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Pasadena Racism, Past and Present

By Richard Myers
Posted: 08/28/2023
Tags: history

Racism is all around us but is somehow frequently not noticed by many people who are not being not discriminated against. To do something about it we must first become aware of it.  It is easy, for example, to live in Pasadena and believe that racism is not a serious issue here. The truth is somewhat different. A look at recent Pasadena history can change one’s understanding of where we are today and how we got there. The 1619 Project Discussion Group has assembled a record of some of the past discrimination in this area which is illuminated further by descriptions of  actual experiences of the residents.


·   Brian Biery, adjunct Professor of Human Development Social Justice Advocacy at Pacific Oaks College, presents a history of  early racism in Pasadena. His guests, Alma Stoakes and Danny Parker, participated to relate their personal experiences with the history described. This presentation is part of a continuing effort to create a just society that we all hope for.  The link below will take you directly to the video on our Youtube channel. (History of African Americans in Pasadena  11/04/2020  )


·   In this engaging presentation guest speakers who grew up in Pasadena and are current residents, participated to share their personal recollections of the history described. The presentation covered aspects of Black life in Pasadena in the 1800’,s when the city was founded up to the present day. Historical Black businesses were part of the discussion, the location of Black communities in the area and the use of freeway area used to “manage” the distribution of the  Black population. And a discussion of the Rose Bowl Parade float when the honoree was dropped from the float because of discrimination.  ( Review of Pasadena History, Brian Biery  07/21/2022)


·   Continuation for the discussion of history of Pasadena focused on racial discrimination at the city’s municipal pool, an orange packing business discriminating against Chinese residents, and a discussion of De Jure versus De Facto discrimination. The city of Glendale was also mentioned as an example of a Sundown Town in California. Personal stories were used to illustrate the impact that these practices have on individual lives of the people living in the community.   (   Brian Biery, More Pasadena History  09/23/2022 )


·   In the 1960’s , plans were made to create a freeway connecting the 710 freeway to the 110, the 134 and the 210. Property was condemned to prepare for the construction resulting in the destruction of multiple middle class working neighborhoods, the displacement of 4,000 people and the demolition of 1,500 properties. Due to community opposition of this plan, the project was canceled and the 40 acres that were condemned have recently been returned to the city of Pasadena. Discussions have begun to determine how reparations should be made and what use should be made of the property. ( History, Resolution of the 710 Freeway  2/10/2023 )


Other presentations to the group discussion  have focused on area issues not strictly part of Pasadena history.


·        As a Black  resident of Glendale, CA, Carol McGrath was disturbed to learn that Glendale was a Sundown Town and the regulations that made it one were still on the books of the city.  She began a campaign to correct this terrible situation and ultimately got the Sundown Town regulations nullified by the city  and had the city issue an official  apology for its past discrimination. Sundown Towns were not a phenomenon that occurred in the South, but appeared all over the  country.

( Glendale was a Sundown Town Before Carol   02/22/2021 )


·        It is interesting to note that there was a Black presence in Pasadena before Pasadena was Pasadena.  Adrian Panton, a volunteer at the Pasadena Museum of History, has prepared a presentation about the early history of the Black Community. His presentation describes individuals and businesses that began in the early days of Pasadena, some of which still survive today.  ( Glimpses of Early Black History in Pasadena 1850 - 1958 11/21/2021)


·   Friendship Pasadena Church was founded in 1893 in the very early days of the Community of Pasadena. Pastor Lucious Smith grew up as a child in the church and has been a Pastor in the church for 39 years. He is currently the Senior Pastor and gave us a tour of the historical materials held by the church. Because of his long involvement with the church, he was able to enrich his tour with personal recollections of many of the events that the materials  illustrated are referred to.

 ( Friendship Pasadena Church Visit  06/23/2022)


The 1619 Project Discussion group  will continue to explore issues of racism in our in the hope that raising awareness can bring about change moving us to a more just society and the diverse community that we live in.  Villagers are encouraged to contribute  stories of their personal experiences with racism via email.

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