The congresswoman had asked for a four- to six-week leave of absence from the House last week to deal with her illness. She represented a heavily Democratic southern California district that includes Compton, Long Beach and parts of Los Angeles.
"She was a champion for the consumer and fought injustice wherever she saw it. She always valued public service and served her state and nation with grace and honor," said California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres, who served with her in the California state Legislature.
Millender-McDonald is the second member of Congress to die this year of cancer. Republican Rep. Charles Norwood Jr. of Georgia died in February after battling cancer and lung disease.
"Many of us are very saddened by her death, and in some respects stunned by it," said state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has worked with Millender-McDonald in different capacities for over two decades. "She knew about the issues of justice and injustice, and carried that banner wherever she went."
The congresswoman, a native of Birmingham, Ala., worked on former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley's unsuccessful 1982 gubernatorial campaign and other local races as a volunteer before getting elected to the Carson City Council in 1990. She went on to serve in the California state Assembly, and in 1996 sought a U.S. House seat during a special election. She won a full House term in November 1996 and has subsequently won re-election easily.
Millender-McDonald has recently worked on issues including election reform and opposing the genocide in Darfur. She drew national attention in 1996 when she took then-CIA director John Deutch to Watts to address the community following a newspaper report alleging that profits from domestic sales of crack-cocaine were funneled to the CIA-backed Contras in Nicaragua.
This year, Millender-McDonald became chair of the Committee on House Administration, which oversees operations of the House and federal election procedures.
She is survived by her husband, James McDonald, Jr., and five adult children. At the end of the day, all of the accolades and honors don't matter much. It all comes down to family. I urge all villagers to keep her family in our prayers this week.