Jovanka Beckles: The Gary Family of Richmond: Fighting for Equality and Standing for Their Rights, Part 2


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blogimage.jpgThe following is part 2 in Jovanka Beckles' story of the Gary family. Read part one here.

Civil Rights Activists Defend and Support the Garys

“One morning in 1952, the San Francisco Chronicle reported: a cross had been burned on the lawn of a black veteran, Wilbur D. Gary, who had bought a house in the all white housing project of Rollingwood, some fifteen miles from Oakland. Buddy (Green) and I raced out there, past the sign that said, “Welcome to Rollingwood,” and into the maze of neat pastel bungalows. We had no trouble identifying Gary's house, where a huge crowd of white men and teenagers were gathered (four hundred according to Buddy, expert crowd estimator), chanting ‘Out, niggers!’ and hurling stones at the windows, one of which was shattered. It was the first time I had witnessed the horrifying sight and sound of a mob in action... a revolting spectacle.” 

Jessica Mitford, A Fine Old Conflict, 1956, pp 128-129
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“Two uniformed sheriff's deputies stood idly by watching the scene. We made a dash for it through the mob to the front door; seeing Buddy's black face, Gary readily admitted us and led us into the kitchen, where his wife and children were huddled behind makeshift barricades, the chairs and table pushed up against the doors. Buddy explained we were from the Civil Rights Congress and were prepared to put our entire organization at the disposal of his family for defense of their home. With Gary and his wife, we quickly worked out a many-pronged approach: physical protection of the house, trade union resolutions demanding police protection, leaflets to be drawn up by CRC and distributed throughout the Bay Area.”

Jessica Mitford, A Fine Old Conflict, 1956, pp 128-129
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“We can't sell this type of democracy to other people.” Rev. Lofton L. Fowler (DPW, Friday March 7, 1952, p. 8)

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The Progressive Community Responds to Protect the Gary
 

“A few judiciously placed telephone calls to Party and CRC leaders brought within an hour a dozen carloads of black and white volunteers prepared to doss down for the night in the Gary living room. They were the first contingent of more than eight hundred who in the next few days poured into Rollingwood to keep vigil in the house, to patrol the streets in cars, to furnish protective escorts for Mrs. Gary and the children on their way to work and school. The defenders achieved a sort of stand-off with the attackers, who continued to gather in menacing knots at a safe distance from the house, but ceased throwing rocks.” Jessica Mitford, A Fine Old Conflict, 1956, pp 128-129

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“Around 10:00 p.m. the tide began to turn in the Garys’ favor when supporters began arriving from all parts of the East Bay. Some said they had been phoned by the East Bay Civil Rights Congress; others by the National Association for Advancement of Colored People. Still others learned of it in their union meeting.”

(DPW, Friday March 7, 1952, p. 8)
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Insults against the flag and the Constitution “Three white ministers arrived around 10:30 p.m. carrying the American flag and a copy of the Constitution. They tried to disperse the crowd but as soon as the flag was raised the ministers and the flag became the objects of insults (DPW, Friday, March 7, 1952, p. 8)

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The Garys are Surrounded by the Support of Hundreds of Good People. The Tide is Turned. The Opposition Cracks. Decent White Neighbors Come Out for the Garys’ Rights. Further Attacks Cracks in the Opposition

Bill Carpender, treasurer of the Rollingwood Improvement Association, issued the following statement: ‘Regardless of previous information, I personally am not opposed to the Negro family moving into Rollingwood. Any action taken or approved by me previously I sincerely felt to be in the interests of keeping the peace an preventing an international incident.” (Richmond Independent, Wednesday, March 5, 1952, p. 2)

A Member of the Rollingwood Improvement Association, Mrs. Rose Scott, also came to the Garys’ defense against the majority group of the body. (DPW, March 6, 1952, pp 1,8) 

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Support from Methodist Church At a meeting last night of the board of the El Sobrante Methodist Church, some of whose members reside in Rollingwood, a resolution was adopted giving encouragement to the Garys. The resolution reads in part: “Our official board voted to tell you that we believe in the brotherhood of man, the fatherhood of God as well as the democratic way of life, and welcome you to our neighborhood”. The resolution bore the signatures of the chairman of the board and the pastor.” (Richmond Independent, Wednesday, March 5, 1952, p. 2) 

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Olivet Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Floyd S. Ruben congratulated the family in a letter saying: ‘We believe that increasing numbers of Americans, both Negro and White, are being aroused to support the democratic rights vested in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and are ready to stand with you and work for those principles” (DPW, Friday, March 14,

1952, p. 3)

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Organizational Support Pours In

Telegrams came from several organizations offering help. Many organizational leaders were present. Among those present were Mrs. Ann Rosenfield and Mrs. Mary Green, both officers of the California Emergency Defense Committee. Mrs. Decca Treuhaft, East Bay Civil Rights Congress director, and J.D. Galbreath, also a CRC officer, conducted the meeting. The meeting raised $12.67 to replace a window the bigots had broken. The meeting pledged to guarantee around-the-clock patrol duty at the home as long as necessary. 

