With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Following up on this morning's Jackie Robinson post where I pointed out that Jackie's family had been part of the great black migration from the plantation South. They migrated in the 1930s to southern California and settled in Pasadena where there were lots of jobs in a booming defense industry as well as a burgeoning black community.

Pasadena was actually founded in 1886 by Midwestern entrepreneurs, most of them anti-slavery Republicans (one of John Brown's sons is buried here.)  The First African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in 1888, followed by Friendship Baptist and other black houses of worship. New groups like the Afro-American League, also founded in 1888, and a black newspaper, The Enterprise, added to the sense of community and focused attention on a series of racial incidents. A white streetcar worker was shot by a black in a dispute over a few coins in 1903, leading to an attempt to bar blacks from all local restaurants. 
The city's NAACP chapter began in 1919, one of the first in the state. Insults to black Pasadenans continued. The public swimming pool at Brookside Park was open to blacks only once a week--on "International Day," just before its weekly cleaning. NAACP lawyers sued, but the practice continued until 1944.
Jackie's older Mack, was also an outstanding Pasadena athlete and placed second to Jesse Owens in the 200-meter run at the 1936 Olympics. Returning home after two years of college in Oregon, however, the only city job he found open to him was cleaning sewers. "I looked forward to a hero's welcome," he said, "but the family greeted me and that was basically it."

But as late as 1986, a headline in the L.A. Times read: Black People Find Pasadena to Be an Island of Opportunity.

Fast forward to today where Pasadena is home to the Rose Bowl, Cal Tech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, but has lost about one-quarter of it's black population in the past decade. 
A lack of affordable housing and shifts in the real estate market spurred black families to leave town, according to observers, while Asian families from around the San Gabriel Valley opted for a Pasadena address. The number of whites and Latinos, who together represent more than 60% of city residents, changed little between 2000 and 2010. But the city saw a 24% reduction in the number of black residents, from more than 19,000 to 14,650. The number of Asians and Pacific Islanders grew 46%, from 13,500 to nearly 20,000. -- Glendale News Press
Pasadena Housing Department Senior Project Manager Jim Wong says:
“Right now the federal government is cutting back on affordable housing programs, and in California there’s legislation on the books that would eliminate redevelopment housing,” Wong said. “I don’t think the city is going to be fully meeting its needs, certainly not in the very near future.”
  “No city in the country is meeting their affordable housing needs; the resources aren't there,” he said. “Pasadena, compared to other cities, is ahead of the game.”

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