In 1972, supported by philanthropist John de Menil, Leland was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. He was reelected twice for two-year terms in the House. During this time he worked as the director of special development projects for Herman Hospital and functioned as the vice president of King State Bank. Leland is especially remembered in the Texas House for promoting legislation that allowed for the prescription of generic drugs and fostered state employment opportunities for minorities. In 1978 Leland constructed the National Black-Hispanic Democratic Coalition that drew attention at the Democratic midterm convention in Memphis. Leland took the congressional seat vacated by Barbara Jordan of Houston later that same year. Leland served actively for over ten years in the United States House of Representatives. Many members considered his style flamboyant with his dashiki, Afro haircut, and eccentric hats. Eventually Leland abandoned these more unconventional characteristics and made attempts to establish bipartisan relationships. However, his commitment to hunger and hopelessness did not waver. During his dedicated years in Congress, Leland chaired the Congressional Black Caucus; he served as a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee; and in 1984 he helped in establishing the Select Committee on Hunger, which pushed Congress to approve $8 million annually for an incremental Vitamin A program in the Third World that is believed to have reduced child mortality. The committee has also fought for measures to improve hunger conditions for impoverished neighborhoods in the United States.
However, Leland's trip to the Sudan in the spring of 1989 influenced him unlike any other previous experiences. That trip marked the beginning of tenacious efforts aimed primarily at aiding the Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia. On Leland's sixth visit to Africa on August 7, 1989, his plane crashed into a mountainside on the way to visit the Fugnido refugee camp. The camp held more than 300,000 Sundanese escaping famine and war in their adjacent country. The plane, carrying sixteen people, was found after a six day search in southwestern Ethiopia. Leland's dedication and service were honored at services throughout the state of Texas and in Washington, D.C., and he was buried in Houston's Golden Gate Cemetery. Leland's wife, Alison, survived him and was six weeks pregnant at his death. In January 1990 she gave birth to twin sons.
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Golden Gate Cemetery