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THE AFRICAN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN PASADENA

By Blog Master
Posted: 02/01/2021
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HISTORY OF THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN PASADENA

- Sue Kujawa - 

Those of us who are long-time residents of the Pasadena area typically think of our community as an inclusive, progressive one, with the understanding that our diversity enhances and strengthens the quality of our civic life.  But the history of Pasadena tells a different story – one in which a thriving Black community was erased due to intentional, systematic actions of those in power.  We, all of us who live here, need to know the whole story.

 

In January, the Education and Inclusivity committees jointly sponsored a presentation by Brian Biery, long-time resident, community organizer, and adjunct professor of Advocacy and Social Justice at Pacific Oaks College.  Using historical documents and photographs, Brian led us back in time to the 1890’s when significant numbers of African Americans migrated here from the South.  These early settlers established businesses, started churches, and contributed to community life.  They made Pasadena their home, settling mostly on the Northwest side of Pasadena.

 

In the 1940’s discontent began to build as Black soldiers returned home from the war to find they were not accepted as full citizens in their own town.  One example was the city swimming pool, the Brookside Plunge, built in the shadow of the Rose Bowl in the 1920’s.  The plunge was for whites only.  After protests, Blacks were allowed to swim once a week on “international Day” after which the pool was drained and cleaned.  It took many lawsuits before an integrated Brookside Plunge reopened in 1947, the same year that Pasadena’s Jackie Robinson integrated professional baseball. 

 

Another intentional action was the use of “red-lining”, mortgage policies, and covenants to restrict where and how Black Americans bought houses.  Home ownership to this day remains the number one generator of family wealth in the US.  Everyone who attended Brian’s presentation recalled examples of structural discrimination that prevented people of color from moving out from the Northwest area of Pasadena which, being one of the oldest neighborhoods in the City, also had some of the oldest housing stock in the City.

 

And then, in 1958 the 210 freeway construction began.  The new freeway sliced through the middle of a vibrant African American business district that has never fully recovered.  Long-time home owners were forced to move, without receiving fair value for their homes.   This did not happen by accident.  The FHA (Federal Highway Act) stated that “Incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities.” The FHA therefore recommended that highways be used to separate black neighborhoods from white neighborhoods.  

 

Lastly, Brian talked about the 1970 federal court order that mandated the integration of Pasadena’s public schools.  Before long, a city that already had a number of private schools began to see even more spring up. Today, Pasadena has the highest number of private schools per capita than any city in the nation, with 50% of eligible students attending private schools. Again, Pasadena Village members reminisced about the implementation of court ordered bussing, mostly recalling the good that came to their children, who made lifelong friends with children from diverse backgrounds.  But bussing opened up a floodgate of “white flight” that continues to this day.

 

So now that we know more of the story, what can we do?  Brian challenged us to continue to study our history, both locally and nationally.   We need to reach out to family, friends, and neighbors and share our experiences and listen to others’ experiences. He also urged us to:

 

  • Support public education.Pasadena Village has taken a small step in this by partnering with the Pasadena Educational Foundation to share our stories with young PUSD students in a “Senior to Senior” program.
  • Advocate for each other – become anti-racists and white allies
  • Participate in future dialogues – such as our 1619 discussion group and our Inclusivity Committee.

 

Brian was joined in his presentation by three community members, Alma Stokes, Danny Parker, and Chip Williams, long-time community activists who shared their lived experience with us.  Everyone was most grateful to have this opportunity to confront all aspects of our Pasadena history as we remain committed to strive for justice and equity.

Click on the Pasadena History of Racism link to watch the presentation.

 

 

 

 

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