Sixteen Orange County residents who fought for equality were honored Thursday night.
SANTA ANA – Dorothy Mulkey was at the Cut & Curl at Bristol and 5th streets with her head in the shampoo bowl when a chat with her stylist became the catalyst of a four-year battle for equal rights that would ultimately change laws on access to fair housing nationwide.
Mulkey, 74, is among 16 Orange County leaders honored Thursday night for their contributions to civil rights. She recently recalled her struggles in 1963.
Dorothy and her husband Lincoln wanted to rent an apartment. Both had left the Navy and moved in with Lincoln’s parents in Santa Ana. New apartments were sprouting up in the city and Dorothy found an ad for one on West Highland Street in the Santa Ana Register. She called and had a nice conversation. But when the couple came to see the apartment, a woman with a “surprised look’’ told them there were no more vacancies.
Dorothy Mulkey told that story at the beauty shop, where it was overheard by a woman from the NAACP. She took Dorothy to the local chapter meeting to tell her story. A lawyer from the ACLU suggested the Mulkeys join them to overturn Proposition 14.
In 1963, the California Legislature had passed the Rumford Act which said racial discrimination in housing rentals or sales was against the law. In response, the California Real Estate Association sponsored Proposition 14 to overthrow the Rumford Fair Housing Act. Prop. 14 passed by a vote of 3 to 1 in Orange County.
In 1967 the case of Mulkey v. Reitman went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled in the Mulkeys’ favor and overturned Prop. 14 – landlords no longer could refuse to rent to people because of their skin color, religion or ethnicity.
Mulkey and the other local civil rights leaders will be honored at City National Grove of Anaheim by OC Human Relations, a nonprofit government commission, and will receive Legacy Awards. The event marks the 50th anniversary of the federal Civil Rights Act. Honorees will be recognized for their efforts in education, employment, health, housing, immigration, justice and labor.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 included protections against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex and religion.
“For us in civil rights, this is the highest honor,” said Don Han, award coordinator for OC Human Relations. “Some like Dorothy Mulkey are iconic leaders who’ve paved the path of civil rights. Others, like (Pastor) Mark Whitlock have been fighting for awhile and then there are leaders like Annan Aboul-Nasr who are the next generation. I hope the community will understand that Orange County is getting diverse and that we all can live together free of harassment, discrimination and violence.”
Whitlock was in fifth grade in St. Louis, Mo., when he watched Martin Luther King Jr’s, “I have a dream’ speech.’’“I remember saying, ‘I want to be just like him.’” Whitlock said.
Now, 59, Whitlock, founded Christ Our Redeemer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Irvine. The church is the county’s largest African American congregation with a reputation of reaching out to multiple ethnicities.
“It’s the congregation of Christ Our Redeemer, who should be supported and awarded,” Whitlock said of his honor. “We work together to seek justice.”
Whitlock stood is known for standing by the family of Kevin Powell, an Aliso Viejo man who was shot and killed by Santa Ana Police after a 20-minute vehicle pursuit. Whitlock questioned why police used lethal force in the incident.
After Olympian Beverly Oden was handcuffed and held for an hour on the curb before being released with no ticket or charges, in an incident that resulted in allegations of profiling, Whitlock said he helped change public policy.
He has partnered with the probation department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to bring Latino and African American clergy together to create a safety net for returning felons.
When Anitra Chatman and her family were fleeing Orange County because of what OC Human Relations called a spate of hate crimes and incidents targeting them in Yorba Linda, Whitlock organized action.
Whitlock is focused on racial justice, immigration reform, women’s rights and human trafficking.
Whitlock said he’s seen positive change for the African American community in Orange County; but adds the largest number of hate crimes are still directed at the black community.
“A church must do more than pray,” Whitlock said. “We must become a voice speaking truth to power. A pastor must be willing to speak up. It’s not about a popularity contest.”
Annan Aboul-Nasr, who works for the Islamic Institute of Orange County in Anaheim, is also among the honorees. She is an advocate for social justice, especially for the homeless and in relation to workers’ rights, and is a representative of the Muslim community with interfaith partners such as the Orange County Congregation Community Organization.
The 29-year-old Garden Grove resident said her inspiration comes from the Muslim faith, where taking care of the underprivileged is a virtue.
“The issue of justice permeates our faith,” she said. “I believe it’s important to work with others and people of other faiths on the issues of dignity.”
In the face of incidents of prejudice against the Muslim community, Aboul-Nasr sees the importance of being a positive representation of Muslim values in various interfaith settings. She facilitates opportunities for the congregation to be aware of injustice and to take a part in services and advocacy for those in need.
Aboul-Nasr is part of the Anaheim Poverty Task Force, an interfaith group advocating for the homeless in Anaheim. She’s worked with the Anaheim Police Department and has helped get a group of officers focused on the homeless. Her group has conducted two homeless counts for the city.
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