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Berkeley Political Leader Maudelle Shirek Dies at 101

Former long-serving Berkeley City Councilwoman Maudelle Shirek, a prominent progressive activist who came to political office late in life and was once the oldest elected official in California, died on Thursday, April 11.

One of Berkeley's best-known political progressives in the latter 20th century – Maudelle Shirek – has died at age 101.

Shirek, a former City Councilwoman after whom Berkeley's Old City Hall is named, was often at the front of protests, volunteered to help those in need and played an influential role in shaping East Bay politics.

She died at home in Vallejo on Thursday night, April 11, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

One of her enduring contributions to the future of American politics was persuading a young Ron Dellums in 1967 to set aside his plan to pursue a Ph.D. at Brandeis and run for Berkeley City Council instead. Dellums went on to serve 28 years in Congress as a steadfast pacifist and later served also as mayor of Oakland.

Shirek was first recruited to run for the Berkeley council by city progressives when she was 73. At age 89, she was elected to her eighth and final council term – the oldest elected official in the state.

The granddaughter of slaves, Shirek grew up in Arkansas and worked earlier in her life as a union organizer and helped found two Berkeley senior centers.

The world became her political stage. When she was 77, she traveled with the first delegation from North America to the newly occupied Palestinian territories and protested Israeli policies. In Cuba, she once dined with Fidel Castro.

You can find her in the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle in 1985 being arrested in an anti-apartheid protest at UC Berkeley. 

"We lost a warrior," said Mayor Tom Bates, according to the Chronicle. "She really looked after the poor in our city, wanted to help people who didn't have many options. She will be greatly missed."

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