Donald Pitts McCullum (1928-1988)

Donald P. McCullum
Image Courtesy: The African American Museum and Library in Oakland, Fair use image
Image Courtesy of the African American Museum
and Library, Oakland, California

Attorney, civil rights leader, and judge Donald Pitts McCullum was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, to Charles A. McCullum and Irene Pitts McCullum on January 28, 1928. He earned a bachelor of arts degree from Talladega College in Alabama in 1948. Three years later, he graduated from Boston University School of Law and passed the Massachusetts bar in 1953.

McCullum served as an officer with the Seventh Fleet of the United States Navy during the Korean War. He was awarded the Korea Medal with two battle stars, the National Defense Medal, and the United Nations Medal.

Released from the Navy, McCullum settled in Oakland, California, in 1955. He served as Deputy District Attorney of Alameda County, California from 1955 to 1960. He was also an instructor in law enforcement at Oakland City College, teaching evidence and court procedure.

Civil rights reform became a major part of McCullum’s public life. In 1961, he was appointed president of the Oakland branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He and other members of the NAACP campaigned against the segregation of African American children in Oakland schools. In 1962, McCullum formed the local Civil Rights Coordinating Committee (CRCC). Representing many civil rights groups, CRCC opposed discrimination in employment and housing. In 1964, the Oakland City Council, after several months of negotiation with CRCC, adopted regulations to ensure equal job opportunities for black residents.

Poverty was of much concern to McCullum. One third of Latinos and African Americans lived in poor neighborhoods in Oakland. Because of that interest, in 1965, Mayor John Houlihan appointed him and other black leaders to the Oakland Economic Development Council (OEDC), a municipal board which administered antipoverty programs. They reorganized OEDC and left civil rights activists, social workers, and black professionals in control of the council. McCullum also headed the National Urban Coalition in the late 1960s. Composed of civil rights, labor, business, and government leaders, it rehabilitated many inner city neighborhoods and provided job training and jobs for unemployed and underemployed racial minorities.

McCullum served as City Attorney of Berkeley, California, in the 1970s, the first African American to hold this position. He also belonged to the California Association of Black Lawyers, American Trial Lawyers Association, and National Bar Association. In 1977 Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. appointed him to the Alameda County Superior Court.  He served on the court until 1988.

Donald Pitts McCullum died in Alameda, California on December 25, 1988 at the age of sixty. He was survived by his wife, Peggy, a son, and two daughters. A bust of McCullum is on a pedestal in front of the federal courts wing of the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building in Oakland.