August 13, 1960

"Twenty-five Years of Struggle in the California Legislature for Civil Rights" By Augustus F. Hawkins, Assemblyman, 62nd District

The California Legislative Session of 1853 received a petition from a committee of Negro citizens requesting repeal of the law prohibiting them from testifying in the courts in cases where white persons were involved. Motions were instantly made by members of the State Assembly to throw the petition out of the window so as not to tarnish the sacred State records with such an infamous document. Eventually, in order not to defame the legislative process with the odor of illegality the petition was in better taste, formally rejected and the clerk instructed "not to file it".

Signers of the petition composed of Negro pioneers in the civil rights field were not discouraged. In 1855, in San Francisco, they met in what was organized as the State Convention of the Colored Citizens of California, and it was this group which spearheaded the drive to win not only the right to testify in court, but also the right to own property and to vote.

Today we carry on in the same pioneering tradition - with equal courage, we hope — blazing a trail through what we believe to be the last few miles of forest before reaching equal opportunities and human justice.

You have asked me today to retrace our steps over the past twenty-five years in the development of civil rights in California. To do justice to such a subject and to relate it to the tremendous challenge of the future — is a task for one far abler than myself.


Only someone like the Roman God, Janus could do this. This Roman deity is supposed to have had two faces on opposite sides of the head: one, looking to the past; the other facing the future.

This period of time — 25 years — 2½ decades — has been one of great significance. Each of us has lived through one of the most remarkable ages of mankind, which began when divisibility of the atom was a subject hardly practical even for the magazine section of our Sunday newspaper, but which now has led us literally into outer space. If we have gained from our experiences the lessons which we should have learned, then we face in the next few years — the decade of the '60's - the fulfillment of things for which we hoped and about which we dreamed but a short time ago.

For purposes of clarity in understanding — I have divided the subject into three periods:

  1. Civil rights in the depression years.
  2. Civil rights in the war years.
  3. Civil rights in the atomic age.


In certain social groups today, any discussion of the depression years is in bad taste. Some of us don't want to be reminded of SRA case numbers, WPA projects, relief checks, eviction notices, foreclosures, and hard earned meal tickets. Recently I made the mistake of referring to an audience as part of "the common man". I should have said "the people about to arrive".

During the depression years, competition for jobs and housing; and financial limitations which limited use of public accomodations made civil rights merely academic. But about the times there was a strange sense of change and awakening.


I am not suggesting that the depression was a good thing for the Negro — not even a blessing in disguise.

Rather that in spite of it or concurrent with it — the social dynamics of the times led to a liberation in thinking and major breakthroughs in patterns ... and these changes were to prove useful in the next decade.

The major change for our discussion was the freedom of the Negro from Republicanism. I do not say this in any sense of anti-Republicanism but in reference to freedom from irrevocable allegiance to fixed thinking. As a Democrat who has labored long and patiently in the Democratic vineyard — I believe that we must remain free of a permanent alliance with either party....able to demand and free to accept the best program the times demand.

The major breakthrough came from:

  • Work on new projects, new skills and opportunities.
  • New positions.
  • Negro gained new status in the leveling down process.

(NOTE: The Speaker elaborated on these points).

The period from a legislative angle in the field of civil rights was marked by a program of "holding action". Comparing our position to that in a football game, we would say, the ball was down in the shadows of our own goal where we couldn't risk a fumble. A resolution against lynching seemed a big accomplishment. Tremendous forces had to be mobilized to defend against a weakening of the civil rights sections of the civil code.


Production needs and national unity made the fight for civil rights easier and gave new "dignity" to it.

We took the offensive. The ball was in mid-field and we could

afford to "open up".

Many anti-discrimination statutes were passed regarding public works, civil service, education, State application forms, etc.

Tribute to Negro womanhood.


(NOTE: The Speaker elaborated on the following points).

Significance of civil rights in the Atomic Age.

A means and force for survival.

No longer a matter of choice.

More recently — the "moral" basis has again claimed attention.

1959 Accomplishments. (Here the Speaker pointed out the passage of a State Fair Employment Practices Act, a Fair Housing Law, changes in the Civil Rights Act, etc.).

Now, let's put on the other face of Janus.

What have we learned from this 25 year development?

What haven't we learned?

1. Certainly we have learned the value of friends or allies; that we are not alone in the struggle. This has led to an identification of our problems with other minorities whose cooperation we have sought. (Here the Speaker named such groups as the Mexican-American, Jewish Community Organizations and Japanese-American Citizens).

Better cooperation with labor movement is another example.

