Of God & Fair Housing

In 1964, a play about housing discrimination staged at Sierra Madre’s Episcopal Church of the Ascension caused part of the congregation to withdraw their financial support in protest.

It was a different time—but in many ways not so different from our own. The year was 1964 and Sierra Madre, like many small Southern California communities in the 1960s, was dealing with moral questions raised by the Civil Rights Movement.

Though California doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a civil rights battleground, the state’s landmark civil rights bill—the Rumford Fair Housing Act, set a national precedent that eventually resulted in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which criminalized discriminatory real estate practices nationwide.

California Governor Pat Brown had signed the Rumford Act into law on July 18, 1963, calling it a “milestone” in civil rights legislation. An immediate backlash ensued, however, and a movement spearheaded by the California Real Estate Association sought to overturn the measure. The CREA formed a coalition called “Americans to Outlaw Forced Housing,” and with the support of California Republicans and the far-right John Birch Society, drafted a ballot measure to overturn the bill. This became Proposition 14, a divisive issue in the 1964 elections that ultimately impeded fair housing legislation in the state for several years.

In reaction to Proposition 14, concerned citizens in Sierra Madre formed the Sierra Madre Fair Housing Committee to advocate for equitable real estate practices. If the editorial pages of the Sierra Madre News from the time were any indication, they must have had their work cut out for them.

In the 1960s, the small Sierra Madre paper espoused some of the most extreme examples of right wing rhetoric, and were radically opposed to all aspects of the Civil Rights Movement. A regular column called “Freedom At Any Price,” written by a Monrovia dentist and conservative activist named Henry V. Witty warned readers about “Communist infiltration into the race revolution,” and predicted that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would establish a “bureaucratic police state” and “rule under presidential dictatorship.”

Read more at SierraMadre Patch

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About Bob Voelker

Head of the Munsch Hardt (Dallas law firm) Hospitality & Mixed Use Development Group, and former developer of affordable housing. I'm i
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