Celebrating the Past, Working toward the Future
Born in Ohio in 1879, Frederick Madison Roberts moved with his parents to Los Angeles, California in 1887, where he was the first black graduate of the city's high school. After graduating from college he worked as a tax assessor, school principal, mortician, and news editor of The New Age, a publication devoted to the advancement of African Americans.
In 1918, Roberts became the first African American to be elected to the California State Legislature. Serving the largely white 74th District of the State Assembly, he authored the state's first civil rights bills dealing with racial discrimination. He served in the Assembly as a Republican until 1934, when he was defeated by his Democratic opponent, Augustus Hawkins, who ran as a Roosevelt Democrat, a political party gaining strength and popularity during the worst years of the Great Depression.
Following two unsuccessful runs for a congressional seat, Roberts remained an active advocate for civil rights, serving as Director of the NAACP, YMCA, and Urban League. In 1952, when Roberts was slated for an ambassadorship if Eisenhower was elected, he was tragically killed in a car accident.
Frederick Roberts authored several bills in an attempt to address the racial discrimination and segregation issues of his time. For instance, Assembly Bill 693 (1919) related to "the rights of citizens in places of accommodation or amusement, and damages recoverable for violation thereof." The Act, signed into law, prohibited those places from discriminating on account of "race, creed, or color."
In 1921, Roberts' successful Assembly Bill 452 related to instruction materials in the state's public elementary schools. The new law read, in part, "No textbook, chart or other means of instruction used in the public schools of this state shall contain any materials reflecting on the citizens of the United States because of their race or color...."
Augustus "Gus" Freeman Hawkins became the second African American to be elected to the State Legislature, serving in the Assembly from 1935 to 1962.
Hawkins was born in Louisiana in 1907 and came to Los Angeles with his family in 1918. After earning a degree in economics at UCLA, Hawkins worked on voter registration drives for Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidential campaign of 1932. Two years later, he successfully ran to represent California's 62nd District, unseating the Republican incumbent, Frederick M. Roberts.
During his tenure in the Assembly, Hawkins sponsored legislation relating to fair housing, labor, transportation, and urban development, often working with the only other African American in the legislature, W. Byron Rumford. The Hawkins Act of 1959 sought to prohibit "discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin or ancestry in any publicly assisted housing accommodation constructed or otherwise aided with public funds."
In 1962, Hawkins was elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from California's 21st District, and later, the 29th District. The letter pictured here was written to Hawkins by his appreciative Capitol office staff upon his departure from the State Legislature.
As the first African American to represent California in Congress, Hawkins advocated for civil rights throughout his career and was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus that formed in 1970. He retired from Congress in 1990, and died in 2007, at 100 years of age.
Another influential African American legislator entered the Golden State's political scene when Byron Rumford won a seat in the California State Assembly in 1948.
William Byron Rumford was born in Arizona in 1908. He later moved to Northern California, graduating in 1931 from the school of pharmacy at the University of California at San Francisco. The first African American from Northern California to be elected to the California State Assembly, Rumford represented the largely black and Democratic constituencies of Alameda County, Berkeley, and part of Oakland.
Rumford worked tirelessly to address racial discrimination in employment and housing. In 1963, he authored Assembly Bill 1240, commonly known as the Rumford Fair Housing Act. The Act prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, or ancestry in the selling, leasing, or renting of real estate property in the state.
Strongly opposed to open housing, the California Real Estate Association began developing an initiative to put before California voters that would nullify the provisions of the Rumford Act. On December 9, 1963, Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown released this letter to the press responding to the concerns of L.H. Wilson, President of the California Real Estate Association.
Brown's letter addressed Wilson's concerns about opposition to the planned initiative. A strong supporter of the new fair housing law, Governor Brown contended that Wilson's initiative "attacks the basic principles of America as they are spelled out in the United States Constitution."
Despite Brown's efforts, the California Real Estate Association successfully petitioned voters to pass 1964's Proposition 14, effectively nullifying the Rumford Act. The battle for fair housing was far from over, however.
Proponents of the Rumford Act faced off against its detractors in both state and federal court. The primary argument centered around language inserted into the California Constitution by Proposition 14 as Article I, Section 26, stating that realtors could decline to sell, lease, or rent to "such person or persons as he, in his absolute discretion, chooses."
