Reflections
Co-authors were asked to provide a short reflection on their experience working on the project.
 
Ariella Horwitz | Victoria Koos | Sharon Sekhon | Brenda Valencia | Edith Verduzco | Joe Zavala
 
Ariella Horwitz

Something that increasingly strikes me as both an educator and cultural observer is what I think of as the “quickening,” or shortening, of our historical memory-- we increasingly are less apt to retain knowledge not only about our distant past, but also the events that have happened within our own lifetimes. As a result, the events of the present are often unmoored from their historical antecedents; this is especially problematic when faced with social emergencies, such as the recent (visible) police violence against Black and Brown bodies. Ahistorical, mass mediated discourse surrounding this state violence allows for the persistence of the “bad apple” narrative. In turn, it erases the structural nature of the problem; as something woven into our institutions across time, and while shocking, this type of state violence against marginalized populations is not new. 

Much like the violence itself, the pushback to this violence-- in this case in the form of national and international protests (occurring in the midst of a global pandemic)-- is also not new. Our quickening historical memory also erases the dialectical nature of the past; history is a story of struggle and exercises of power (whether just or unjust) and dominance are never unilaterally just accepted. However, without a sense of these threads of connection between present and past, without acknowledging the messy push and pull of social relationships, actual lasting change becomes nearly impossible to achieve.

With these concerns about historical memory in mind, when Dr. Sharon Sekhon asked if I would be interested in working with her on the “Shouting from the Margins” project, I jumped on the opportunity-- if ever there was a physical location shaped by an ahistorical dominant narrative, it is Orange County. Especially for those who do not live in Southern California (and even for many who do), Orange County is perceived as a monolith: White, rich, vapid, and conservative--and while Orange County might be this, it is not only this. Lost in this monolith are the stories of everyone else, particularly those of people of color. In losing this history, we also lose Orange County’s history of struggle, the ways in which marginalized communities engaged in political acts both overt-- such as fighting housing discrimination in the court system-- and everyday-- such as being a Black woman on an all-White homecoming court.  

Orange County’s history is also a history of violence-- both physical and psychological-- and in going through the historical archive, the similarities between the past and present in this regard became quickly apparent. Reading about the Santa Ana Police Chief’s depiction of law enforcement as the victims of an angry mob (ie, the poor and people of color), claiming that “when physical attacks against police officers no longer arouse the community to concern, we are nearing a dangerous state of licentiousness,” it is hard to believe these remarks are from 1961 and not 2020.1.  The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May and the subsequent calls for justice underscored the significance of these points of connection to me. In considering ways to address the state violence of our current conjuncture, it seems especially prudent to consider not only the ways in which state violence has been opposed in the past, but also the ways in which the state has met said opposition and found ways to work around and through it-- such as the Fullerton Police Department’s attempts to spruce up law enforcement’s image through a search to name an “Officer Simpatico,” a surface level, empty gesture in response to institutional and structural problems.

My hope is thus while exploring this history you also are able to see these points of connection between past and present, acknowledging the overt and political work that has already been done and the work that is yet to be done.

 1. “Public Apathy Draws Censure of Police Chief,” Los Angeles Times, 1961.
 
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Victoria Koos

I was a part of Professor Sekhon’s original cohort in honoring Harlen Lambert and Daniel Michael Lynem in the spring semester of 2019. It was such an amazing experience to honor these individuals that have contributed so much. Fast forward a year and a half later, I was totally lost on what to do for my senior honors project. I struggled to choose a topic amidst the pandemic. My senior year was about to start, and I still had no idea what I wanted to do for my thesis. Just when I was ready to give up and possibly drop the honors program, I remembered my time in Professor Sekhon’s class. I never had a professor who was so passionate about what she taught and believed in. She is the most caring person and always put her students first. I decided to reach out to her by email and she responded right away and asked if I wanted to be a part of the “Shouting from the Margins” project. Professor Sekhon also agreed to be my mentor for my senior project and has given me so much guidance.

Since getting involved with this research project, I have chosen a working thesis for my honors project and I am focusing on how student-centered, research projects engender a sense of ownership and citizenship in students. Before Professor Sekhon’s class, I did not realize that normal students, like me, can contribute to history in such a big way. I was super proud to be a part of such an amazing process and very fortunate to still be a part of “history in the making.” I feel like it is extremely important that students, no matter what age, are aware of how big of an impact they can have on shaping history and making it inclusive for all. As a future educator, I hope to be like Professor Sekhon, whose passion for what she does drives students to be better versions of themselves and pushes students to make their own marks in history.