The meeting called for protests to Governor Earl Warren and Sheriff Long. Steps were taken to ask the County Board of Supervisors to go on the record condemning the outrage. (DPW, Friday, March 7, 1952, p. 8)

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Massive Support

Mrs. Gary estimated that more than 800 persons have visited their home offering help since last Wednesday. (DPW Monday, March 10, 1952, pp 1, 8)

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White Neighbors Come Out In Support

Around 11:00 p.m., W.P. Carpenter, a resident of the district arrived with a petition signed by himself and twenty-one other persons welcoming the Negro family to their new home. Carpenter told reporters he was proud to be a neighbor of the Garys and glad to be in on the fight to win their right to live there. (DPW, Friday, March 7, 1952, p. 8)

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As Support Pours In…bigots stone the home again!

The home of the Wilbur D. Gary family at 2821 Brook Way in the former all-White district of Rollingwood was again stoned by bigots Monday night [3/10/52]. Mrs. Gary reported “several rocks struck the house sometime after midnight.” She said two policemen were parked nearby at the time, but no arrests were made (DPW, Wednesday, March 12, 1952, p. 3)

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Supportive letters and telegrams

The Gary’s mail has been heavy. They have received 200 telegrams and letters, and every letter except two extended praise and offered help…A sign painter who lives in the East Richmond Heights wrote that he does not want his daughter to grow up in an all-White neighborhood because he “wants her to know about the whole wide world” He offered to do any sign painting for the Garys free of charge (DPW, March 10, 1952, p. 8)

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Local teachers unite with the Garys:

Two high school teachers, who lived in the same block as the Garys, came over and welcomed the family. (DPW, Friday, March 7, 1952, p. 8)

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Good Neighbor

George Eldredge, a Shell Oil Co engineer, invited the Garys to attend church with his family, declaring they would be “fine neighbors.” (DPW, Thursday, March 6, 1952,

pp 1,8 )

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San Francisco March 13: 

The struggle of Negro Navy veteran Wilbur D. Gary and his family to live in their newly purchased home in Rollingwood received support today from the Northern California Peace Council (DPW, Friday, March 14, 1952, p. 3)

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Gary and Supporters Go On the Offensive to Demand Rights and Safety from the Authorities

Gary's Open Letter

March 12, 1952

Dear Friends:

I wish to express deepest thanks to the many hundreds of democratic minded Americans, both Negro and white, who have come to the defense of my home and family within the last few days, and to those of my white neighbors who have pledged their support. When it became known that we were moving to the all-white neighborhood of Rollingwood, a Ku Klux Klan cross was placed on our lawn, our window was smashed by a rock, the window of the real estate agent who handled the sale was similarly smashed by bigots. The night we moved in, a threatening mob of some 400 persons gathered. In open defiance of the law they stoned our new home and shouted insults. Within a short time over 100 Negro and white men and women arrived on the scene to defend us, and by their presence prevented more vicious acts by the bigots. Sheriff's deputies stood by and observed the rock throwing, they did not make a single arrest, nor did they order the rock throwers to stop. Since that night more rocks have been thrown and threats have been made, but still no arrests have been made and there has been no action by the authorities to put an end to this lawlessness. Failure of authorities to act makes me fearful for the safety of my home and family. Inaction on the part of the sheriff's department will be construed by the bigots as an open invitation to violence against us. As a Negro veteran of World War II who fought to defend our country, I feel that my wife, my seven children, and myself are entitled to protection of the law, which is the right of every American citizen. For the sake of our beloved Constitution, I urge you and your organization to do all in your power to convince the Contra Costa Sheriff's Department, the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, and the governor and the attorney general of our state, that they should take the necessary steps to guarantee our safety. You have my full permission to duplicate this letter and to make copies available to your membership and to the public.

Sincerely

Wilbur D Gary, Vice-Commander, American Legion Post 269

P.S. Please let me know of any action that you take.