On May 10, 1966, the California Supreme Court, in Mulkey v. Reitman, ruled Proposition 14 unconstitutional under the federal Constitution's equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The ruling was then brought to the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed the California Supreme Court's judgment, striking down Proposition 14.
The high court's opinion summarized:
Here we are dealing with a provision which does not just repeal an existing law forbidding private racial discriminations. Section 26 was intended to authorize, and does authorize, racial discrimination in the housing market. The right to discriminate is now one of the basic policies of the State. The California Supreme Court believes that the section will significantly encourage and involve the State in private discriminations. We have been presented with no persuasive considerations indicating that this judgment should be overturned. Affirmed.
Assemblymember Rumford enlisted the aid of many other legislators to get his Fair Housing Act passed. One of these was Speaker of the Assembly, Jesse Unruh. Unruh and Rumford served together in the legislature for many years, as pictured here in the Assembly chamber. They often co-sponsored or supported each other's legislation to reform laws addressing discrimination in housing and employment.
Rumford sent the letter at the far left to Unruh shortly after voters passed Proposition 14 in November 1964, thanking him for strongly supporting the campaign to defeat it. Unruh sent the telegram at the right, which paid tribute to Rumford's long and effective tenure in the legislature, upon the latter's retirement from the legislature in 1966.
By the mid-1960s, the Civil Rights Movement had expanded to include groups frustrated with the slow pace of change for racial equality in such areas as public policy, voting rights, and political representation. In 1966, four new black members were elected to the State Assembly, including the first black woman, Yvonne Brathwaite, Bill Greene, Leon Ralph, and John J. Miller. The new legislators joined Assemblymember Willie L. Brown, Jr., elected in 1964, and California's first black senator, Mervyn Dymally, first elected to the State Assembly in 1962 and subsequently joining the Senate in 1966.
In 1967, these six legislators organized into the California Legislative Black Caucus. Their intent was to address the concerns of African Americans and other citizens of color. They believed that a caucus representing the concerns of their communities would provide political influence and visibility far beyond their numbers.
Even before they formally organized and to the present day, members of the California Legislative Black Caucus have supported the plight of all marginalized groups, regardless of race, as evidenced in this 1966 photograph. From left to right, are Assemblymember Mervyn Dymally, Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Carlos Bee, Assemblymember Willie L. Brown, and candidate for Assembly, Bill Greene, marching in support of striking farmworkers in Delano, California.
These images highlight the numerous ways that members of the Legislative Black Caucus worked with colleagues and constituents to serve their communities and achieve their goals.
In the upper left-hand photo, Assemblymember Bill Greene addresses a group of concerned citizens on the Capitol steps.
In the upper right hand corner, Assemblymember Bill Greene is seen with elected officials and constituents at the opening of a comprehensive health center in Los Angeles.
Assemblymembers Bill Greene and Yvonne Brathwaite are pictured working together in the bottom right hand photograph.
Legislative Black Caucus members Leon Ralph, Mervyn Dymally, Bill Greene, and others join Robert F. Kennedy during his 1968 presidential campaign in California. The solemn expressions on all their faces may be attributed to having heard about the assassination of civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968.
This campaign mailer to re-elect Senator Mervyn Dymally and Assemblymember Bill Greene was sent out to constituents in 1972. It detailed their experience, dedication to their communities and efforts to provide more and better jobs, services for seniors, and small businesses.
The photographs feature Assemblymember Bill Greene with his constituents (top), and on a Happy Easter drive as a senator. Elected to the California State Senate in 1975, Greene served there until his retirement in 1992.
Pictured are mailers and event invitations endorsing future and current Caucus members' candidacies.
Bill Greene, running for an Assembly seat in 1966, joined with Mervyn Dymally on this campaign mailer. Dymally ran and won a Senate seat that year, becoming the first African American to serve in California's Senate.
Diane Watson ran for a seat on the Los Angeles Board of Education in 1975, and in 1978 was elected to the State Assembly.
The 1974 invitation on the bottom left was sent by Caucus members Leon Ralph, Bill Greene, and Julian Dixon. They invited their constituents to an event to honor fellow Caucus member, Assemblymember Frank Holoman, who was a candidate for State Senate for the 30th District that year.
This image shows the Caucus members working with national and statewide leaders. In the upper left hand photograph, Bill Greene is shaking hands with Senator Ted Kennedy in 1972. In the 1968 photograph on the upper right, California Legislative Black Caucus members Bill Greene (left) and Leon Ralph (second from the right) join presidential candidate and U.S. Vice President, Hubert Humphrey (second from the left), along with former California Governor, Pat Brown. In the photograph on the lower right, Senator Bill Green sits with Governor Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown, Jr., circa 1976.