As a team, we have created multiple timelines, compiled data, and conducted many interviews with amazing people. The highlight of this project for me was going to an interview for the first time with Professor Sekhon. We interviewed Juel Farhaquar, who was the first Black teacher in the Fullerton school district. Juel’s two daughters were a part of the interview as well and had so many achievements of their own. It was so fascinating to listen to their experiences and all the awesome things they have done in their lives. This was my first time being involved in this type of work. Learning history through others’ experiences is so much more rewarding than reading from a textbook. I am beyond grateful to be involved in such an important project and will forever cherish the memories I have made being a part of “Shouting from the Margins.”

 
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Sharon Sekhon, "Lessons Learned"
  1. When people are allowed to tell their own histories, we are being given gifts that are meant to be valued. They will sometimes be vulnerable and be able to dive deep into pain and joy that would otherwise remain unexamined.
  2. Marginalized communities form distinct ways of advocating for themselves. A variety of institutions emerged to cater to the needs of different facets of the Black community-- from Wyatt Frieson’s Partners for Progress in Santa Ana -- which sought to provide a bridge between at risk Santa Anans and local businesses like Disneyland, Hunt-Wesson, and Beckman Industries--to Adelane Hunter’s Essence 7 in the late 1970s--which was started for mothers with Black daughters and created special programming to teach Black culture and history. Adleane started the group after her beautiful Black daughter came home one day and wished she was “beautiful” and had “long blond hair.”
  3. College newspapers are an untapped source for political ideologies and events that may be considered embarrassing by local, commercial newspapers. While I tended to discredit the Daily Titan when I was a student at CSUF, as an historian I truly recognize the value in these publications.
  4. I still would like to study Southern California history through the lens of La Opinion but few universities have full runs of this Spanish newspaper which was begun in Santa Ana in 1920.
  5. The role of the Braceros in shaping minority populations should be studied. We are beginning to document the locales and tangible difference bracero laborers made at stopping farmworkers from organizing. The role of bracero labor in suburban areas as a force to keep wages unfairly low for laborers should also be unpacked.
  6. The political infighting between Chicano and Black leaders in Orange County of the late 1970s that is represented by the press often does a disservice to the real issue at hand. Instead of increasing the opportunities for all marginalized groups, government and education lump people of color into one category, leaving White as the norm and with the lion share of the funding and justification for scholarship.
  7. All of my interviewees worked towards bettering their communities in the ways they knew how, and this sense of obligation was taught to them actively, whether it was by their churches, political leaders of every party, or family members. The definition for success for many of the individuals is the ability to give back to the community. They have done this through creating scholarship programs, running for office and winning, stopping a prison riot because God told him to, or running into a burning house and saving two children from certain death as a police officer. The kinds of service and selflessness I have seen them give back is how we fix each other.
  8. History is therapeutic. Even if one does not endure a traumatic past that needs redress, all of our histories deserve consideration and contemplation. When we give people the space to talk about pain and to respond with empathy and not as the “objective” researcher, we extend our own agency. Sharing history can help educate but also give meaning to our lives.
  9. While sports were often the only way Black men could shine in the 1960s and 1970s, the space for glory was well monitored and very temporary. Brig Owens learned he was considered political when he asked his Dallas Cowboys Teammates to not eat at a hole in the wall restaurant that posted a sign “No Negroes, Dogs, or Mexicans.” Similarly, he was reprimanded for going to law school while playing for the NFL. Rather than celebrate this person for being a Renaissance man, his supervisors saw him as a threat because he knew his rights.
  10. Each generation must seize their rights, otherwise they will be taken away or slowly eroded until they are non-existent. History teaches us the ways to prove we have rights and the justification for protest today.
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Brenda Valencia

My experience in this project has been very enjoyable. I enjoy storytelling and history, and this project is the perfect blend. Not only did it give me insights on how people with different backgrounds lived through somewhat similar experiences due to the events unfolding around them, but also it allowed me to see their world from their perspective. 

My duties in this project were to review the interview videos provided to me by Sharon Sekhon and to time code them with words that people may need more information on. Such examples of words are the “Black Panther Party” or “John Birch Society.” I would provide the time in which the word appeared in the video and then provide the definition or description of the word as sometimes it would be slang or the name of a local political figure.

