Showing posts with label rosa parks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rosa parks. Show all posts

Monday, September 22, 2014

Wilma Powell, A Legend in Long Beach Civil Rights History

Wilma Powell was the first woman to serve as Chief Wharfinger and Director of Trade and Maritime Services at the Port of Long Beach and the first African American in the nation to old the position.
Wilma Powell
Wilma Powell

First African American U.S. Chief Wharfinger

Wilma Powell was the first woman to serve as Chief Wharfinger and Director of Trade and Maritime Services at the Port of Long Beach and the first African American in the nation to old the position.

In case you are not familiar with terminology pertaining to professional positions at America's Ports: Chief Wharfingers are at the center of all internal and external port operations. Nothing happens at a port without the Chief Wharfinger's direction, coordination and approval.

Wilma Powell was the first woman to serve as Chief Wharfinger and Director of Trade and Maritime Services at the Port of Long Beach
Wilma Powell
Chief Wharfinger was still merely a dream for a little black girl growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, not just because she was born and raised in Waco, Texas, more than 300 miles from the nearest Port of Authority in Houston on the Gulf of Mexico, but because in the 1960s when she came of career age, Wilma Powell had no black female or male role models holding high positions in that line of work. 

The only positions held in those days by African Americans were men with strong bodies able to load and unload shipments of goods and perform other manual labor associated with the port vessels docking at the Houston Ship Channel, created by dredging Houston's Buffalo Bayou and Galveston Bay, dating back ti 1836. 

Men who worked the docks were referred to as Stevedores, dockworkers, dockers, dock laborers and longshoreman, and like other Jim Crow traditions in America, maritime and waterfront work at its lowest economic level was also segregated on the basis of race. Due to residency rules, it wasn't until the 1960s that black dockers began entering the Southern California longshoremen unions. And the number of black women who gained employment opportunities and membership in these organizations grew even slower.

"I moved to California in 1967," Powell said. "Recently divorced with a small child, I came to live with my sister and her husband and started a new chapter in my life."

Wilma Powell, graduate of the University of Redlands
Wilma Powell
When Powell first entered college, many teachers in her family had steered her toward a school teaching career, which she pursued at the historic black Texas college, Prairie View A&Mwhere she completed three years toward a degree in elementary education.

"I decided I wanted to go into the field of business," she said. "So, I changed my major to business administration."

When Powell arrived in California, with a goal to enter the field of business, she enrolled at the University of Redlands. Powell, busy living her life in a quiet dignified way, was much like Rosa Parks, in that, she led the charge for change. Although not getting the national media coverage received by Rosa Parks, when Wilma Powell changed the direction of her education, graduated with a degree in business, and entered the maritime industry, her very presence changed the history of the way U.S. Ports had, heretofore, regarded diversity in employment.

Starting at the entry level at the Port of Long Beach, Powell worked her way up and remained at the Port for 36 years before retiring. 

Port of Long Beach

Port of Long Beach

"It was very unique for a woman to be in that position," Powell said. Chief Wharfinger  had traditionally been held by men, Powell said, predominantly white men. She knew she was the first woman to hold the position at the Port Long Beach, founded in 1911, but said it was a proud moment for her when she was notified that she was the first woman in the U. S. to hold the position of Chief Wharfinger and Director of Trade and Maritime Services

Want to know more about Wilma Powell and other Southern California black female civil rights pioneers like Wilma Powell?

In a study of twelve Long Beach, California, African American women who made a difference in the city's racial history in a book, BREAKING THROUGH, Lighting the Way, Sunny Nash and Carolyn Smith Watts celebrated their lives with a book of historical profiles and a documentary. The project will become an exhibition of portraits, historical photographic restorations, documents reproductions artifacts, books, and monographs next fall, opening at the Historical Society of Long Beach as a major exhibition, after which, it will travel to other locations around the state and nation.

Major Exhibition - BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way

BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way  Profiles of African American Women who made a difference to the history of Long Beach, California  Edited by Sunny Nash Foreword by Carolyn Smith Watts

Profiles of African American
Women who made a difference
to the history of Long Beach, 

Edited by Sunny Nash
Foreword by Carolyn Smith Watts
Bobbie SmithAlta Cooke, Carrie Bryant
Dale Clinton & Lillie Mae Wesley (not present) 

“These women form the foundation of the struggle for equality on so many fronts,” said Nash, editor of BREAKING THROUGH, Lighting the Way. "We all know women like Wilma Powell, Dale Clinton, Bobbie Smith, Maycie Herrington, Autrilla Scott, Evelyn Knight Vera Mulkey, Carrie Bryant, Doris Topsy-Elvord, Alta Cooke, Patricia Lofland and Lillie Mae Wesley, even in our own families. If we do not celebrate their lives and achievements, future generations will never know about them."