Senator Bill Greene sent this calendar and accompanying letter to his constituents in 1980. The calendar included contact information for both his capitol and district offices, as well as "a few historical facts we don't learn about often," referring to important dates in African American history.
Greene, born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1931, was the first African American to serve as Clerk of the Assembly in 1963. He also served as consultant to Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh and as Legislative Assistant to Assemblymember Mervyn Dymally, before he was elected to the State Assembly in 1966.
In the early 1960s, Greene was a Freedom Rider and a field representative to the National Congress of Racial Equality, and participated in demonstrations led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Greene never wavered in his quest for racial equality during his life and legislative career, concentrating on fair labor practices and educational opportunities, and working to prevent discrimination in housing, insurance, real estate, and civil service.
In 1975, Greene succeeded Mervyn Dymally in the State Senate, serving there until his retirement in 1992. He passed away in 2002, at 72 years of age.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the most influential leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement. Advocating nonviolent means of protesting racial inequalities, his work combating racial segregation earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. His speech "I Have A Dream," given during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, still inspires hope in the hearts of people across the globe. Tragically, an assassin shot and killed Dr. King on April 4, 1968. The prayer shown here, offered in the chambers of the California Assembly just one day after his death, shows the depth of feeling sparked by this great man.
Efforts to officially honor Dr. King and his work began mere days after his death. U.S. Congressman John Conyers introduced legislation on April 8, 1968, calling for a Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday. No federal action was taken at that time. Illinois became the first state to declare a Martin Luther King, Jr. state holiday, in 1973.
California followed suit in 1981, when Assemblymember Elihu Harris introduced AB 312, adding Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to the roster of official state holidays. The button shown here was worn by several officials when Governor Brown signed the bill into law.
The declaration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as an official California state holiday was the culmination of more than a decade of work by members of the Legislative Black Caucus and others. It was, therefore, a cause for great celebration. The signing ceremony, shown here in this photograph, was highly publicized.
Many prominent politicians can be seen in this photo, including: (seated front row, left to right) Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, Jr., Governor Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown, Jr., Assemblymember and bill author Elihu Harris, Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti, Senator Diane Watson, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Wilson Riles; as well as (standing, from far left) Assemblymember Curtis R. Tucker, Sr., Assemblymember Teresa Hughes, Senator Milton Marks, Assemblymember Gwen Moore, Senator Bill Greene (in white jacket behind Harris), and Assemblymember Matthew Martinez.
The federal government officially recognized Martin Luther King, Jr. Day two years after California. President Ronald Reagan signed a bill in November 1983 establishing the third Monday of every January as a federal holiday in honor of this great man. May Dr. King's work and achievements always be remembered.
In 1948, South Africa's all-white government began to systematically enforce and enhance racial segregation laws. The system of institutionalized racism so developed was called apartheid.
The list of injustices done to blacks and other non-white citizens of South Africa under the apartheid regime is staggering in its enormity. Over 3.5 million non-white South Africans were forced into segregated housing. Inter-racial marriages were declared illegal, and the South African government instituted a policy of registration of the populace based on racial characteristics. Education, transit systems, and public spaces were segregated, the non-white populations typically subjected to far inferior conditions than whites. In 1969, non-whites were stripped of their right to vote.
These policies came under the scrutiny of a global audience after the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, when South African police killed sixty-nine blacks protesting laws restricting the movement of non-whites. This flier includes a 1962 quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., urging "all men of good will to take action against apartheid" through demonstrations, economic sanctions, and boycotts of South African products.
Further pressure against South Africa's apartheid regime came in 1976, after police fired tear gas and bullets into a crowd of black students peacefully protesting against the government's requirement that all instruction be carried out in Afrikaans. The following decade saw numerous denunciations of apartheid and international calls for its abolition.
The members of the California Legislative Black Caucus became heavily involved in the fight to force an end to this oppressive system. Assemblymember Maxine Waters spearheaded efforts in the early 1980s to get California to bring pressure to bear on the South African government. She worked with legislators on the state and federal levels, including Congressman Howard L. Berman. In this letter, Berman praises Waters' work, asking her to "Please keep sending your missives [about the situation in South Africa] to the California Congressional delegation, including the Senators. They help more than you can ever know."