Watching the videos was so much more than just sitting down and taking notes of times. I was being captivated by the life stories of remarkable individuals. The videos are different from a textbook-- I was able to hear about a person’s life and see how they come up in the world. It allows a listener to truly get an idea of how it was to be a person in times of segregation and how movements defined rights for the oppressed. Such can be seen in the video interview with Ms. Adleane Hunter, in which she remembers on her bus ride to California how they made a stop and how she was not allowed in the main entrance because of segregation. It is bizarre to me that segregation was not that long ago and that there are still people alive who remember these horrendous things. These interviews made me feel like I was watching the type of movie that puts me directly in the protagonist’s shoes-- there were times in which I felt vividly angry, sad, or happy for the interviewee. An example in which I felt this was in the video interview with Dr. Jerome Hunter in which he describes what happened to Emmitt Till and how after his death, he had to change his way of acting around White people due to the fear of being falsely accused and killed as Emmitt Till was.

I really appreciated the experience of working on this project. I was able to learn from those who lived in the times from which we are taught through books and actually see their perspective of such historical events. I recommend that everyone sit their elders down and ask them about the events that impacted them as they were growing up. 

 
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Edith Verduzco
First, it was a privilege that Dr. Sekhon made me a part of the Pollak Exhibition. Because of this opportunity to be part of a research project, I have learned new skills such as teamwork, gathering information, and making communication key with other colleagues; most significantly, I gained a better understanding of the hardships the Black community has endured through the past years. Through the Pollak exhibition, we had the honor of meeting and interviewing many important survivors who overcame discrimination that was based on the color of their skin. One particular survivor that influenced me is a Cal State Fullerton alumnus named Dr. Aidsand “Ace” Wright-Riggins.

Dr. Wright-Riggins is a California native who was born in 1950 in Riverside but was raised in Compton and South-Central Los Angeles. His upbringing in Compton was not easy, but he was a spiritual person from a young age. At just nine years old, he was licensed to preach. He thanks football for teaching him to be strong, to have discipline, and to never give up. Although Compton was a segregated community, Dr. Wright-Riggins strongly believes that many stellar athletes came from Compton in 1960 because they used the parks and streets to become excellent. He also lived through the Watts Riots in 1965 and remembers very vividly when the city was on fire and the National Guard was all over the streets. He also went through a moment of fear when he was pulled over by the cops during the riots. 

What makes Dr. Wright-Riggins special is that he was chosen to attend Cal State Fullerton in 1968 when they were accepting a group of Black students. Even though he was accepted to Morehouse College in Georgia, he decided to stay close to home and give Cal State Fullerton a shot. Unfortunately, he did not have a good experience. His first experience of discrimination near campus was when the restaurant Denny’s on State College refused him service. Soon after, he got shot at driving down the same street of State College. However, the most disrespect he felt was when he met Governor Ronald Reagan on campus at a student leaders meeting; he tried to ask Reagan a tough question, but he simply escaped the question and called him a “nigga” so quietly so that only Dr. Wright-Riggins heard. When he heard that insult, he felt like crying and got very angry, but nobody believed him because no one else heard and he was soon portrayed as a crazy Black man. Because of that horrible experience, he does not have his Cal State Fullerton degree up on his wall since it was signed by Governor Ronald Reagan. 

It is sad to know one of our fellow Titans has endured this type of pain on campus. No one should ever have to tolerate the feeling of discrimination and even worse, racial slurs. Although Dr. Wright-Riggins endured that heartache on campus, he became a successful man who is now the mayor of Collegeville, Pennsylvania, and left California for a CEO job opportunity. He is still very spiritual, keeps in touch with the church, and wants to come back to California to work for religious reasons. This man did not let oppression keep him down; instead, he rose above it. Being part of the Pollak exhibition was a great experience that gave me the opportunity to effectively work in a team, gather information, and understand the hardships that Dr. Wright-Riggins and other members of the Black community survived.