BREAKING THROUGH, Lighting the Way coordinator and author of the book's foreword, Carolyn Smith Watts, said, “I am blessed to have known 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 Long Beach, California, with thousands of stories and each one invaluable,"  Watts said. "There are women of this quality in every community. Other groups can use BREAKING THROUGH, Lighting the Way as a model to commemorate the contributions of women in their communities."

The Historical Society of Long Beach (HSLB), California, a repository for the city's history for nearly 50 years, is the permanent repository for artifacts contributed by the women featured in BREAKING THROUGH, Lighting the Way

Historical Society of Long Beach

Historical Society of Long Beach 

Since 1962, HSLB has collected more than 100,000 items, including documents, maps, photographs, books, scrapbooks, yearbooks, architectural pieces, advertisements, textiles, uniforms, menus, postcards, blueprints, publications, telephone and address directories, historical inventories, biographies and early memorabilia documenting Long Beach. 

“By living their lives beyond what seemed possible, these women demonstrated personal and professional survival and service to their fellow human beings, raising the level of goodness in the world,” said Nash. “The contributions of these 12 women to their community are incalculable.” 

A recurring theme in the conversations of this pioneering dozen was being prepared, meaning education, training and experience as the primary route they chose to become successful, advising the next generation of women to follow the same formula. However, all of the woman placed helping others, family and friends, above any personal ambition they may have had for themselves.
Wilma Powell was the first woman to serve as Chief Wharfinger and Director of Trade and Maritime Services at the Port of Long Beach and the first African American in the nation to old the position.
Wilma Powell
"I've worked in the community for the last twenty years," Powell said. "On a number of boards, including the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, sometimes being the only African American woman. One thing I have never wanted to be was a token anything.In a role where I was expected to participate, I really do participate."

“One of the most important lessons young people can learn from these 12 incredible women is to be dedicated to their dreams and be willing to make certain sacrifices to nurture their dreams,” Nash said. “Time is a sacrifice that must be made to become educated in the area of interest. Although nothing is guaranteed in this life, education is a necessary part of preparing for a successful future. Study, one solid method of giving a dream a fair chance to become a reality, grooms a person for the inevitable competition of those who may have the same dream.”

"I look at the world as a bouquet of flowers," said Wilma Powell. "And all these colors make this beautiful bouquet. We have to make sure that everybody is included. Inclusiveness is very important for the entire community to be successful."

Below is a video produced by Sunny Nash of the BREAKING THROUGH, Lighting the Way photo session by Carolyn Smith Watts. Also in the video are the community reception and program held at the Long Beach Public Library, which includes presentations by the next generation of pioneering Long Beach women to the original 12 women, dubbed the Pioneering Dozen by the Press TelegramA book about the next generation by Sunny Nash and Carolyn Smith Watts, is being completed..

The multifaceted signature project, BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way Exhibition, is comprised of archival portraiture, ancestral photographic restorations, artifacts, historic papers, archaic document reproductions, memorabilia, and newspaper and magazine clippings collected, organized by award-winning humanitarian Carolyn Smith Watts, and award-winning author and photojournalist Sunny Nash, on 12 African American Women who made a Difference in the Cultural History of Long Beach, California.


The Port of Long Beach demonstrated its commitment to equal employment access and professional opportunity over the years by appointing the first female Chief Wharfinger in the nation, one of the Legends of this project; and continues that commitment with its support of this project.

Sponsors, donors, partners and contributors committed to date are listed here. Others will be joining the list in the near future. All are welcome to LIKE the Legends on FaceBook.

In 2015, after Nash won a 2015 Arts Council for Long Beach Professional Artist Fellowship to design a Museum Catalogue and restore photographs, BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way became a Signature Project of photo restorations, artifacts, document reproductions, ancestral papers and online resources. 

Molina Healthcare

For more than 30 years, Molina has been providing quality, affordable health care to individuals and families covered by government programs. 


Andy Street 
Community Association

BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way Exhibition previewed at the Andy Street Community Association's Bixby Knolls EXPO Event in February. Hundreds of spectators were able to get a glimpse of the coming exhibition, scheduled to open in September. 

At the June 5th First Friday Event in Bixby Knolls, there will be an exhibit preview at the Historical Society of Long Beach featuring 230 collective years of educational accomplishments of the 12 Legends of BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way.

