The Mervyn M. Dymally African American Political & Economic Institute was founded as a unfunded legislative mandate of the California Legislature. The purpose of the mandate was to create a think tank, tied to a California State University, to study the history of African American elected officials, business, and community leaders. The think tank would work to build institutional memory through oral history projects, and to study and debate the effects of public policy on African Americans and the communities in which they live. Introduced on December 5, 2002, by then-Assemblyman Mervyn M. Dymally, legislation for the “black think tank” was signed into law on August 27th, 2003, by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Originally named the California African American Political & Economic Institute, the institute’s home would be California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Mervyn M. Dymally was a history-making federal and state elected official from California. A member of the Democratic Party, Dymally was first elected to the California Assembly in November of 1962, serving until 1966. He then become the first African American elected to the California Senate, serving from 1967 to 1975. Mervyn Dymally again made history by becoming the 41st Lieutenant Governor for California, the first African American to do so, serving from 1975 to 1979. Next, Dymally took his public service to the federal level, becoming the first naturalized African Caribbean U.S. Congressperson in history. Dymally served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 to 1993. After a ten-year hiatus from elected office, he returned to serve in the California Assembly—where it all started for him—from 2003 to 2008, capping off nearly a half century of public service. Mervyn Dymally passed away on October 7, 2012.

Representative Dymally embodied a strong commitment to the political, economic, and cultural development of his community. In dedication to his lifelong work as a legislator, a scholar, an internationalist, and an social justice advocate for the underserved and disadvantaged, legislation was introduced by State Senator Curren Price on February 22, 2013 to rename the California African American Political & Economic Institute in honor of its benefactor, the Honorable Mervyn M. Dymally.

On August 27th, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown, who served with Mervyn Dymally in his first administration as Governor, signed SB807, requiring California State University, Dominguez Hills, to rename its African American think tank The Mervyn M. Dymally African American Political & Economic Institute.