Santa Cruz County History - Cultural Diversity

To Know My Name: A Chronological History of African Americans in Santa Cruz County
by Phil Reader

PART 4: CHRONOLOGY 1900--1990


The 1900 U.S. Census set the number of Black citizens in the county at 81.


Martha Derrick, daughter of Dan Rodgers, relocated to Oakland where she joined her son John Lincoln Derrick. The Derricks were the last of the old generation of Negro families to leave the Pajaro Valley.

SANTA CRUZ 1900-1910

Many new African Americans moved to Santa Cruz and enhanced the growing Black population already there. Among them were the Pinkney family, the Hunter family, the Berry family, Ed Bruce, Ed and Inez Smith, and Lou Venable. Venable later opened a restaurant on Pacific Avenue named "The Squeeze Inn" which became a favorite hang out for Santa Cruz High School students.


"Uncle Dan" Rodgers boarded the train at the Watsonville depot for a visit with his daughter Martha Derrick in Oakland. As he detrained at San Francisco, he was killed in a freak accident. With his passing, the pioneer Black population of Watsonville no longer existed.


The Negro community of Santa Cruz was now large enough to support its own house of worship. On November 19, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church formed a local branch. For this purpose, they bought land on River Street. During its existence the church had two ministers, the Reverend T. A. McEachen and Reverend W. W. Howard.

SANTA CRUZ 1906-1910

The Black population formed a baseball team, named the Santa Cruz Colored Giants, who played a full schedule of games against local white teams. Jack Harris was their manager and coach. Two brothers, Lou and Floyd Berry, and young Elwood Hunter were star athletes, not only with the Giants, but in the sports program at Santa Cruz High as well.


The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP.) was founded in New York City by a group of black and white progressives. Its purpose was to work for equal civil, political and educational rights, to demand an end to segregation, secure the right to work, and to enforce the right of protection from violence and intimidation. It came into being as a result of a series of vicious race riots in both the north and the south.


The 1910 U.S. Census put the number of African Americans in the county at 83.

SANTA CRUZ 1910-1915

The Black community continued to grow and become active at all levels of society. Colored children were enrolled at local schools in record numbers. Negro heads of households however, continued to be restricted to the same old traditional menial jobs in the service industries, including porters, shoe shiners, cooks, dish washers, and laborers.


"The Birth of a Nation" or "The Klansman'', a racist movie produced and directed by D. W. Griffith was shown at local theaters to sell out houses. The NAACP attempted unsuccessfully to seek a ban on the movie because of its extremely negative portrayal of African Americans and its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan. The local press called it "the greatest movie ever made." This movie helped bring about a revival of the Ku Klux Klan.

SANTA CRUZ 1916-1941

During this 25 year period, the attitude of Santa Cruzans toward its African American citizens did an about face. Up to this point in history it had been a tolerant community throwing up few, if any, road blocks into the path of their Negro brothers. Now, however, bigotry became a policy in many quarters as blacks were banned or discriminated against at local hotels, road houses and inns. Negro vacationers with their tourist dollars were unwelcome visitors at many recreational spots in the county. Finding housing and jobs became an impossible task, so many Negro families left the area in anger and discouragement. Even churches, the supposed moral pillars of the community, now refused to accept Black parishioners.

The causes of this sudden change in attitude are many-- periods of economic down slide, fierce job competition brought on by the arrival of large numbers of immigrants from Europe, and the lack of year-round employment generated by the county's continuing reliance upon tourism as its basic industry, just to name a few. The major reason, however, was the social changes brought on by the patriotic zeal, anti-foreignism, and isolationist tendencies which ran rampant during the period of World War I.


America formally entered World War I. An unusually large number of African Americans volunteered and served proudly in the various branches of the Armed Services.


Arthur Tate, a Watsonville bootblack, was nearly lynched by a group of irate citizens after he was accused of raping a white woman. He was later sentenced to San Quentin for six years.


As World War I ended, many thousands of Negro veterans remained on active duty and made a career out of the Armed Services.

Photo of Mary Logan
Mary Logan


Albert Logan, born a slave on an Arkansas plantation in 1860, died at his home in Santa Cruz. As a small child, he had been brought west by his mother as a member of the Dan Rodgers party. He had attended the black school in Watsonville before moving to Santa Cruz in the late 1880s. His wife, Mary, continued to run the boarding house on South Branciforte.


A Ku Klux Klan Klavern was founded in Santa Cruz and for a time was quite visible including a daylight march in the Miss California parade.


The Klan formed a Klavern at Watsonville.


The U.S. Census revealed that the African American population of the county had plummeted to 64.


Irvin Harris, a native of Santa Cruz and a graduate of local schools, was run out of town by the Sheriff and District Attorney after he was found at a party in the company of a white girl "from a well known family."


Mary Logan, widow of Albert Logan, died at her home on South Branciforte Avenue. The property passed into the hands of Ed and Inez Smith, who continued to operate it as a boarding house for black tourists.


The 1940 U.S. Census enumerated only 18 African Americans in the county, an all time low.


The United States entered into World War II. Once again, young African Americans enrolled in record numbers.


