Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Early Long Beach African Americans: George W. Hawkins

            In researching a possible new book on African Americans in our community, I came across a California State Office of Historic Preservation report (An Ethnic Sites Survey for California) that mentioned that most people seemed to believe that before 1940 there were virtually no African Americans in the State. But there were. Of the forty four of the original founders of the city of Los Angeles, twenty six were of African descent. Africans had been brought to Mexico, many as slaves, in the 17th century, and their descendants were racially mixed by the time of the colonization of California in the 18th century. People of mixed race were actually the majority of the population in several Mexican states. California governor Pio Pico (1845-46), the last governor of California under Mexican rule, has been described as Afro-Mexican. In the 1900 U.S. Census those that identified themselves as Mexican were classified as Black, along with African Americans. .
            I found 7,858 African Americans living in California in 1900, with 21 of that number (who lacked Hispanic surnames) living in Long Beach. Let me tell you about one of the more prominent members---George Washington Hawkins.

These image are from the Los Angeles Herald (11/4/1898). The one on the left shows Hawkins in a checked suit . The seated gentleman is J.J. Neimore, president of the California League of Afro-Americans. In the other image Hawkins'
 head is portrayed above the dog. These are the only image I have been able to find of Hawkins. The article, reporting on a "Colored Republicans Jubilee," like many from the time made fun of African Americans. This one discussed the dog who interrupted the conference more than the conference itself. 
            One of the leaders in the Long Beach and Los Angeles community was George Washington Hawkins, a Los Angeles furniture dealer who also owned a ranch in the Los Cerritos area of Long Beach. Hawkins was born in Alabama in 1845 and had been married to wife Carrie (born in Wisconsin in 1854) since 1875. Not much is known about George’s early life, though he may have been a slave born to a black mother and a white father, since he listed himself as “mulatto” in the 1910 U.S. Census.  He was referred to as “Captain” and may have served in the Civil War, though I can find no records to that effect.  He was first listed in Los Angeles City Directories in 1891 and continued having a residence in Los Angeles until 1913. He was one of the most successful African Americans in Los Angeles, according to a Los Angeles Herald article published in March 1902. His Los Angeles home was on the corner of 16th Street and Central Avenue and was located in “a refined aristocratic white community.”
            Hawkins had been active in the California Republican Party since his arrival in Los Angeles in 1891 and quickly gravitated to the California Afro-American League and its platform which stressed education, political involvement and helping each other. He was also instrumental in forming the Colored Business Men’s League of Los Angeles in 1901, which frequently met at his business at 242 E. Second Street in Los Angeles.  At that time Los Angeles had several African American physicians, a dentist, a veterinarian, tailor, plumber, nurses, pharmacist, blacksmith, cabinet makers and carpenters and there were several grocery stores and other businesses run by African Americans. The city also had two local African American newspapers. At the inaugural meeting Hawkins stated there was a need for such an association so African American men in business could come together and become acquainted with each other. There was a need to “instill into the race a desire to branch out in various commercial lines and to be better known among their people that they might obtain a good share of the trade that now drifted to other firms.” Hawkins also pointed out how an increase in patronage would enable African American owned businesses to employ others of their race. 
            In 1903 the Colored Business Men’s League took a firm stance against proposed school segregation in Los Angeles. Hawkins told the Los Angeles Herald (10/15/03)

           We are American citizens and taxpayers and our children are entitled to the same privileges as those of the whites. There should be no race distinction, particularly in a section where the differences that cause so much trouble in the south are lost sight of. It would be fully as unjust to isolate the Spanish, the Germans or any other nationality, as to exclude the Negro from the public schools. If there are unruly spirits among the Negro pupils there is a very simple remedy. Put them out of the school, just as is done with white children. No Negro parent will object to such a measure. I have talked with 20 or 30 men of my race within the past 48 hours, and I have not found one in favor of separate schools.” 

            Hawkins was elected state vice president of the California Afro-American League in 1904. The organization was one of several African American political groups formed in the United States after the Civil War. The California League started in San Francisco in 1891 with less than 150 members; by 1896 it had a chapter in all major cities of the state. Initially the members were all Republicans who espoused the belief that none but responsible and honest men should be nominated and elected to public office. After the first meeting on August 10, 1891, those present decided to form an association that would uphold the principles of the Republican Party and by doing so benefit their people in maintaining their political rights. It was also understood that as membership in the League increased, efforts would be made to obtain employment for those looking for work, and in this and other ways “establish a fraternity of interest and good will toward each other.” Women were allowed membership and voting rights in the organization and supported universal women’s suffrage, as did the men in the League.
T.B. Morton
Theophilus B. Morton founded the California Afro-American League and served as its president for seven years. Born in Virginia in 1849, he escaped from slavery in 1862 and in 1864 took part with the Eighth Illinois Regiment in defense of Washington D.C. Morton settled in California in 1875. He believed the highest duty a man owed himself was the love of a home, and in order to have a home and have it properly protected he must be involved in the political affairs of the state and nation.
       The League had a hard road ahead of them because of dissension among the members. Many felt that the pioneers and native born California African Americans were being slighted by those who had come from the south. There was also a prejudice of the black men against those of lighter color, according to the San Francisco Call (8/6/1895) 
           Morton had high ideals for the African American race. He told those in attendance at the 1896 congress held in Los Angeles:

            The young people of the race will be encouraged by the congress to cultivate their talents so that they will be fitted for the various callings in the business world, and not be contented to live from hand to mouth. We need to show our ability, and we have considerable, and thus receive the recognition we deserve, and disarm many good men and women who wish us prosperity of any lurking prejudice that remains. (San Francisco Call, 7/5/1896)

            In 1896 the League supported McKinley for president and were very happy to receive a letter from McKinley thanking them for their support. At that conference they appointed a committee of five to consider the best way to get legislation passed to end discrimination against their race. The most urgent measure related to section 60, article I, of the California Civil code, commonly known as ‘the black law,” which read: “All marriages of white persons with negroes or mulattoes are illegal and void.”  (This law would remain until the California Supreme Court voided the ban on interracial marriage in 1948). They also pushed for a bill which would allow “full and equal accommodation, advantages, facilities and privileges of inns, restaurants, hotels, eating houses, bathhouses, barber shops, music halls, public conveyances on land and water and other places of public accommodation or amusement.” If anyone committed the offense they would pay a sum of not less than $100 or more than $500. (This too would remain a dream not achieved in their lifetimes).
            The League also called mass meetings to denounce the lynching of African Americans in the South by lawless mobs and demanded proper action by the law in finding those responsible and punishing them. The League raised money to assist in defraying the cost for lawsuits in the states where the outrages occurred.
            In a speech Hawkins gave in August 1904 to the Afro-American League in Los Angeles he said the Negroes of the day were in reality slaves, kept down by the white people. He believed the Negro had to do better work and work longer hours than the white man to keep his position. He urged the race to turn to agricultural pursuits; own farms and their home life would be far happier.
            Hawkins took his own advice and purchased property in the Los Cerritos area of Long Beach. With the arrival of the Pacific Electric railway in 1902 he could easily commute between his ranch and his used furniture store in Los Angeles. A Los Angeles Herald article detailed his sentiments:

            The colored man who owns an orange ranch is treated by his white neighbor with vastly more consideration than one who owns none. The former, when he goes to a packing house to sell his oranges, finds the color of his skin no barrier. The latter goes to the same packing house to get a job and finds to his sorrow that none but white men are employed. Now, these two black men differ only in the fact that one had oranges to sell and was entertained, while the other, who had nothing to sell had a race problem on his hands.... The number of this class is happily on the increase, this pursuit carries with it an independence and dignity that the poor man finds nowhere else. To employ himself should be the ambition of every laboring man. In this lies the-hope for the colored race of Southern California. (LA Herald 3/2/1902)

            I haven’t been able to find anything more on George Washington Hawkins. I have had to rely on Los Angeles and San Francisco newspapers for information, though there were a few Long Beach newspapers from the early 1900s that have been preserved. In March 1903 the Long Beach Evening Tribune mentioned the Reverend P. Robertson of the Second Baptist Church of Los Angeles had established a mission in Long Beach at Tenth between Elm and Atlantic. Though not mentioned by name, I am certain it was thanks in part to George Washington Hawkins.
        According to census records Hawkins and his wife Carrie had no children whose descendants might know more about this remarkable man of many achievements. If any readers have additional information, please let me know.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Stories of Love Remembered

      What would Valentine’s Day be like without stories of love? Tales of romance abound in Long Beach. Let me share a few tales from the past with you.

Lost Love Found
    It was a story that brought many a tear to the eyes of many Los Angeles Herald readers the morning of August 28, 1898. It appeared that Leslie Newlin, one of the crew of the on the yacht Dawn, had found a long lost wife and she a long lost husband.
    Five years earlier Leslie was first officer of an English vessel engaged in trade in the tropics. He fell in love with the captain’s daughter, also traveling on the ship, and married her. Three weeks after marriage the vessel sank in the English channel, Leslie witnessed what he thought was the death of his wife —a huge wave washing her overboard—but unknown to him she was taken aboard one of the ship's life boats, he himself being in another of the life boats. The tempestuous sea drove the boats widely apart, after several hours Leslie’s boat was picked up by a passing vessel. The other boat which held his wife was also rescued after a long ordeal. Diligent inquiries on the part of both husband and wife failed to reveal any trace of either, both finally giving up all hope of ever seeing each other.
    While visiting Long Beach Mrs. Newlin, went for a sail on the Dawn. The couple met, looked at each other, and couldn’t believe their eyes. It couldn’t be; each thought the other dead. They chanced to meet again the next day on the wharf and he went to her and asked her who she was, and she told him. About a year ago she had married another man, thinking Leslie dead. But her first love won out. She would notify husband number two that their marriage was illegal. In the meantime she and Leslie Newlin set sail together on a lumber vessel for Puget Sound. 