Divestment, a form of economic sanction, was one of the methods used world-wide to pressure the South African government into abandoning apartheid. Institutions and corporations were urged to divest, or disinvest, any funds tied into South Africa-based companies. Advocates of divestment also urged similar sanctions against U.S.-based companies doing business with the South African government.
In 1985, as related in this letter from California Governor George Deukmejian to the Regents of the University of California, the UC system called for a review of the University's stock portfolio. That same year, Governor Deukmejian issued an executive order "extending the review to all state retirement funds."
By July 1986, the University had divested $12 million in bonds from one South Africa-based company, and had called for a suspension of investments in six others. Governor Deukmejian urged the Regents to adopt even more strict measures that would fully divest the University of all stock and bonds in any companies still choosing to remain in South Africa. In Deukmejian's words, "As the worlds seventh largest economy, California can make a difference. We must stand up for freedom and stand up against violations of human rights wherever they occur."
Governor Deukmejian suited actions to his words when, in 1986, he signed AB 1347 into law (Statutes 1986 chapter 1254). Authored by Assemblymember Maxine Waters, the South African Divestment Bill declared that Californians "regard the policies and practices of apartheid in South Africa...as repugnant to the principles of individual liberty, social justice, and political and social enfranchisement, which are fundamental to free societies everywhere." The bill prohibited new investments in businesses operating in South Africa, or the government of South Africa; required the divestment of all state trust funds from South African companies and that country's government; and also prohibited state monies from being deposited with financial institutions that also dealt with South Africa.
Under considerable internal as well as global pressure, the South African apartheid regime eventually crumbled. In 1990, Nelson Mandela, an influential leader of the South African anti-apartheid efforts, was released from prison after twenty-seven years of incarceration. Mandela subsequently worked with the new South African President, F.W. de Klerk, to dismantle the apartheid system. In 1994, a multi-racial election put Mandela in the South African presidency. Apartheid was officially over.
This Senate analysis deals with a 1977 Assembly Bill authored by Assemblymember Teresa Hughes. This legislation established the California Museum of Afro-American History and Culture within the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles. The law specified that the museum would "preserve, collect, and display samples of Afro-American contributions to the arts, science, religion, education, literature, entertainment, politics, sports, and history of the state and the nation."
The museum, now called the California African American Museum (within the California Science Center) began formal operations in 1981, and opened to the public in 1984. For more information about the museum and its collections, please visit their website at www.caamuseum.org.
The California Legislative Black Caucus achieved another significant advance in 1977 with the passage of SB 7, the Housing Financial Discrimination Act. Authored by Senator Nate Holden, this legislation attacked "redlining" in the home loan industry.
"Redlining," or the practice of discriminatory lending based on racial characteristics of the lendee or the geographic location of a property, can contribute to the general decline of low- to middle-income family housing areas, and, in the language of the bill, "perpetuates racially and economically segregated neighborhoods and geographic areas." SB 7 prohibits this discriminatory practice, making home loans more equitable and thereby encouraging growth in the housing market while also helping to prevent the decay of neighborhoods and ensure a constant supply of safe housing in decent conditions.
Assemblymember Gwen Moore introduced AB 3678 in 1986. This bill mandated that the California Public Utilities Commission require large electric, gas, and telephone companies to develop programs designed to increase women and minority business enterprise procurement of contracts.
Traditionally, businesses owned by women and minorities received a proportionally smaller share of pubic utility procurement contracts. Moore's bill helped provide more opportunities for such businesses. The bill recognized that "it is in the state's interest to expeditiously improve the economically disadvantaged position of women and minority business enterprises," and encouraged "greater economic opportunity for women and minority business enterprises."
The California Legislative Black Caucus held several hearings regarding the state of the "Black Family" in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Each hearing typically centered around a predominant issue facing African Americans, such as this October 1989 hearing which explored the question "Are Our Youth At Risk?" The Caucus brought in expert witnesses to testify at these hearings, and also spoke with state agency officials to help determine the effectiveness of various government programs designed to assist blacks and other minorities. The data gathered by these hearings often assisted the Caucus and other legislators in designing future legislation.
In 1991, Assemblymember Barbara J. Lee authored Assembly Concurrent Resolution 57, calling for the formation of a Commission on the Status of African-American Males. The resolution passed, and the Commission began its work investigating various aspects of the lives of African American males in the Golden State, including "economic empowerment, education, health, criminal justice, social services, and the media."
