Skip to main content

Willie Dell papers

Identifier: M 61

Scope and Contents

The Willie Dell papers, 1972-1994, is a collection of material used by and related to former Richmond City Council member, Willie Dell. The collection consists of Dell's correspondence, political campaign files, city council administrative files, news clippings, and other assorted materials related to politics in the Richmond area. The collection provides a look into black politics in Richmond in the decades following the Civil Rights Movement. The collection additionally provides insight into the increased involvement of women in local politics, as well as the backlash from certain communities as a result.

Correspondence in the collection is primarily from Dell's supporters and constituents, both praising and criticizing Dell's performance as a politician and representative of the black community. Correspondents include two incarcerated convicts, praising Dell’s performance in advocating for the rights of black citizens. Additionally, there are instances of correspondence directed to Dell's husband, Rev. Nathan Dell, including one which comments on Willie Dell’s perceived behavior.

Political campaign literature within the collection consist of posters, pamphlets, sample ballots, endorsements, and statements from Dell regarding her campaigns for city council in 1972 and 1984. Posters and pamphlets provide brief overviews of Dell's political stances as well as voting information. Endorsements of Dell, such as one from WANT-AM Radio, praise her experience and optimistic plan for the black citizens of Richmond.

Dell's City Council administrative materials include copies of resolutions passed during her time as a council member. Supplementing the resolutions is an index of resolutions' subjects passed in City Council from 1975 to 1980. Additional City Council files include a citizen feedback forms used by Dell in 1984 to gauge the performance of the City Council.

Dell's newspaper clipping collection is primarily composed of articles regarding the participation of black citizens in the Richmond political process. The clippings focus on Dell's political campaigns, the exploits and successes of the Richmond Crusade for Voters, and specific Richmond politicians such as Roy West, Henry Marsh, and Manuel Deese.


  • 1972-1994


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Biographical / Historical Information

Willie Jones Dell was the first black woman to serve on the Richmond City Council. She earned her bachelor’s degree from St. Augustine College in Raleigh, North Carolina and earned her master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1960. After graduating, she became a caseworker for the Richmond Department of Public Welfare, and was head of the department’s maternal and infant care project in 1969. Dell left public service to become an assistant professor in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work later that year. Her husband was Rev. Nathan Dell, pastor of the East End’s Wood-ville Presbyterian Church. As members of the church, Dell and her husband often engaged in community improvement projects.

Dell became directly involved in politics following the attempted annexation of areas of Chesterfield County by the city of Richmond in 1972. The United States Supreme Court ordered the creation of new council districts to combat the racial motivations of the attempted annexation. Dell was appointed to city council in 1973 to the Northside 3rd District after its creation. She would later run for election to the position in 1977. In her role as a council member, Dell advocated for the rights of Richmond’s black citizens. She helped operate the Richmond Crusade for Voters to ensure equal opportunity for black voters. Her efforts focused primarily on the mobilization of predominantly lower-working-class citizens in her constituency, which garnered her a reputation as a radical within the city council and conservative communities. She served in her council position until 1982, after losing the election to black conservative candidate, Roy West.

In 1985, Dell began work as a missionary in Haiti, working with St. Joseph's orphanage and the Missionaries of Charity in Port au Prince. She later became an advocate for Richmond's elderly population as executive director of the Richmond Community Senior Center. She currently lives in Richmond, VA.


Hayter, Julian Maxwell. "'The Dream Is Lost': Henry Marsh and Black Governance in an Era of White Political Resistance." In The Dream Is Lost: Voting Rights and the Politics of Race in Richmond, Virginia, Chapter 5. University Press of Kentucky, 2017.

Randolph, Lewis A. Rights for a Season : The Politics of Race, Class, and Gender in Richmond, Virginia. 1st ed. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2003.


.42 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The collection is arranged by alphabetical order by subject.

Acquisition Information

Donated on behalf of Willie Dell by Lewis Randolph in 1997.

Processing Information

The collection was originally accessioned in 1997. Susan King and Raven Harris processed the collection in 2002 and wrote a draft finding aid. The collection was rehoused and reprocessed in 2019 and a new DACS-compliant finding aid was written.



A Guide to the Willie Dell papers, 1972-1994
Dillon Thomas
2019 By Virginia Commonwealth University. All rights reserved.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the VCU James Branch Cabell Library Repository

Special Collections and Archives 901 Park Avenue
Richmond Virginia 23284 USA US
(804) 828-1108