2. Secondly, we have learned that civil rights — just as economic gains do not come neatly wrapped in a gift package. In the dynamics of American politics we must fight to win the prize. And this means active participation in the game of politics.

I have no sympathy with any "leader" who discourages participation in politics under any disguise. Such spokesmen are either ignorant or dishonest.


The results of political inactivity are dirty streets, slums, insecurity, police brutality, etc. — the crumbs of our political system.

3. Our votes are the currency which we can exchange for the benefits of our system — and if we fail to use the ballot — we become political beggars.

Among the things we have not learned or for which we have failed to obtain a suitable formula is the question of Negro Political Recognition in elective and appointive offices.

The importance of this question rests not on the individual achievements displayed and personal gains resulting from such positions, but on the value which arises from having qualified persons in key positions where policy is made.

Since State-hood, as a matter of fact, since 1919 (42 years) only 3 Negroes have served in State elective office. City councilmen: Elsinore, Bakersfield, Seaside, etc., about 5.

No supervisors or federal officers.

Five Judges ...... (one Judge per Governor).

Both parties have been guilty of supporting Negroes to office in those Districts where they had no chance to elect anyone from their party, and failing to support qualified persons in Districts where they might elect, if backed.

In appointive positions we have done slightly better, but most unsatisfactorily. In State service, for example, out of over 1500 positions in departments and on boards and commissions, (where daily decisions are made) subject to direct appointment by the Governor — we have about 20 persons (some a carry over) or slightly in excess of 1% of the total number.


Another glaring deficiency in the Legislative field as it affects civil rights, is our apparent failure to cultivate a wide scale interest that includes the full sweep of civil activities involved in our daily lives. Understandably, our interest in civil rights is direct, and entitled to intense emphasis. But in the process of achieving a Democratic society — interest in the entire range of political issues is both part of the strategy for securing cooperation from other groups and a necessary part of a citizens' working kit; both a tool for achieving, and a quality for enjoying, integration.

In the years in which I have traveled the State on Legislative investigation committees, I have observed perhaps not more than 15-20 Negro witnesses before committees that were not directly involved with civil rights. From this experience — if I did not personally know otherwise, I would conclude that Negroes generally are not interested in revenue and taxation matters, in public utility regulation, in government organization, public works, election reforms, mental health, and so forth.

In the highly debated issue facing us on the November ballot — for example — that of a State water development program — which, if passed, we may be called upon to help finance, I would certainly conclude from the lack of interest demonstrated, that we are not concerned in its cost and who pays, in the "county of origin" question, the transmission of water from where some of us live to where others may be, or the effect this multi-billion dollar project may have on the industries that employs us or the homes we own. Quite naturally, one would conclude that our interest in water is concerned not with how we obtain it, but only whether it runs out when we turn on the faucet.


Or to make another observation — it would seem that the fight for integrated schools and teacher placement — should be coupled with an interest in school planning and financing; and all the other technical questions which precede the opening of a school house prior to the time a civil rights problem may arise.

As we push ahead in a new decade — the 1960's — it appears that while our problems are varied and complicated they are not too difficult for a responsible and unified leadership.

I have used the phrase "responsible leadership". May I amplify it to this extent to say that by this, among other things, I refer to a leadership that will not only press relentlessly for full demands - but also with equal fervor - impress on those who seek full citizenship the necessity of assuming the obligations and responsibilities that go with such citizenship.

Our role as leaders is colored by the fact that we seek to give expression to people many of whom have never known what it is to walk into a city hall or county building to transact business as ordinary citizens — persons kept from voting, denied admission to public civic meetings — denied the right of self-determination and public office — restrained from use of the educational processes of citizenship.

The challenge is too big for any one of us. Collectively there is need and full opportunity for all of us — and many others.

It seems to me that in this Conference what we are saying in many different ways is this:

  1. For a growing population, we need a more responsive leadship.
  2. For the tasks we face, we need a trained leadership.

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  4. For the position from which we are forced to fight, we need a more united leadership.

And these things add up to this: It is not enough to be trained in our special fields (although this is a first requisite there is need for organized training in the overall field of "civic leadership" in group dynamics. We cannot afford to be ordinary leaders; we must strive to be the very best.

This Conference is only a beginning. Despite unlimited criticism which we level at each other, and personal feelings which might have resulted when this Conference ends, we will be closer together than when we came here. May this unity of frank expression be translated into eventually unity of action.

It has been well said that as mountain climbers tie themselves together, not only to save one that may fall, but to pull higher each other .... so may it be ... that we may be held together by the strong rope of clear objectives and noble aspirations; and may in unity pull together for the common good.