On Easter Sunday, the 54th Coast Artillery, an all-Black unit from Camp San Luis Obispo, was stationed at Lighthouse Point, then known as Phelan Park. From that moment on, race relations in Santa Cruz county were changed forever. Integration was quick and permanent. The reaction of white citizens was mixed and varied, but this was war time and change was coming like it or not. Local churches and civic groups welcomed the newcomers with a series of entertainments, dinners, teas, etc. Ed and Inez Smith transformed their home into a U.S.O. center for the colored soldiers from the 54th and nearby Camp McQuaide, as well as Fort Ord. When the city fathers tried to make certain parts of the city off-limits to the men of the 54th, their Chaplain, Captain Baskerville, threatened to boycott "the whole damned town." Local businessmen were forced to choose economics over racism.


The 54th Battery was withdrawn from the area as the war wound down. But by the sterling example which these men set, they left behind a much changed town.


World War II was brought to a close with the surrender of Germany and Japan.

SANTA CRUZ 1946-1950

After mustering out of the service, several members of the old 54th returned with their families to start civilian life in their newly adopted hometown. Among their number were John and Erva Bowen, Henry and Nina Pratt, Isaac Jackson, Cornelius and Arvenia Bumpus, Fred and Jessie Guliford (with brother Frank), Russell Dawson, Frank Willis, William E. Jackson and Upsie Hannon. These patriots were to seed a new African American community. Other Blacks who arrived during this time were Mervin and Idessie Brantly, and Chylow and Mary Ellen Brown. The Missionary Baptist Church was also founded to meet the spiritual needs of the African American community.


A local branch of the NAACP was granted a charter with Chylow Brown, a community activist from Chicago and Detroit, as president, and Arvenia Bumpus as secretary.


The l950 U.S. Census revealed that there were 106 African Americans in Santa Cruz County.


After five years of trying, Black veterans were finally admitted into American Legion Post #64.


The Reverend William Brant of San Francisco, was appointed pastor of the Missionary Baptist Church and came to Santa Cruz to look for a home to buy, so that he could be near his congregation. He made a down payment on a small house on Winkle Avenue in the Live Oak district. On the night before he was scheduled to take occupancy, arsonists set fire to the house, doing major damage. Furthermore, neighbors coldly suggested that he move his family to another community. In spite of the fact that a substantial reward was offered for the apprehension of the culprits, the crime went unsolved.

SANTA CRUZ 1951-1960

Throughout the decade, the Negro population of the county continued to grow as more families relocated to the area. In time a ghetto of sorts came into being in the area of west Santa Cruz commonly called "the circles." The NAACP, under the leadership of Erva Bowen and Arvenia Bumpus. flourished as an organization, both political and social, and gave some cohesion to the African American community.


The United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision when it ruled that segregation in American public schools was illegal.


The 1960 U.S. Census showed that the black population of the county had more then quadrupled, to 504.

SANTA CRUZ 1960-1970

This decade can best be described as a period of growing activism among a new generation of young Black adults. They joined with their elders to raise the political and social consciousness of the local African American population. The advent of Cabrillo College and U.C.S.C. only enhanced their efforts by sponsoring classes and workshops in Black culture and history. The NAACP pushed for fair housing laws, and together with a new group called the Urban Improvement Organization, lobbied for low-income housing projects in Santa Cruz County. Their struggles were spearheaded by Erva Bowen and Sy Rockins, and met with varying degrees of success.


The 1970 U.S. Census totals showed that the African American population had then reached the 1,000 mark.

SANTA CRUZ 1970-1990

These were decades of victory for the local Black community as low-income housing became a reality and many new industries located in the county, opening up job opportunities for minority workers.

On the social side of things, the N.A.A.C.P., in conjunction with the Black Cooperative Association, headed by Black Panther William Moore, began a free breakfast program for Elementary School aged children as well as a food bank. Among the most dedicated volunteers in this program were Helen Weston, "Momma" Brown, Lillian McCoy and Esther Bradley Delgado.

Another successful effort by local blacks was the drive to honor London Nelson [a.k.a Louden Nelson], the ex-slave, who, upon his death, directed that his entire estate be used to further the education of local children. Spearheaded by Lowell Hunter and Wilma Campbell, it commenced with an attempt to have the City School Board rename Mission Hill School, the "London Nelson School." Instead, however, the Board named their administrative offices on Mission Hill, the "London Nelson Plaza." Spurred on by this victory, the Negro community finally achieved complete success when, in 1979, a new community center, located at the old Laurel School, was named in Nelson' s honor.

An offshoot of this drive was the election of longtime NAACP activist Erva Bowen to the Board of Education. Bowen was the first Black to hold an elective office in the history of Santa Cruz County.

The African American population, which currently makes up over 3% of the general populace, has long since moved beyond the "circles" and can be found scattered throughout the area. The Nelson Center, U.C.S.C., Cabrillo College and the NAACP continue to promote Black culture and draw attention to problems which exist within the minority community.

>>To Know My Name, Part 5.

Back to the Introduction.

Copyright 1995 Phil Reader. Reproduced with the permission of the author. Photographs courtesy of Phil Reader.

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African Americans, racism


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