The Commission published its findings in 1996, in a report (shown here) entitled "African-American Males: The Struggle for Equality." They found that since the 1960s, "the quality of life for African American males in California has deteriorated considerably." The Commission made several recommendations in each of the policy areas noted above, hoping that this final report would provide policy makers, community leaders, courts, businesses, and others with sufficient information to modify or create programs to "allow the African American male to fully realize the promises of American democracy and contribute his full measure to the realization of a just and egalitarian society."
Assemblymember Carl Washington authored AB 658 in 1999, in regard to school safety and violence prevention. This bill, in tandem with AB 1113 of the same year, established a statewide program administered by the Superintendent of Public Instruction. This program was designed to reduce school-site violence and increase safety for students grades K through 12. The bill provided funds to hire and train additional school counselors and other personnel; assisted schools in developing and updating school safety infrastructure; trained teachers and others in communication and identification of at-risk students; and assisted in establishing cooperative programs between law enforcement and schools.
While Black History Month is now a well-known event throughout the United States, it was only recently officially established in California.
Carter Woodson, an African American historian and journalist, organized the first "Negro History Week" in February 1926. He chose February because it features the birth dates of two men very important to African American history -- Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
This week-long celebration of African American history spread rapidly across the United States, educating people about the important roles that blacks have played in American society. Professor Daryl Michael Scott of Howard University described the movement as "an intellectual insurgency that was part of every larger effort to transform race relations."
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s brought even more attention to the study of black history, and the week-long event gradually came to encompass the entire month. U.S. President Gerald Ford officially recognized the month-long event in 1976. The California Legislature issued this Resolution acknowledging Black History Month in 1980.
This 1997 photograph shows both current and former members of the California Black Legislative Caucus being doubly honored, as part of the 30th Anniversary celebration of the Caucus itself, and as part of Black History Month. Shown, from left to right, are: Edward Vincent, Willie Brown, Jr., Leon Ralph, Juanita Millender-McDonald, Frank Holoman, Kevin Murray, Marguerite Archie-Hudson, Elihu Harris, Teresa Hughes, Barbara Lee, Carl Washington, Diane Watson, and Roderick Wright.
In 2004, Senator Kevin Murray (sixth from the left in the photograph) authored a bill requiring the Governor to proclaim February as Black History Month each year. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law on August 23rd of that year. Black History Month is now officially recognized by the Golden State's government on an annual basis.
One of the more recent victories for the members of the California Legislative came with the passage of the California Fair Sentencing Act of 2014. Senator Holly Mitchell authored the bill, which altered sentencing procedures for possession of cocaine.
Prior to the bill's passage, possession for sale of crack cocaine carried a heavier penalty than possession for sale of cocaine powder. This resulted in a racial disparity in sentencing and incarceration, as minorities such as African Americans were found to be far more likely to be arrested for crack cocaine possession rather than powder.
The California Fair Sentencing Act began the process of correcting this disparity in the justice system by making the penalties for possession for sale the same for either form of cocaine (crack or powder).
Today, the California Legislative Black Caucus continues its work on behalf of African Americans, women, minorities, and all California citizens. As stated on their website, "We invite all Californians to join us in the quest to remove disparities and barriers that increase the burden or make it impossible for individuals to achieve their full potential. African-Americans will be better for it and California will be better for it, too."
This photograph, courtesy of the California Legislative Black Caucus, shows the 2017-2018 Caucus members. From left to right: Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, Senator Holly Mitchell, Senator Steve Bradford, Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, Assemblymember Christopher Holden, Assemblymember Shirley N. Weber, Assemblymember Mike Gipson, Assemblymember Jim Cooper, Assemblymember Tony Thurman, and Assemblymember Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, Sr.
For more information about the California Legislative Black Caucus, please visit their website at http://blackcaucus.legislature.ca.gov/.
The California State Archives would like to extend its thanks to the California Legislative Black Caucus for its generous donation of the Caucus' papers. Much of this exhibit is based upon those records and photographs.
Thanks must also go to Juan Ramos of John Juan Art Studios, for his original watercolors of the members of the Caucus.
All images from records held by the California State Archives unless otherwise noted.
Curation of physical exhibit by Stephanie Hamashin and Sara Roberson (2007)
Digital adaptation by Jessica Herrick and Lisa Prince (2017)
Imaging by Jessica Herrick and Lisa Prince
California State Archives
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