in Berkeley, California

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Barbara Lee talks about the influence of Dr. Price Cobbs and William H. Grier

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Barbara Lee describes the importance of mental healthcare in the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Barbara Lee remembers the Cal in the Capital program

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - The Honorable Barbara Lee remembers Huey P. Newton

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - The Honorable Barbara Lee remembers working as Congressman Ronald Dellums' chief of staff

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$2

DAStory

5$7

DATitle
The Honorable Barbara Lee talks about the influence of Dr. Price Cobbs and William H. Grier
The Honorable Barbara Lee describes her early political participation
Transcript
Now, now did you have any act- interaction in those days with Price Cobbs [HistoryMaker Dr. Price Cobbs] and--$$Yeah.$$--and William Grier [William H. Grier]?$$That's right yeah, yeah. They were over at Pacific Psychotherapy [Pacific Psychotherapy Associates].$$Um-hm.$$Um-hm, on Sacramento Street [San Francisco, California], yep a lot of interaction with them.$$Okay.$$Yeah.$$The authors of 'Black Rage.'$$'Black Rage.'$$Everybody was reading that during the--$$Yeah.$$--seventies [1970s].$$I was too--$$Yeah.$$--and that was part of my rage, is looking at how psychiatric services and mental health services were being presented to the black community which didn't work, I mean I ended, you know, and my model was based on yeah you gotta provide the counseling and psychoanalysis and psychotherapy 'cause if people are depressed and if they're a psychotic or schizophrenic or, you know, they need help, I mean they really do. But that doesn't mean that they don't need a job, you know, it's kind of like the social and economic issues that underline a lot of the mental health problems in the African American community need to be dealt with. And so my clinic, while it provided the services we had, what I called advocates, psychiatric advocates who would really go out and if you needed a job, or needed daycare, if you needed a home, you know, would help people in their real needs, their reality stuff, and so those people would work in a team setting with the clinical people to try to help a person really regroup and it worked. And then we had a community component where we tried to do what we call primary prevention and that was on a community level, have workshops and forums about mental health issues so people would really begin to understand mental health, and so people would know if the early signs of depression, early signs of anger, early signs of whatever, stress, you know, come to the clinic quick so we can kind of sort it through and the, you know? So we did a whole community mental health component of my clinic, so it was great and it survived 'til Ronald Reagan [Ronald Wilson Reagan] cut out the funding, OEO [Office of Economic Opportunity], I think, but I went on to D.C. [Washington, D.C.] and hired a whole staff and board to keep it going.$California is, of course there's no signs in California right, in, well like that?$$Oh California was horrible. No really, it, the segregation out here was it was de facto in a lot of ways. I wanted to be a cheerleader at my high school and the way they selected 'em, they had criteria and I assume you had to have blonde hair and blue eyes and white, but I couldn't for whatever reason, no black girl could, felt confident enough or assured, assured enough that they could pass the test to be a cheerleader. So, I got very upset about that, went to the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] and they got the school to change their rules where students could then tryout in front of the student body and then the vote, students would vote on who they wanted to be their cheerleaders, so that was my first election. I actually tried out in front of the student body and I won. And so I was the first black cheerleader that El Pa- at San Fernando High [San Fernando High School, San Fernando, California], but that just kind of shows you how the segregation and the discrimination worked in California. There was housing, you know, in California, I think the fair housing law didn't pass, the Byron fair housing act didn't pass until, shoot, '64 [sic. California Fair Housing Act of 1963], when I graduated from high school, I think that was when it was, I mean in the '60s [1960s]. So it was horrible, it was bad in California and, and you know it was varied, I didn't see any coloreds only signs, but the segregation was alive, it was real and it was very deep.$$Okay, so this is in the San Fernando Valley [California]?$$Um-hm.$$Wha- wha- what was the name of the town that you lived in?$$Pacoima [California], although it--$$(Unclear) (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, Pacoima and San Fernando, we lived at 11920 Chadron Avenue, San Fernando, California, but it was like right next to Pacoima.$$Okay, okay.$$And it was a large, mainly black community, now it's largely Latino, and I think there's some of the old timers still there who are African Americans, but for the most part it's a Latino community now.$$Okay, now did you--in 1960, were you aware of politics? I know that was a big election the Kennedy [John Fitzgerald Kennedy] and Nixon [Richard Milhous Nixon] election which was, which was--$$Yeah.$$--national news and--$$Oh yeah.$$--I, I don't know--$$That was in the '60s [1960s].$$--if you were, you know?$$I was aware, but not really, it was like okay, you know, who's gonna win, fine, good, you know? I hope a Democrat wins but it wasn't nothing, nothing else, you--$$Wha- what--$$--know?$$Wha- was, what was your [maternal] grandfather [William Parish] and your, your family Democrats for the most part?$$Yeah, you know, actually my grandfather like many African Americans had been Republican because of, you know, it was the party of Lincoln [President Abraham Lincoln], by then he was a Democrat, I'm sure. But he, they oh yeah, they all would talk about elections and, you know, as being part of NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], I mean that was the core civil rights organization that they were affiliated with, we talked a lot about it all the time and knew that Kennedy had to win for black people, you know, and we knew the Democrats had to, to continue with our fight for, you know, justice and equality, but in terms of being kind of in tune with the election and all the politics of the election and the debates, ah no.