(DPW, Thursday, March 13, 1952, p. 3))

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20,000 Gary letters ask help to end Jim Crow

Some 20,000 copies of the letter written by Wilbur D Gary, which requested the public to demand that officials provide full protection for his family and newly purchased home …will be distributed this weekend. The reprinting and distribution of the letter is being done by the East Bay Civil Rights Congress. Mrs. Decca Truehaft, director of the organization, said that CRC is doing it as a public service. She said another 2,000 copies of the letter have been mailed to organizations and newspapers in the area. (DPW, Friday, March 14, 1952, p. 3) 

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GARYSTORY-9AA.jpgNAACP Regional Director Franklin Williams joined with others in demanding that Sheriff Long station guards around the Negro family’s home 24 hours each day. Williams said Long told him that he did not have enough men to spare for a permanent patrol but that a squad car will always be in the area. Williams said he would go to Sacramento today and ‘call upon high executive officers for this state to maintain order.’

(DPW, Tuesday, March 18, 1952, p. 6)

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Mrs. Decca Truehaft, Director of the East Bay Civil Rights Congress, said her organization would participate in a delegation before the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors today to demand full protection for the Negro family and their property. (DPW, Tuesday, March 18, 1952, p. 6)

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Assembly Member Rumford 

GARYSTORY-9BB.jpgThe first African American elected to any public office in Northern California, who successfully shepherded a measure in 1949 that ended segregation in the California National Guard, joins in the fight: “I'm going to take the matter up in Sacramento to see that the Garys get the full protection to which they are entitled as American citizens.” He talked to the office of the Attorney General Edmond C Brown. (DPW, Tuesday, March 18, 1952, p. 6)

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Unions join battle to protect Garys

March 10: Trade Union and people’s organizations are taking action to prevent the renewal of last week’s violence against Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur Gary, the Negro family that moved into the heretofore all-White Rollingwood area. In Oakland, the East Bay executive board of the Warehousemen’s Local 6, representing some 4,000 workers sent four letters:

• To the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, saying “We expect the law enforcement authorities of your county to maintain law and order in Rollingwood and protect Mr. and Mrs. Gary and family in their right to live in Rollingwood peacefully and in freedom.”

• To Thomas C. Houston, president of the Rollingwood Improvement Association. saying the association “is to be condemned for its subversion of the best traditions of our country” and “we think you people should be ashamed of yourselves.”

• To the Colonel Young Post of the American Legion, Richmond, of which Gary is an officer, requesting the post to “do what it can to assist him.”

• To Mr. and Mrs. Gary, telling them “the fight you are putting up for your rights as American citizens will do more to eliminate bigotry and break down the bars of prejudice than a thousand speeches…action is the most effective way of carrying out and enforcing good, sound and democratic principles….please be assured that we will consider it a privilege if you will call on us.”

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Marine Cooks & Stewards

Union national president Hugh Bryson, wired Gary: “The membership deeply resents and will fight any hostility on the part of anyone against your moving into your own home, and offers you full support to stay there” The MCS sent three members (Al Thibodeaux, Ray Crawford and Ted Rolfs) to visit the Garys (DPW, March 11, 1952, p. 3)

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Board of Supervisors gets the heat!

A delegation was organized in response to a circular letter signed by Gary calling for organizations and individuals to demand that public officials provide full protection for his home and family. Mrs. Decca Truehaft, Director of the East Bay Civil Rights Congress, was first to address the supervisors. She told them how members of her organization had witnessed the sheriff deputies “standing by, watching bigots hurl rocks at the Garys’ home and not making an arrest or even asking them to stop.” She made four demands:

• That a 24-hour watch be kept around the Negro family’s home

• That the Sheriff’s office be investigated to see why no arrests have been made

• That a hearing be conducted among residents of Rollingwood to dig out the perpetrators of violence

• That arrests be made for past acts of violence

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Lloyd Vandever UEW

Joint Action Committee of Northern

California Unions (representing 30,000 workers) spokesperson and United Electrical Workers Local 1412 member Lloyd Vandever stated: “We know from many strikes and labor dispute experiences how cops operate.” He urged the supervisors to insist that arrests be made and law and order restored (DPW, Thursday, March 30, 1952, p. 6)

East Bay Negro Labor Council

representative Mrs. Mary Ellen Jones strongly urged the board members to “investigate the sheriff’s department” (DPW, Thursday, March 30, 1952, p. 6)

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Rev. H.T. S. Johnson declared: “The eyes of the world are upon California. We must act now or stop talking about democracy. God made most of the people of the world colored and the U.S. is having a hard time trying to sell our brand of democracy to the colored people elsewhere. When I sing ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty’, I do so with mental reservations. The people of the world are against mob violence and it can be stopped. This board can help stop it.” (DPW, Thursday, March 30, 1952, p. 6)

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Richmond ‘s Church of God in Christ

Assistant Pastor the Rev. Thomas McCormick declared: “This is the Gary family’s country. They are entitled to live where they want to. They need your help and we urge you to give it” (DPW, Thursday, March 30, 1952, p. 6) 

