Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jim Crow in Southern California

Twelve African American women helped destroy Jim Crow tradition in Long Beach, California, and helped to change Jim Crow laws in the South.

Evelyn Knight 
Marched with King

Thought racism only occurred in the American Deep South? Wrong. Racism occurs wherever race matters enough to change the way people treat each other. 

"I remember when we were refused service in Long Beach restaurants," said Evelyn Knight, who marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  "I was sitting in my living room in Long Beach, California, when I heard Dr. King on television calling folks to action. After Bloody Sunday, he said he needed help! It didn't matter that I had a good job at that time. I told my employers I had to go to Selma. It didn't matter to me what they said. And I packed my bag, boarded an airplane and flew south to do my part to win the vote for my people down there!"

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson 

Signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

"Going to Alabama to march with Dr. King from Selma to Montgomery," Knight said. "I knew I was helping to change more than Alabama; I was helping to change the South and also Long Beach. After President Johnson signed that voting rights legislation to make sure my Alabama people got the vote, I went back that following year and worked to register them!" 

A new exhibition, BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way, will chronicle the life of Evelyn Knight and the lives of 11 other African American female legends who made a difference in history and culture of Long Beach, California. The exhibition of historic photographic restorations, document reproductions, artifacts, and ancestral papers will open Tuesday, September 29, 2015, at 3:00 p.m. in the Atrium Center & Theater in Long Beach Public Library off of City Hall Public Plaza, 101 Pacific Ave., Long Beach, California. Beginning at 2:00 there will be a Press Conference in the Miller Room and a Reception in the Atrium Garden.

Profiles of African American Women who made a difference 
To the history of Long Beach, California
Edited by Sunny Nash
Foreword by Carolyn Smith Watts

"Long Beach, California, was not perfect, racially," the 12 African American women agreed, but they persisted in changing Jim Crow traditions in Southern California, and marched in Civil Rights Movement demonstrations to change Jim Crow laws in their nation. 

Autrilla Scott and Sunny Nash
The late Autrilla Scott (left)
One of the 12 Women
Sunny Nash (right) Editor & Producer
In a project that began in 2007, humanitarian, Carolyn Smith Watts, and author, Sunny Nash, began chronicling the lives of the twelve living legends of Long Beach, California, and paying tribute to them through books, television documentaries, online research programs and this upcoming exhibition. Since that time, two have passed away, Autrilla Scott and Lillie Mae Wesley. 

BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way explores race relations in America and Southern California, strained during the migration of black females coming from the segregated South during World War II primarily for employment. Long Beach was more progressive than towns in Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and other parts of the Jim Crow South where some of the 12 black women were born and raised. However, employment, education and housing required racial change these black women helped to make in Long Beach. 

The late Autrilla Scott pictured above and other women in BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way are accomplished in a variety of areas--Congressional Gold Medal, nanny to a future president, papers in the Library of Congress, activist who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other national, state and local achievements and honors in education, government, civil rights and others. Read Autrilla Scott & A Place Called Hope.

In preparing BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way, I learned that people of color all over the nation, including Southern California, have felt the effect of racial oppression at some time in their lives throughout American history. In the beginning, the inability of the United States to  take any meaningful steps in race relations was due to the Jim Crow system in place for more than 100 years. The Jim Crow system stymied any attempt at race relations by committed black and white citizens in a nation that reeled from the effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction for nearly a century and continues to be tainted by the emotions of coming generations.

Custom search civil rights history here.

Dale Clinton
Civil Rights Activist
Wrote letter to President Johnson
about poverty in America
1968 letter collected by the Library of Congress
Women with similar philosophies are profiled in a book, BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Wayhistorical profiles--filmed, compiled, edited  and written--about twelve African American women who made a noteworthy difference in the history of Long Beach, California, and will be featured in the coming exhibition. This exposure will allow people of all races to learn about the triumphs over racism by these women and others of their time, to experience primary accounts of their lives as Americans and their struggles as black women, and to get a better understanding of race relations in the United States.

The women in BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way, some born as early as 1918, do not have famous names and their contributions to race relations in America, may have gone unnoticed had this book not been published. This type of project about women who defied all odds can give a writer unlimited material from which to draw topics for public speaking engagements and have the double benefit of featuring women like these in BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way and helping to expose the community to their stories and contributions to race relations in America.

Alta Cooke, Breaking Through Lighting the Way
Alta Cooke Posed for Article
in the Press-Telegram, Long Beach
BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way came from a photograph by Carolyn Smith Watts, humanitarian and coordinator of the project said, “I am blessed to have known most of these women and I have a wonderful relationship with many. These 12 women have contributed over six-hundred years of experience to Long Beach. In the past fifty years, they have mothered hundreds children, some of whom were their own and others were neighborhood children who needed love and support. Yes, of course, there are other women in our city with thousands of stories and each one invaluable."