Tuttle Cameras Long Beach
Based on the collection of historical profiles, published in 2007, edited by Sunny Nash, and foreword by Carolyn Smith Wattswhose award-winning photograph of the Long Beach Living Legends was published in the Tuttle Cameras book, One Camera Long Beach.

Chick-fil-A Towne Center, Long Beach

John Howard of the Chick-fil-A Towne Center Long Beach was present that crisp sunny day in September at the Shoreline Village photo session when the historic picture of the Legends was taken.

International Realty & Investments

The project also includes oral history, new photo/video capture and recently discovered images and artifacts that will also be included in a series of television programs on LBTV, the Television Station owned and operated by the City of Long Beach.


City of Long Beach

Long Beach dignitaries will attend and participate in The Grand Opening. Southern California Media organizations will be invited to a Press Conference at 2:00 p.m. in the Loraine & Earl Burns Miller Special Collections Room of the Long Beach Public Library.

Long Beach Public Library, Main Branch
The Long Beach Public Library will host the event in its Atrium Center & Theater off of City Hall Public Plaza, 101 Pacific Ave., Long Beach, California. There will a VIP Reception in the Atrium Garden prior to the program and the screening of a film and online resources.


Long Beach City College
Long Beach Unified 
School District

Long Beach City College (LBCC) and Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) will play equally significant roles in as education partners in advertising the event to their respective constituents. Both have student bodies and faculty to which they will provide electronic announcements on their Internet and broadcast communication systems. Both LBCC and LBUSD can lay claim to several Legends, who either taught, served as officials or attended both LBCC and LBUSD

Los Angeles County 
Sheriff's Department
Los Angeles Sheriff's Department in collaboration with the Long Beach Unified School District will participate in a mini-exhibit and event at Jordan High School, where student government officers will also be present to participate in a seminar involving one of the Legends who was an official of the school.

This event commemorates the historical relationship between Long Beach Unified School District and Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.

Content © Copyright 2015 BREAKING THROUGH  Lighting the WayAll Rights Reserved Worldwide.

~Thank You~

Breaking Through Lighting the Way

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Bobbie Smith, Still Breaking Through in Education

Bobbie Smith Photo by Carolyn Smith Watts
Bobbie Smith
Photo by Carolyn Smith Watts

Bobbie Smith 

Elementary School

Official Naming Ceremony Bobbie Smith Elementary School December 8, 2014, 10:00 a.m.

The Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) board voted unanimously on Tuesday, September 2, 2014, to recognize the first African American LBUSD member, Bobbie Smith, by naming a school in her honor.

When asked about her groundbreaking accomplishments, Smiths modestly replied, "Yes, I believe that is true and I am honored to have a school named after me."

Long Beach Unified School District

Bobbie Smith 
First African American 
Long Beach Female 
Elected to Public Office

Four-Term Board President
Long Beach Unified School District 

Bobbie Smith received tenure after only two years and was with  for twenty-two years. 

Long Beach City College
First African American Long Beach City College LBCC Librarian

First African American LBCC Head Librarian 

First African American LBCC Faculty Senate Member & President

Bobbie Smith was born in the Jim Crow Deep South--Mississippi--in 1932, during the midst of the Great Depression and the height of the Jim Crow era, when hooded mobs rode the countryside burning and lynching; and most little black girls could only look forward to becoming some one's maid. However, Bobbie Smith does not interpret her heritage as a misfortune, but instead calls it a blessing because it taught her so much about surviving impossible odds.

Chicago Public Library

"It (Mississippi) was very segregated," she said. "African American and white children attended separate schools. When I finished eighth grade (age 13), there was no high school in my Mississippi community. I went sixty miles away from home to finish high school." 

During high school, she worked for room and board. After high school she was awarded a scholarship for college that didn't pay everything. So, there was more work to get through undergraduate studies. 

Bobbie Smith said Mississippi was so segregated at that time that the State government paid African Americans to secure graduate and professional training outside the state. Taking advantage of this financial opportunity, she enrolled at Eureka College in Illinois, graduating in 1955, when she joined the ranks of other renown alumni who went on to become attorneys, doctors and President of the United States.

Some young scholars of civil rights history think racism only occurred in the American Deep South. What BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way indicates is that assumption is inaccurate. Racism did occur in the past and still does occur in the present wherever a person's race or ethnic background matters enough to change the way people treat the person. Each of the women in the project talked about her personal experiences with racism and discrimination in Southern California. Without being deterred from their goals, however, each woman in her own way acted with the same conviction as Rosa Parks when she ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

When Smith and her husband arrived in Los Angeles, she said they were thinking, "What have we gotten ourselves into? Well," she paused, "looking back, things worked out pretty well."

