Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dale Clinton on a Rosa Parks Mission

New Exhibition Celebrating Long Beach, California, Black Women of the Civil Rights Era

Dale Clinton, community activist, wrote letter to President Johnson
Dale Clinton

One of the women in the BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way collection, is community activist, Dale Clinton.

Clinton wrote a letter to President Lyndon Johnson about poverty and racism in America. To her surprise, the president answered her letter. In 1968, both letters were collected by the Library of Congress.

Dale Clinton, born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1927, came to California in 1957, one year after Rosa Parks had launched the modern Civil Rights Movement in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Arriving with four small children, Clinton enrolled in Long Beach City College to prepare her for her journey into a professional career and participation in "the movement." Her husband followed shortly.

Later, she was recruited to work in the new Poverty Program. "In May or June," she said. "A grant was given to Long Beach." It was during this time that Clinton wrote a long letter to President Lyndon Johnson, more, she said, to organization her own thoughts on the matter than anything else. She did not think she would get an answer or that the president would even get a chance to read her letter. Well, it seems, the president did read her letter and he answered it. That correspondence is now in the Library of Congress, copies of which will be part of this new exhibit, an exhibit that demonstrates the historical existence of Jim Crow in the American West

Dale Clinton, Leadership Facilitator
Dale Clinton, Leadership Facilitator
"This project can serve as a model that can be duplicated in all communities," says Watts. "Sunny and I developed the project based on our experience. I am a community-oriented public service individual. with knowledge of Long Beach and Southern California residents. Sunny is a media person who has written and published books and produced for television. Together, we made an awesome team! And we learned from watching and hearing about those leaders who came before us."

"Carolyn and I divided responsibilities for this living history project along the lines of our interests and abilities," Nash said. "Carolyn is very connected in the community. She is able to coordinate logistics and host large social groups. Having served as president of Leadership Long Beach, Carolyn is a leader with influence."

Bobbie Smith and Dale Clinton Thomas R. Cordova / Staff Photographer Press Telegram
Bobbie Smith and Dale Clinton
Thomas R. Cordova / Staff Photographer
Press Telegram
Complete Story: 
Press Telegramn article by Nadra Nittle

Dale Clinton went with her friend, Bobbie Smith, also among the women in the study, to the LBUSD board meeting when the announcement was made of a school in Ling Beach being renamed in Smith's honor. 

Community organizer and civil rights activist, Dale Clinton's correspondence with President Lyndon Johnson on his "War on Poverty" has been collected by the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and copies of these historical letters will be on display with the BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way Exhibition when it opens next Fall. Like the book and documentary film of the same name, the exhibition will cover a not so well known aspect of discrimination in Southern California.

Women Like Rosa Parks Who Defied Odds

BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way  (l-r, rear) Evelyn Knight, Patricia Lofland Bobbie Smith, Alta Cooke, Carrie Bryant Vera Mulkey, Wilma Powell, Doris Topsy-Elvord (seated l-r) Autrilla Scott, Maycie Herrington Dale Clinton & Lillie Mae Wesley (not present)


Edited by Sunny Nash
Foreword by Carolyn Smith Watts

Bobbie SmithAlta Cooke, Carrie Bryant
Dale Clinton & Lillie Mae Wesley (not present)

African American Long Beach women, profiled in the book, BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way, edited by Sunny Nash and foreword by Carolyn Smith Watts, will be the subject of a new exhibition. 

A new exhibition, under preparation by Sunny Nash and Carolyn Smith Watts is planned as a major traveling presentation of portraits, historic photographic reproductions, document replicas and artifacts, subsequently grew out of a collection of historical profiles about the lives and contributions of twelve African American women who made contributions to the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, as well as making a noteworthy difference in the history of Long Beach and Southern California.

Carolyn Smith Watts Long Beach Community Activist and Public Servant
Carolyn Smith Watts
Carolyn Smith Watts, who coordinated the project and wrote the Foreword, said, "I am blessed to have known most of these women and I have a wonderful relationship with many. These 12 women have contributed over six hundred years of experience to Long Beach. In the past fifty years, they have mothered hundreds children, some of whom were their own and others were neighborhood children who needed love and support. Yes, of course, there are other women in our city with thousands of stories and each one invaluable."