 
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Joe Zavala

I have lived in Orange County all my life in the confusing lens of a Mexican-American born to a Hispanic father and a White mother. This duality was also present in where I lived, in between Costa Mesa and Newport Beach. I have seen privilege and discrimination during my time living here. At school I was whitewashed of my Mexican heritage and considered “one of the good ones” by teachers and classmates but was never fully part of that privileged group. While I was being scrubbed clean of my Mexican half through my experiences at school, I still witnessed my father being discriminated against and actively targeted by multiple police forces across the county. These elements all gave me the hunch that something was amiss in this county, until my adopted brother came into my life. I was about 12 when Ja’lil, a 15-year-old Black boy from Fresno, gave me a culture shock. He was everything I was told to be ashamed of as he listened to music I was taught was “ghetto,” wore clothes that I was taught was “gang-like,” and generally behaved in a way I believed was unsightly. But I was young and ignorant then, and when I started going to the same high school as him, I learned that the systems I grew up in were deeply flawed and discriminatory. When I was a freshman and Ja’lil was a senior, he and the other Black students at our high school made up 0.6 percent of the student population, a statistic that sparked my curiosity of why the county I grew up in barely had a Black population to speak of. I also saw my brother constantly harassed by the school security, watched as he walked through our neighborhood, and even teased by the police for the way he dressed. Those days left me with the undeniable impression that something in Orange County’s past has been unresolved and continues to gnaw at the foundations of this community, leaving racial minorities like my brother to become novelties to the perfect White and sunny suburbia of Orange County.

I continued through my college career not thinking much of local history, but rather focusing on the bigger picture of the nation’s history as a whole, critiquing figures like George Washington and the like. Still, that 0.6 statistic came to my head over and over again. In my historical writing class, the professor gave us the freedom to cover any topic we wanted so various topics began to flow in my head. I thought about labor movements, slavery and the founding fathers, and even musical history until I got the idea to write about “The Jim Crow History of Orange County”.

This essay led me to find out more about Orange County’s past, from rampant housing discrimination to armed militias ready to fight in the streets over the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I followed the stories of both Angels players and everyday people like the Mulkeys who were denied housing in Orange County. I also came across an LA Times article that interviewed Black residents of Orange County in 1969 about their experiences in the notoriously racist county. During my research, almost every primary source I found acknowledged the reputation Orange County had as a bastion of White suburbia where Black people were unwelcome in the majority of the cities in the county. However, these stories were unheard of among the many people I shared my findings with, some of whom have been lifelong residents of Orange County like myself. The main secondary source I used regarding Orange County’s history specifically barely acknowledged this fact and continued to portray the county as a conservative paradise that had a small fringe of White supremacists. With the research done and the paper written, I learned the degree to which local history is stirred by national politics, and how that history creates long-lasting standards that have rippling effects in the present. While I turned in the paper, I knew I needed to research this topic further and get this narrative into the cultural mindset of this county.

Enter this exhibit that brought me the opportunity to continue this work. I walked into my advisor’s office at the start of the semester to discuss my graduation when he told me about an upcoming exhibit that pertained to my research on the county. I saw what the exhibit was about and knew I had to get involved in this project. Upon meeting Sharon, I knew I was given an opportunity to get involved in something truly special, and quickly. The day I met Sharon I was already digging through materials I did not know existed during my original research in the special collections. I also got the chance to meet Harlen Lambert and his wife that day on a spur-of-the-moment invitation from Sharon. While my previous work involved reading the words of people that I would never meet, meeting Lamb was an amazing experience. Lamb’s charm and sincerity was a welcome change from going back and forth between the dusty old texts of the LA Times and other books. Meeting Lamb also provided me with a fresh reminder of the humanity involved in this history and how truly recent it was. It also gave me the chance to introduce myself and my motivations for doing this history as a sort of courtesy. Not all historians get to experience this in their work. Reading his biography gave me a new perspective on my research, as Lamb provided me a tangible, individual experience for what I had only read about in broad terms. Lamb’s story showed all the facets of Orange County that I had read about, from the institutions of the police force treating him as a lesser despite his proven heroism, the culture of Orange County and the John Birch Society’s influence, and the housing discrimination that put him in a part of town where he was targeted night after night. Despite the crazy history of Lamb’s experience, he was a man who just loved to talk about his basketball glory days and his work as a dog trainer. Meeting and learning about Lamb taught me numerous things, both as a historian and as a human.

