“Born into a world in which she could neither vote nor hold public office, she found power by raising her voice and taking action where her conscience deemed it necessary. Inspiring and empowering those whose lives she touched, she rose to positions of leadership from which she challenged the status quo, contributed to policy reform, and advocated for equality.” Congresswoman Barbara Lee on Esther Jones Lee
Esther Jones Lee of Berkeley led California’s Anti-Lynching Campaign, successfully outlawing the practice in our state. Lee’s leadership in the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) had nationwide impact. She worked closely with NACW President Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, and locally with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Vice President C.L. Dellums, who went on to play a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement.
Lee’s father, Reverend J.W. Jones, served as Secretary of the Colored Clergy of Kansas. Jones went on to found the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church – now known as the McGee Avenue Baptist Church – in Berkeley, one of the first black churches on the West Coast, and was a close associate of Frederick Douglass.
Three generations later, Lee’s great grandson, Berkeley Vice Mayor Ben Bartlett, is also drawn to service and justice. Ben comes from a long line of people who dedicated their lives to advancing the causes of human freedom and empowerment. Ben is a descendant of Officer Holcomb, a cavalryman in the American Revolution.
Today, Ben Bartlett is a son of the continuous American Revolution – an American Revolution that never ended, the roots of which can be traced through the Civil War, Jim Crow, the civil rights movement, the creation of the Black Panthers, and the movement for freedom continuing on today.
Ben’s grandfather, Leo C. Higgs was the first black realtor in Northern California, who worked with African Americans to get mortgages when the banks turned their backs. Higgs was business partners and close friends with former Assemblyman Byron Rumford and author of what became the Fair Housing Act and the Clean Air Act. The Fair Housing Act was a major step in the integration of America and one of the greatest legislative victories of the Civil Rights Movement. Higgs served his country in World War I as a member of an elite regiment called the “Black Devils” and helped integrate the armed services.
C.L. Dellums’ nephew, former Congressman Ron Dellums, is Ben’s uncle. Congressman Dellums is best known for his work dismantling apartheid in South Africa through the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. President Ronald Reagan’s veto of the bill was overridden, serving as the 20th century’s first override of a presidential foreign policy veto.
Ben’s godparents are legendary former Berkeley Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek, jazz vibraphonist Milt Jackson, jazz singer Abbey Lincoln, former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris, and Alvin Boutte Sr., who founded the Seaway and Independence Banks in Chicago, which helped fund the work of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ben’s great aunt, Josephine Baker, was the only woman to address the March on Washington in 1963.
Ben’s father, Dayle “Sundown” Bartlett was a musician, whose band Fresh Goods performed at American Indian Movement rallies. He was also a civil servant who authored 353 pieces of legislation in Berkeley.
Ben’s mother is Rosa Lee Higgs, who attended Boalt Hall School of Law (known today as UC Berkeley School of Law). She went on to help create the first African American Studies program in the country at San Francisco State University and was a founding member of the Black Panther Party. Today, she continues to serve her community as an educator and author of Higgs Phonics. Ben grew up within a community of elders and activists, attending Black Panther School.
Despite the tireless work of all of these people and many more, levels of income and wealth inequality are the highest they have been since the Great Depression, and the median wealth for the majority of US households is projected to hit zero in the next 50 years. If left unaddressed, we are on a fast track to returning to instability and servitude. These times require leadership, innovation, and courage to address the biggest issues facing our district and nation as a whole – from solving the housing crisis to fighting for justice for our poorest communities.
Ben Bartlett is continuing on in this legacy – raising his voice against injustice and advocating for equality. Because of his long family history in protecting the rights of all people, Ben has sustained the traditional value that respects the rights of all people. Ben is fighting the primary threats to our way of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
On the Berkeley City Council, Ben has worked determinedly to author and help pass nearly 50 measures aimed at creating a better and more equitable future for Berkeley and the East Bay. Ben successfully funded body cameras for Berkeley City Police, decriminalized fines and fees, launched the first prefabricated micro-units market to house the homeless, funded eviction defense, passed paid family leave, and worked to close the gender and racial pay gap. Ben hopes to continue this work in the State Assembly where he plans to comprehensively address the housing crisis and put an end to private prisons.
The continuous American Revolution lives on in all of us. Ben Bartlett continues to lead the way.
The primary election for State Assembly District 15 is June 5. Let us continue in this fight for the expansion of freedom and prosperity and vote for Ben Bartlett.