The Rev. Divine Ruth Mayers said: “He [Gary] is a man of great pride and a first class citizen. As a result of what is happening to the Garys, I feel like telling my relatives who are now fighting in Korea: Come on back home, you’re wasting your time over there(DPW, Thursday, March 30, 1952, p. 6) 

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“We are citizens, taxpayers and loyal Americans. We are entitled to justice. We ask no more and demand no less” Mrs. Julia Wright, representing the Eastern Star (DPW, Thursday, March 30, 1952, p. 6)

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Follow-up Events

Supervisors vow to protect Garys: Martinez, March 19, 1952 A delegation of 75 persons has won from the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors assurances it “will do all in its power” to protect the home and family of Wilbur D. Gary. (DPW, Thursday, March 20, 1959, p. 6)

Council to probe Richmond Jim Crow: Housing segregation, unemployment and other special problems facing Richmond’s Negro residents will be considered by the Richmond City Council during a special meeting at 2:00 p.m. Monday at the City Hall. (March 20) 

Mayor Gust Allyn said he would invite representatives of the Richmond Housing Authority and the Richmond Redevelopment Agency to attend the meeting.

Community relations group in Richmond–On March 27, 1952, a committee of five Negro leaders and three Richmond city officials have been named to handle future problems affecting Richmond’s Negro population, particularly those concerning Canal housing project.…Rev. W. Lee LeBeaux and Rev. S.R.H. Banks headed the delegation. Appointed to represent the city were Wayne E. Thompson, City Manager; Robert D. Lee, Executive Director of the Richmond Housing Authority, and George Tobin, Executive Director of the Richmond Redevelopment Agency. Negro representatives will be selected by the delegation. (DPW, March 28, 1952 ) 

City officials dodge queries on why the city of Richmond employs only two Negro police officers and no Negro firemen. (DPW, March 28, 1952 )

The Richmond City Council passed a resolution banning segregation in public housing.

In 1952 the NAACP Regional (I) Legal Committee was formed and in 1953 it wins an additional victory over restrictive covenant penalties in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Barrows vs Jackson.

In the years that followed (1953-1975) an additional 9 black families moved into Rollingwood neighborhood without problems.

On March 27, Wilbur Gary speaks to the Northern California Division of the American Jewish Congress. He opposed the freedom of choice amendment, which would, among other things, permit neighbors to make contractual agreements to vote on the admission of potential new residents. Gary also said: “No price tag exists on my property in Rollingwood. I realize I’d be selling the rights of all minorities in America if I sold.” (DPW, March 28, 1952)

The Daily Californian presents debate on the Gary case and race relations: April 13- The Rollingwood controversy spread to the University of California this week following publication in The Daily Californian of interviews with three White residents of Rollingwood. The articles, published March 31, quoted opinions of Walter Weyman and Roy Tibbetts, who have upheld the right of Negro veteran Wilbur Gary to purchase a home in the area, and of Fred. C. Stegar, who spoke for those trying to force Gary and his family out of Rollingwood. (DPW, April 14, 1952, p. 6)

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LESSONS LEARNED

Injustice and violence can be defeated. Evil cracks.

The strength needed comes from the unity of many diverse people.

It takes a person with courage to say: “We have to deal with this NOW.”

Richmond’s local struggles contribute to the national progress.

All human beings are capable of learning from their mistakes and doing better.

Richmond’s African American community had a proud victory in March of

1952.

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A message from the author

Hello Richmond friends and neighbors:

While working for the last ten years in Richmond, I kept hearing that there is very little known history of local Black struggles. The little that is archived somewhere is not well known, particularly to our young men and women. Every year we celebrate the achievements of brothers and sisters elsewhere, but we remain unaware of our own local past struggles and victories.

The Gary family story caught my attention and sustained my interest not only because it was a proud moment of local African American affirmation, but because this success was achieved by an amazing formula: Standing up for our rights and sticking it out, defending the principles, seeking and receiving the support of decent people of all races and income levels.

This account of the Gary family of Richmond is a first, and likely incomplete, view of the events described. What is presented here is essentially a summary report of newspaper coverage, particularly by the Daily People’s World and the Richmond Independent. I’m grateful to the Richmond Public Library and the Labor Archives and Research Center of San Francisco State University for access to the archives of these newspapers. Best efforts were made to credit text and other elements of this report.

I hope this short story brings you joy and pride, as it did to me. I’m grateful to Ms. Constance Gary of Richmond, one of Wilbur Gary’s seven children, for her assistance and support.

Perhaps this story will provide us with ideas on how to address the many challenges we face in Richmond and elsewhere today. Jovanka Beckles. 

JovankaBeckles@yahoo.com

Jovanka Beckles 

This report is a free educational material for distribution. To download, visit:

www.RichmondBlackHistory.org

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