Before becoming Pasadena’s first Black mayor, Loretta Thompson-Glickman was a teacher at Pasadena High School and a jazz singer in small local clubs. She toured with the New Christy Minstrels before leaving to start a family in 1975. Two years later, she campaigned for office as city director from District 3. In 1977, Thompson-Glickman became the first Black woman elected as a Pasadena city director, then a few days later became the first city director to become a mother while in office. She served as vice mayor for a while before being elected Mayor by her fellow city directors. In 1982, she became the nation’s first Black woman mayor with a population exceeding 100,000. Thompson-Glickman is credited with making local government more accessible to residents of Northwest Pasadena, resulting in residents becoming more involved in civic affairs.
Octavia Estelle Butler, known as the “grand dame of science fiction,” was born in Pasadena on June 22, 1947. She received an Associate of Arts degree in 1968 from Pasadena Community College, and also attended Cal State LA and UCLA. During 1969 and 1970, she studied at the Screenwriter’s Guild Open Door Program and the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop, where she took a class with science fiction master Harlan Ellison (who later became her mentor), and which led to Butler selling her first science fiction stories.
Butler read science fiction growing up, but she quickly became disenchanted by the genre’s unimaginative portrayal of ethnicity and class as well as by its lack of noteworthy female protagonists. She began a prolific career doing what she referred to as “writing myself in.” Butler’s stories, therefore, are usually written from the perspective of a marginalized Black woman whose difference from the dominant agents increases her potential for reconfiguring the future of her society.
Ruby McKnight Williams
During the 1930s, Ruby McKnight Williams moved to California from Kansas with the intention of working as a teacher. When she came to Pasadena, however, she discovered that the city did not hire Black teachers. “I didn’t see any difference in Pasadena and Mississippi except they were spelled differently,” said Williams. She would become the longtime president of the NAACP chapter in Pasadena and the first Black board member of the American Red Cross’ Pasadena branch. Devoted to the care of and investment in youth, Williams also served for six years as adviser to the NAACP National Youth Work Committee.
During her NAACP tenure, Williams took up the cause of school and housing desegregation. Twice, she visited the U.S. Supreme Court to witness integration decisions. She also fought and won local redevelopment battles. Meanwhile, in 1946, she married Melvin Williams, and together they worked to beautify their neighborhood and street. In 1966, Westgate Street won a Pasadena Beautiful Award. to residents of Northwest Pasadena, resulting in residents becoming more involved in civic affairs.
Dr. Edna L. Griffin
Dr. Edna L. Griffin was Pasadena’s first Black woman physician. Her father, who died during the 1918 influenza pandemic, was a Methodist Minister who valued education and instilled this in his daughter. Dr. Griffin started her higher level education at Philander Smith College and continued her education at the Meharry Medical School. Dr. Griffin considered pursuing her medical education at USC, but officials told her that the university did not accept Black students into its medical school program. She interned at John Andrew Hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama and practiced briefly in Evansville Indiana before relocating to Pasadena in the late 1930s.
During the 210 freeway’s construction, the white residents of Southeast Pasadena rallied to keep the freeway out of their neighborhood.
Pasadena Star-News editor Lee M. Merriman chaired a “Citizens’ Committee on Freeways” that collaborated with state highway officials on the 210-freeway route. City leaders believed the freeway would solve “transportation problems,” but they insisted the freeway stay away from CalTech, the Pasadena Playhouse, the Tournament of Roses, or “other educational and cultural” sites that made the city “world famous
“Desegregation” of Pasadena Schools: In 1970, US district court judge Manuel Real ordered the Pasadena Board of Education to desegregate, making Pasadena the first city outside the South to desegregate its public schools because of a federal court order. Pasadena instituted a busing program to integrate its schools and was released from the court order in 1980. However, the busing program indirectly caused the perpetuation of segregation through other means.
Desegregation of the Public Pool
Upon opening a municipal pool (called “Brookside Plunge”) in 1914, Pasadena created a “Negro Day” policy to restrict African Americans (and other people of color) to using the pool on Tuesdays. Then in the evening, the city drained the pool and refilled it for white swimmers to use on Wednesday. African American residents formed the Negro Voters and Taxpayers Association to fight the restriction for several decades. By the 1930s, Ruby McKnight Williams, Dr. Edna Griffin, and other activists joined the protest through the courts and other means. Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston monitored these legal battles with the city of Pasadena. Six African American men tried going to the pool on a different day in 1939 and were barred from entering. The NAACP of Los Angeles then sued and won the case three years later. In response, Pasadena closed the pool until the NAACP got an injunction, forcing its reopening on July 7, 1947, without racial restrictions.
Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church The African Americans who came to the Los Angeles area did not find a ready welcome in the Episcopal churches, and on June 16, 1909, a meeting was held at the home of Mrs. Georgia Weatherton on South Fair Oaks Avenue “to organize an Episcopal mission,” soon known as St. Barnabas Guild, according to handwritten minutes in the diocesan archives.
St. Barnabas Church itself was founded in 1923 by eight women. Among them were Ellensteen Bevans, Rosebud Mims, and Georgia Weatherton, in whose home on Del Mar Street the first services were held. The congregation was served at that time by a Lay Reader from All Saints Church in Pasadena. and the organist from St. Philips Church in Los Angeles. In the early 1930s, the Dobbins family donated the present property located at 1062 North Fair Oaks Avenue, and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Fleming made a gift of the current sanctuary, which was dedicated by Bishop Stevens in June 1933.
FAME Pasadena Church: First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest black congregation of denomination in Pasadena, was founded in the fall of 1887, in the home of Silas and Cynthia Carnahan. Under the direction of Rev. I. W. H. Nelson, the formal organization was completed in the spring of 1888. The first pastor appointed to serve the church was Rev. J. R. McClain.
Meetings were held in the Carnahan home until a site for a building was located on North Fair Oaks between Villa and Orange Grove. The church remained there until Rev. William Prince, one of the founders, served as assistant Pastor for over 40 years. In 1910, during the pastorate of Rev. G. W. Tillman, a lot was purchased and a new edifice was built on the corner of Vernon Avenue and Kensington Place.
During the 1960s, the State of California purchased the church facilities for freeway construction. In 1967, under the administration of Rev. Edward P. Williams, Sr., property was purchased on North Raymond Avenue and Penn Street. In 1969, the present church building was completed and dedicated. The new church is a tribute to Rev. Edward P. Williams, Sr.
Friendship Pasadena Church: Friendship Church was founded in September 1893 and has been recognized as one of the oldest congregations in the city of Pasadena. Officially named Friendship Baptist Church, it was the first African American Baptist Church in the city.
The Church grew and prospered under the leadership of several ministers until the 1920s, when Reverend W.H. Tillman led the members to acquire a new site and erect the present edifice. In January 1925, Reverend W.D. Carter was called to lead the congregation spiritually and complete an ambitious building project, which stands today as a monument to the heritage of Pasadena’s African-American citizens. It is the first African-American related Cultural Landmark designated in Pasadena; recognized as a State of California landmark, and in 1978 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States of America.
The Pasadena/SGVJournal is grateful to A Noise Within for their gracious courtesy in allowing permission to reprint “Black History in Pasadena.” Read the full text, events, people, sources, and more Pasadena Black History such as, Black Churches, Desegregation of Pasadena Schools, Desegregation of the Public Pool, and Community Displacements, access: anoisewithin.org/black-history-in-pasadena/, in your browser.