An Elopement 

   It was almost like Romeo and Juliet, fifteen-year-old Jennie Thomson of Duarte thought as she eloped with twenty-four year-old Homer Norman. Her father thought her too young for romance and did not mince words when telling her so, but she was in love and wanted to spend her life with Homer. The elopement had been well planned. Homer had taken off with Jenny in one carriage and, accompanied by four young friends in another, headed to Long Beach. Long Beach, they thought, would be the perfect seaside town to take a ship out to sea and get married. Besides, the town’s telephone system shut down at 9 p.m. every evening and Jennie’s father couldn’t trace them there.
    The Thomsons discovered their daughter missing around 8:30 p.m., Sunday, August 2, 1897. They found a note explaining that she had lived at home as long as she cared to and that she had decided to spend the remainder of her life with Homer. The police were immediately notified and several search parties started toward the beach, but it was too late. Jenny, Homer and their escorts had already boarded Captain Pearson’s ship the J. Willey and were heading out to sea and the nine-mile limit where Pearson could legally marry the young lovers.
   Jenny’s father was livid, her mother prostrated with grief. Their daughter was not of legal age to marry without her parent’s consent and Alexander C. Thomson was definitely not going to give it. The determined father found his daughter in Long Beach and hurried to the seaside town demanding that Jenny come home with him. Homer Norman told his now father-in-law he no longer had a say so in the matter. Thomson disagreed.
    The tangled court case that resulted would come to define the legality of marriages at sea. If Pearson’s marriage of the couple was legal it meant that any man could take any underage child to sea, defy the wishes of her parents and have his way with her.
    On August 15, 1897, Judge M.T. Allen rendered his decision: marriages on the high seas were legal only when neither of the contracting parties was violating the laws of the State or country in which they lived when contracting such marriage. Since Jennie was underage she was still under her father’s custody. The marriage was not legal and a hysterical Jennie was returned to her family home.
    Jennie claimed she still loved Norman and vowed she would run away with him again, at the first opportunity. Alexander Thomson told the press he would rather have a dog for a son-in-law than Norman and that he would have the young man arrested on a charge of rape unless Norman stopped harassing his daughter. The threat must have done the trick. Though no further stories appear, a look at the 1900 U.S. Census finds Homer Norman living with his parents along with his British born wife, Beatrice, and their 3-month-old daughter. Jennie, eighteen-years-old in that same census, is still at home with her parents; finally of legal age to marry---but her Romeo had deserted her for another.

A Love Rekindled
    On November 20, 1907, two thousand people crowded the shore of Long Beach to bid goodbye to the cruisers Colorado, Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia who were leaving Long Beach after a ten day stay. The four ships of the first division of the Pacific fleet had cordially greeted visitors and performed shore drills. The major purpose of the visit, however, was to meet family and friends who had traveled from throughout the country to meet their sailor kin. Twenty five men had enlisted during the squadron’s stay, five from Long Beach. Two Long Beach lads, Robert Mead and Arthur Letts had signed up so they wouldn’t need to testify against Alice Shorers and her alleged house of prostitution. Thirty others had deserted, often with some ingenuity. Fred Smith of Los Angeles told how he met a sailor at the West Virginia ball who persuaded him to change clothing to see how he looked in sailor’s attire. Smith then said the sailor excused himself for a moment and never came back.

   There was one remarkable story involving the fleet visit. Cora Haskell had traveled to Long Beach to visit her brother on board the South Dakota. To her astonishment she ran into an old schoolmate and beau from Dubuque, Iowa. Seventeen years earlier Patrick Burns had enlisted in the Navy. The couple vowed to write regularly but the pair eventually lost track of each other and Burns thought Cora had died. Both were overjoyed; romance again developed quickly and Patrick proposed. On June 9, 1908, Patrick’s enlistment over, he lost no time in marrying his long lost love. The newlyweds decided to make Long Beach, where their lives had again intertwined, their home.

A Father Changes His Mind
    When Y. Igloppi of Long Beach married a lovely Japanese girl in Los Angeles in January 1919, he thought their lives together would be filled with happiness. But troubles not their own were brewing and in a few short days complications arose which ended up sending them to court.
    Before the marriage festivities were over the father of the bride told the couple that an ill friend, who could not attend the wedding, wished them to visit. When the newlyweds arrived at the home of the ailing man, the father asked the bride to follow him into an adjoining room. Leaving her new husband behind, the girl followed. The father closed and locked the door, fled through another passage, taking his daughter with him. Igloppi could not find his bride and was forced to return to Long Beach without her. He told his story to Attorney Newton M. Todd who served a warrant on the girl's family. According to reports the father, upon thinking about it, decided he could negotiate a better marriage to a more prosperous man for his daughter. But it was too late. Threatened with a law suit for having decoyed the bride away, the father returned the girl to her legal husband. It was a happy ending for the couple loved each other. Now all Igloppi had to do was prove himself a worthy husband to the father. 