Julie Bartolotto, Executive Director of the Historical Society of Long Beach
Julie Bartolotto
Julie Bartolotto, Executive Director of the Historical Society of Long Beach and author of the Preface, has expressed a renewed interest in showcasing the new exhibition being prepared by Watts and Nash.

Bartolotto said, “Many women profiled in the book were part of that movement of people from the nation’s Deep South and Northeast to the West Coast. Their efforts made life better for their families and their community–and for current and future generations of Long Beach residents of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. These women broke through racial and gender barriers and persevered to open up opportunities for those who came after them in education, social service, civil rights, public service, shipping industries and community building.” 

Sunny Nash Author Photographer
Sunny Nash
"Although this initial project began in 2006," said Sunny Nash, "Long Beach still has an intense interest in the lives of its pioneer black female civil rights figures that so much resemble Rosa Parks in their character, mission and struggle for civil rights. Interest in this project has been expressed by individuals like television producer, Frank Draper, and Historical Society board member, Kaye Briegel. In addition to the Historical Society of Long Beach, where the original book was first released, several other local and regional repositories of historical materials, such as Rancho Los Cerritos, have expressed interest in this project. 

Book, documentary film and now an exhibition of this type will allow audiences of all ages and races to learn about the triumphs over racism led by these women and others of their time. Working with the Historical Society of Long Beach, Rancho Los Cerritos, NAACP, African American Heritage Society and other historical organizations and art exhibition institutions in the area, audiences will experience primary accounts of the lives of these women as Americans and their struggles as black women. This exposure will provide a better understanding of race relations in the United States fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights at of 1964.

This project all began when Carolyn Smith Watts took a photograph of Long Beach women who have been influential in her life. The photograph was collected in a book published by Tuttle Cameras of Long Beach and displayed at the Historical Society of Long Beach. At the photo session, Sunny Nash took more photographs and filmed the event. And the project was born. The women in BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way, some born as early as 1918, do not have famous names and their contributions to race relations in America may have gone unnoticed had this book not been published.

Carolyn Smith Watts 
BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way Book Signing and Reception
Historical Society of Long Beach 2008

BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way came from a photograph by Carolyn Smith Watts, community activist and coordinator of the project. “I am blessed to have known most of these women and I have a wonderful relationship with many. These 12 women have contributed over six-hundred years of experience to Long Beach. In the past fifty years, they have mothered hundreds children, some of whom were their own and others were neighborhood children who needed love and support. Yes, of course, there are other women in our city with thousands of stories and each one invaluable."

While Carolyn Smith Watts took care of coordination matters, which were a massive undertaking, Sunny Nash developed the interview model, filmed the interviews and edited the manuscript and DVD. They collaborated with the Historical Society of Long Beach to secure credibility and a location to premier the book and DVD with signing and program. For details on how to start your project, please leave a comment at the bottom of the post.

In preparing BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way, the Watts and Nash team learned that people of colors all over the nation, including Southern California, have felt or, at least, have seen the effects of race at some time in their lives throughout American history. 

Examples of racial awareness can come at work, home, school, church, public facilities and any place people of different ethnicity may be in the same places at the same times. Many times, today, people are not even aware of their biases. They simply gravitate toward people who are more like them. If BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way does nothing else, it will make people aware of the other person and may help people better understand what others have gone through in the past and why they are still sensitive to racial slights in the present.

In Early America, the pre-Civil War era, Reconstruction and the Jim Crow days, the inability of the United States to take any meaningful steps in race relations was due to the Jim Crow system in place for more than 100 years, a system that was designed to curtail the advances freed slaves had won after the Civil War. The Jim Crow system ballooned during Reconstruction, with particularly harmful consequences. In cases of black men, the fear of lynching loomed; in the cases of black women, the fear of rape before being lynched loomed.

The Jim Crow system stymied any attempt at race relations by committed black and white citizens in a nation, still reeling from the effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Nearly a century and a half later, the emotions of younger generations are still tainted by Jim Crow. When a person of color feels a sting of racial discourtesy with poor service in a restaurant, is it such a surprise given our history? On the other hand, what about the person too young to remember Jim Crow? Should he or she be blamed for the past racial climate in our nation simply based on the color of his or her skin? Remember, a coin has two sides. BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way explores both sides. homepage home

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Breaking Through Lighting the Way

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