In Santa Ana, Civil Rights History Hits Home

Exhibit shares Orange County’s ties on 50th anniversary of Civil Rights Act.


SANTA ANA – Key figures in the fight for civil rights marked Wednesday’s 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act during a gathering at Second Baptist Church.

A 12-poster exhibit there, titled “Orange County Civil Rights: A History of an Enduring Struggle for Equality,” featured a timeline of words and images that revealed the county’s ties to the history of civil rights. Events such an 1892 lynching in Santa Ana and the Montgomery bus boycotts were portrayed, among at least a dozen others.

Susan Reese, a graphic designer and vice president of the OC Human Relations board, designed the posters for the exhibit. Reese was honored Wednesday for her work and received applause from roughly 50 people in attendance.

Before the ceremony, Reese said she hoped people would learn about civil rights history by viewing the posters.
“I think we make a huge difference and this is one more example of what we can do and how we can make a difference in the lives of people in Orange County.”

Reese described part of the exhibit as “eye-opening” and mentioned visitors can learn that even swimming pools were once segregated by race. Some of the events on her timeline document the history of Ku Klux Klan activity in Orange County.

Others involved in the project had personal connections to the fight for civil rights. As a boy, OC Human Relations CEO Rusty Kennedy embarked on a door-to-door campaign alongside his father to urge voters to oppose Proposition 14, an initiative aimed at repealing the Rumford Fair Housing Act.

“In 1964, and I know this from being a 12-year-old at that time … our county voted to affirm Proposition 14,” he said. “It repealed the Rumford Fair Housing Act. Basically people in this community and California voters felt that it was OK to discriminate against people in housing based on the color of their skin.”
Prop. 14 was declared unconstitutional in 1967 by the U.S. Supreme Court. Dorothy Mulkey, whom friends call “Dottie,” was a plaintiff in the case heard by the Supreme Court. She spoke at the church, where she has been attending for 52 years.

“I think that we’re making some advancements,” Mulkey said. “I don’t think we’re running, I think we’re still crawling and I think that in my lifetime I’ll never see true quality … because it’s a slow process.”

Mulkey and her husband, Lincoln, were denied the ability to rent an apartment by a landlord in Orange County because they were African American.

Mulkey said the exhibit, which included a portion dedicated to her case, was “awesome.”

Joyce Sanchez, who also works for OC Human Relations, said she enjoyed investing time in the project and was proud of the effort by she and her colleagues. Her role was to search for images for the exhibit.

“My hope is that they become aware of events that they weren’t aware of,” she said. “I know that I didn’t capture it all. I know that there is a lot more to be included and my hope with this traveling exhibition is that people can see and learn from it.”

The exhibit will move and be shown at the Heritage Museum of Orange County on July 16.

72 – ceremonial pens used by President Lyndon B. Johnson when he signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964.

83 – days was the length of a U.S. Senate filibuster by opponents of the Civil Rights Act, making it the longest in Senate history.

216 – rooms at an Atlanta motel owned by a challenger of the Civil Rights Act. The owner had previously refused to rent rooms to African Americans. He challenged the CRA but lost in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Source: Constitutional Rights Foundation