Looking for a Wife
    In November 1913 Mayor Kiel of St. Louis received an interesting letter from L.B. Johnson of Long Beach:

    Dear Mayor – I am writing you a letter asking you to help me find a companion. Am 23 years old, 5 feet 11 ¾ inches in height, with light complexion and blue eyes; weigh between 185 and 192. I want a good girl, not over 20 years old. She must be good looking, a fair cook and willing to start life with a young man who will treat her right and offer her a good home. I do not want any red haired woman. She may be fair or dark, but not too dark. If you will find me this kind of a girl I will be ever thankful. Kindly answer right away. L.B. Johnson.

    Johnson, living at 65 Alamitos Avenue, got the idea from a friend, Leo Anderson, who wrote a letter to the chief of police of St. Louis asking him to help him find a wife. Anderson received many replies, one of them from Miss Ella Alvin. The letter was nice, and a picture was enclosed convincing him she was the girl he was looking for.
    Anderson joked to Johnson that he should think about getting married. Johnson thought about it for a few years, and then decided to do what his friend suggested. Anderson helped Johnson draft the letter but put in the piece about the red-hair as a joke. Johnson, a fireman by trade expected to get as lucky as his friend Leo, because as he told the Daily Telegram “their experience has shown that a correspondence courtship may result in a happy marriage.”
   Unfortunately, there were no follow up stories to tell of Johnson’s success or failure, he moved away from Long Beach the following year. Did he travel to St. Louis to meet the woman of his dreams? Sadly, we will never know.

An Advertising Success
Unlike Mr. Johnson, Orion Watson did succeed in finding a wife, his second, through advertising. In January 1911, Orion and Mrs. Jennie Keener saw each other for the first time at the Southern Pacific depot on Second Street, and married that same afternoon. The widowed Watson, about 50, had come all the way from Hatchie, Mississippi, to meet and wed 40-year-old Jennie. It had been a short courtship. In November 1910, Orin inserted an advertisement in a matrimonial newspaper (yes, there were such things back then). Jennie answered it. Orion wasted no time, proposing they get married on Christmas day.  here was one delay. Jennie, who lived in Illinois, had been sent a railroad ticket by her Long Beach relatives, the Dunstons. She had always wanted to see California, and told Orion he would have to wait. An anxious Orion replied that he too wanted to see California. He arrived in Long Beach on January 11th. The couple married and honeymooned in Long Beach for the winter.

No Kissing
  No one knows exactly how Valentine’s Day began, but what would it be without a kiss between lovers? Well, folks in Long Beach were faced with that possibility when in 1918 Long Beach became a kiss-less beach. To keep Long Beach a nice moral town city officials passed an ordinance prohibiting caressing, hugging, fondling, embracing, kissing or wrestling on the beach and at the Pike. The law also prohibited a person from resting his or her head on another person’s lap. If you broke the law you would be fined, imprisoned or both.
    A. T. Sackett became the first man arrested under section two of Ordinance B - 456. Sackett was given an option---a fine of $l5 or spending 15 days in jail. He told the judge the young woman in whose company he was when arrested was the girl to whom he was engaged to marry. Sackett pleaded guilty to violating the ordinance, but declined to pay the fine levied by the court and appealed on constitutional grounds. “Under the Long Beach law a man can be arrested for kissing his mother or his sister,” he said. “My arrest and fining was unjust.”
    Sackett won on his appeal. Superior Judge Willis declared the local imitation of Connecticut's blue laws unconstitutional and "an unwarranted interference with the inalienable right of liberty and pursuit of happiness." His decision was also based on the fact that none of the acts listed in the ordinance could be declared wrong in themselves, but depended upon two things: First, whether the act, otherwise harmless, was performed in a public place. Second, whether the participants of the act were of the opposite sex. In other words, a young man could kiss, hug and embrace his girlfriend in the privacy of her own home, but should they do it outside, they would both be guilty of a misdemeanor. Also, a male child could place its head upon the lap of his father and a female child on the lap of her mother on the beach, but if their respective positions were reversed they too would be guilty of breaking the law. The remaining portion of the ordinance, governing public morals, was unaffected by Judge Willis' decision. Thanks to Judge Willis, a public kiss was now legal in Long Beach.

    I hope you take advantage of Judge Willis’ decision and share a kiss with one you love this Valentine’s Day.