From Jim Crow to Civil Rights

Courtesy Madera County Historical Society

Dr. Albert Wilburn will be among the African Americans featured in a project on the history of the Madera Method that relates the experience of blacks in Madera.

Madera was founded and first populated by whites. The first African American to live in Madera was Dexter Hunt, a 31-year-old doorman who worked for Captain Russell Perry Mace at his hotel. He arrived here in 1880.

Over the next 20 years, Madera continued to grow, from 217 residents in 1880 to 2,500 in 1900. By comparison, Madera’s African American population grew from that single person in 1880 to 42 in 1900. For the next two decades of Im In the 20th century, the influx of black residents into Madera remained on a trickle until the Great Western Migration in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. At this point, the direction of black migration changed from north to west, and it was at this point that the foundation for the African American community of Madera was formed.

Research into the African American community in Madera reveals three different patterns in the life of the city’s black residents. The years from 1900 to 1940 can be referred to as the “Jim Crow” level. Although Madera managed to avoid the lynchings that swept the south, there was a Jim Crow mentality here.

In this part of the city’s southeast quadrant, dubbed the “city of color,” blacks tended to stay “in their place,” filling the need for manual labor, and entertaining the white majority by conforming to the city’s caricature, compliant, happy, diabolical “steppe fetchit” that was forced on them by the newspapers and from the opera house.

By 1940, however, change was in the air. Black soldiers returned from World War II and found that they were still second class citizens. That was just as true in Madera as it was anywhere.

The Madera City Pool was closed to black guests. Black students were prevented from using the Madera High School swimming pool. The Madera High School baseball team was denied service in a restaurant because one of its players was an African American.

The entire Black Drill team had to march behind the band in parades. Several restaurants in the city displayed signs indicating that black patronage was undesirable.

At the same time as the South was embroiled in the struggle to maintain its Jim Crow culture, Madera was preparing to face racial discrimination. A group from Berkeley, led by the ACLU, protested Madera’s attempt to disconnect the city pool. Screams of injustice rose as racial discrimination raised its ugly head at the county hospital. Then, in 1959, the Rev. Naaman N. Haynes moved to Madera to the Mt. Zion Baptist Church. He was involved in the community like no other before him. He threw himself into the fight for civil rights, an effort that even took him to the streets of Birmingham to stand alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. march. When he left Madera in the late 1970s, it was the second phase in the African’s education – the American community in Madera was clearly visible. Madera had moved from the Jim Crow era to the civil rights stage. Now the black community was ready to enter its third stage to sing with a multitude of black leaders, “We have overcome”.

This brief overview of Madera’s African American community in its early stages has become the heartbeat of a Madera Method project to tell the story of Madera’s black population. Two eighth grade grades, one at Eastin Arcola School and one at La Vina School, have researched their history and are publishing their results in two parts.

The first was titled “Madera’s Journey by Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Journalistic Record”. The second is called “Madera’s Journey by Jim Crow to Civil Rights: Personal Stories of Courage”.

Under the guidance of their teachers Scott Gandy (Eastin-Arcola) and Samuel Colunga (La Vina), the students analyzed articles from the archives of the Madera Mercury and Madera Tribune, as well as personal narratives from some of those involved in Madera’s development of Jim Crow on civil rights.

In The Journalistic Record, readers will find newspaper articles from 1903 to 1966. Each article was selected because it reflected an aspect of the Jim Crow mentality that once existed in Madera. The articles are arranged chronologically and each is preceded by an introduction.

As one follows this journalistic path left by local newspaper reporters from years past, Madera’s journey from Jim Crow to civil rights unfolds. The record shows that Madera made no attempt to hide his Jim Crow mentality from 1900 through the late 1930s. The articles reflect a condescension and sometimes downright hostility towards African Americans.

However, in the 1940s the tone of the articles begins to change. By this time blacks had started to fight back against racial discrimination, and this shift is dominating the news regarding African Americans.

In the late 1950s, the pursuit of civil rights intensified until it became clear in the late 1960s that Madera’s black community had “overcome”.

Teachers and students state that this book is just the beginning of an attempt to fill some of the blank pages in Madera African American history. The sequel, “Personal Stories of Courage” will no doubt enhance the project by allowing the leaders of the black community to speak for themselves.

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