While my previous research and Lamb’s story was forming a contained story of Orange County during this period, learning about and meeting Michael Daniel Lynem gave me a look into how the rest of the country got involved in the goings-on of Orange County. Listening to Daniel’s story of becoming a Black Panther and his false imprisonment over the death of Officer Sasscer gave me a bigger picture of the political climate and the Black culture of Orange County. Before hearing about Michael’s story, I would have never guessed there was a significant Black Panther presence in Orange County; not even the people I knew who lived here all their lives ever mentioned them. Despite this, it is not surprising that a chapter would have formed in the first place considering all the stories of police harassment, segregated housing, and negative sentiments toward the civil rights movements. The accounts of the Black Panthers’ activities in Orange County also painted an example of how this activism interacted with other parts of the state and the country, such as the much larger LA chapter getting involved with the OC chapter’s affairs and leadership, Mustafa Khan getting recruited to become Minister Farrakhan’s personal bodyguard, and the national Black Panther newspaper putting out ads to support Michael during his trial over the killing of Officer Sasscer. Sifting through the Black Panther papers also revealed to me how Orange County was a clear target for the Panthers, seeing various cartoons and articles all condemning Orange County native Richard Nixon for his “Law and Order” narrative.

Finally, my interviews with Daniel and Dr. Jerry Hunter gave me the personal accounts of the Black experience in this county during a period where books and other primary documents were lacking. My interview with Daniel, though sadly lost, still gave me new insights to specific parts of the county that I had not found many sources on before. I was able to ask both Dr. Hunter and Daniel about their experience in the beach cities of Orange County since many sources regarding the experiences of Black people in Orange County were primarily that of the interior and northern cities. I was expecting to hear the worst, that the beach was closed to Black people and that the people there were the worst Orange County had to offer. However, the worst account I got was Daniel’s experience of getting pulled over by the occasional cop in an all too familiar story of being questioned on his purpose of being in cities like Newport or Huntington Beach. This was particularly surprising because today the beach cities are the most affluent and Whitest parts of Orange County to this day, and the high school I attended was a hotbed for neo-Nazis and other White supremacists. Regardless, Daniel still said to me that while Orange County was not full-on Jim Crow and had limited laws discriminating people of color compared to the rest of the country, the conservative Whites wished they had a Jim Crow-like state. While Daniel gave me a perspective of someone on the streets of Orange County, Dr. Hunter gave me a look into how politics were observed in the county during this time. Dr. Hunter gave me insight to some of the other political groups present, from the reach of the John Birch Society to the smaller civil rights groups such as the Partners for Progress and other groups that got small communities active in local politics.

Overall, the experiences I got from working on this exhibit and previous writings have taught me a few things. One being the importance of local history as a means of understanding how communities form and the origins of trauma inflicted on those communities. Growing up in Orange County, I was fed the Americana propaganda that this place was somewhere people from all walks of life could pitch a picket fence, start a family, and wave their American flag proudly over their porch, only to see the cracks start to form under the smallest bit of scrutiny. Secondly, how important it is to recognize the humanity behind the history we tell, and that these narratives are not just words in a book, but the lives of people beyond that.

While it is easy to only see the subjects of history as just the pieces we need to tell to prove our point, we can learn so much more about history and how people operate in historical settings when we learn about them as human beings. Lastly, in a more specific case, the issue of civil rights is not only an issue facing Black Americans, and creating a narrative that promotes cross-minority solidarity is crucial when learning about these stories. Every racial minority in this country can relate to the same strife Black Americans faced to some degree, from housing discrimination, police violence, and having their rights as a people put into question in the Supreme Court.

And while Black Americans remain on the frontline of these issues, there are minority groups who feel forgotten about or left behind and start to resent these civil rights movements. But it is through these types of histories we can remind them that we are all in the same fight and that the rights we fight for our Black citizens are the same rights as Latinx Americans, Asian Americans, Indigenous Americans, the LGBTQ+ community, and so on. Finally, while this topic we discuss is at the forefront of this country’s current mindset, we can look to the past to learn from their tactics, mistakes, and messages. While this topic regards the work of activists’ pasts, we can use their stories to keep them in the fight for the future.

 
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Wyatt Frieson Daniel Michael Lynem, Jr. Adleane Hunter Brigman Owens Mustafa Khan Kathy Ayeh Earl Pedford Dr Jerry Hunter Juel Farquhar Dr Aidsand Wright-Riggins Zoe Reed Pedford Jim DeBose Janine Farquhar Jim Hatchett Charlene Riggins Harlen Lambert