"The night in 1965 when my husband and I drove into Los Angeles," Bobbie Smith said. "Was the night that Watts exploded into riots." 

Watts Riots 1965
Watts Riots 1965
Between August 11 and 17, 1965, Los Angeles experienced the worse urban rioting on U.S. soil in 20 years and some of the worse racial tension the nation had witnessed, on television, of course. Ignited by the arrest of a young African American man by a white California Highway Patrolman, rioting broke out in the impoverished South Central neighborhood of Watts and caused nearly a week of violence, fire, mobilization of the National Guard, 4,000 arrests and 34 deaths. The Los Angeles riots was a prelude to nationwide rioting in the northeast, the mid-west, central plains, the southwest and the south.

Bobbie Smith went on to earn a master's degree in library science from the University of Illinois at Champagne and got a job at the Chicago Public Library where she worked "in that cold weather."

Carolyn Smith Watts  Historical Society of Long Beach Photograph by Sunny Nash
Carolyn Smith Watts 
Historical Society of Long Beach
Bobbie Smith is featured in BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way, a collection of historical profiles on African American women who made a noteworthy difference in the racial history of Long Beach, California. This collection, edited by Sunny Nash with the foreword by Carolyn Smith Watts and preface by Julie Bartolotto; was released in 2008 at the Historical Society of Long Beach. A documentary film of the work premiered at the Atrium Theater of the Long Beach Public Library, also in 2008.

BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way began with a series of photographs taken by Carolyn Smith Watts at Shoreline Village in Long Beach. One of Watts' photographs, selected for the Tuttle Cameras project and book, One Camera, was exhibited with the other images from the book at the Historical Society of Long Beach, and published on the cover of BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way

"As I called each woman to invite her on Wednesday, September 24, 2007, to take a picture and have lunch Watts said. "Each seemed honored to be included. Then I called Sunny Nash, my friend and mentor. She brought her video camera. Every time Sunny and I talked (after that), a new idea was born and then another and another. Before we knew it, I had scheduled Sunny to do portraits and video interviews with the twelve women in their homes, and film twenty-five of their children and ten community leaders."


"This is a project that I saw from the very start as being of great magnitude and influence," Nash said. "It didn't matter that it wasn't my idea. What matters is that Carolyn saw something important, acted upon it and included me."

Bobbie Smith Elementary School will be the new name for the former Peter H. Burnett Elementary School.

Bobbie Smith and Dale Clinton Thomas R. Cordova / Staff Photographer Press Telegram
Bobbie Smith and Dale Clinton
Thomas R. Cordova / Staff Photographer
Press Telegram
Bobbie Smith and her friend Dale Clinton attended the LBUSD board meeting when the announcement was made of the school's renaming. The board also honored Eunice Sato, the first female mayor of Long Beach, with a school named in her honor. 

Community organizer and civil rights activist, Dale Clinton is another of the influential women published in BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way. Her correspondence with President Lyndon Johnson on his "War on Poverty" has been collected by the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way  Profiles of African American Women who made a difference to the history of Long Beach, California  Edited by Sunny Nash Foreword by Carolyn Smith Watts  (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)

Profiles of African American
Women who made a difference
to the history of Long Beach, 

Edited by Sunny Nash
Foreword by Carolyn Smith Watts
Bobbie Smith, Alta Cooke, Carrie Bryant
Dale Clinton & Lillie Mae Wesley (not present) 

Sunny Nash and Carolyn Smith Watts are in the process of creating a major exhibition of the research and images gathered for BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way. The exhibition will include portraiture by Sunny Nash taken of the women during their interviews, historical photographic restorations from their personal photo albums, photographic reproductions of documents, artifacts, and a display of Carolyn Smith Watts' images from her Shoreline Village photo shoot.

"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," said Julie Bartolotto, Executive Director of the Historical Society of Long Beach. "Their book documented the many significant histories that contribute to a more complete narrative of Long Beach's past."

Quoted in a Press Telegramn article by Nadra Nittle, the Superintendent of LBUSD, Chris Steinhauser, said Bobbie Smith is “a pillar of this community, a person who all kids in all walks of life can look up to, one they could grow up to be like." 

Official Naming Ceremony for Bobbie Smith Elementary School Monday, December 8, 2014, 10:00 a.m. homepage home

© 2014 BREAKING THROUGH  Lighting the Way. 
All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
~Thank You~

Breaking Through Lighting the Way