A Few Weekend Accomplishments
Put on Your Red Dress

AOC Broadcast

Continuing the Dialogue: Untold Stories of the Civil Rights Movement

Periodically the AOC will show these satellite broadcasts that have educational information regarding the California courts system. With a few exceptions (the broadcast on preventing sexual (Ha! I just made three x’s on that word!) harassment which must be seen by everyone, for instance) the broadcasts are voluntary, but I try to go see as many as possible because most of the time they’re interesting (and you get MCLE credit for them!).

I figured today’s broadcast about the civil rights movement, coming just a week after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, would be all about his speeches and marches and the like, but it was more than that. It started with Rosa Parks, went back even further to two other women Claudette Colvin and Aurelia Browder - whom I’d never even heard of, but both refused to give up their bus seats long before Rosa Parks. (A new thing I learned about Parks was that she’d attended the Highlander Folk School, which taught people protest skills, among other things. In the class she attended, many of her classmates said they were inspired to start literacy classes and organize protests. Parks was asked what she would do to further the civil rights movement, and she replied she didn’t know, but she would do something. So, the whole not-moving-from-her-seat-for-a-white-guy wasn’t as spontaneous as our history classes would have us believe. Not that it changes my admiration for Parks, but I thought it was interesting that what I’d always been taught was her sudden decision to stay put, was very likely an idea brewing in her mind for some time.) Little Claudette was only 15 at the time she was arrested for not giving up her seat to a white person, and the only reason she’s not as famous as Parks (imho) is that it was discovered she was pregnant.

Blacks weren’t the only ones fighting for equal rights, although it was this one group we learn, read and hear most about; Asian-Americans and Latinos were struggling for equality as well. In 1942 Fred Koermatsu believed sending Japanese Americans to what were essentially a prison camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbour was wrong, and refused to go. He had plastic surgery on his face, and changed his surname to a Latino name to hide from authorities. It worked for a while, but he was eventually captured and successfully Korematsu vs. US prosecuted. He appealed his conviction, but the court found the order to remove the Japanese-Americans from the general population to protect the western seaboard from “espionage and sabotage” was valid.

In 1980, President Carter created a committee to investigate the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. This committee decided that the internment of American citizens of Japanese decent occurred because of poor leadership, racism and war hysteria, rather than out of necessity, and in 1988, the government compensated surviving Japanese-Americans who were interned in camps to the tune of $20,000 apiece.

Also in the early 80s, it was discovered that documents stating Japanese-Americans should not be considered a threat to the nation – reports from the FBI and other governmental agencies - had been suppressed by the prosecutor during Korematsu vs. US. The case was returned to the Supreme Court of California, and in 1983, the Korematsu conviction was overturned.

Another case that came about in the mid-1940s was Mendez vs. Westminster. This case concerned a Latino farm worker who took over running a farm (which was owned by a Japanese American who was interned in prison camp), but could not send his daughter to the local all-white school; he was told to send her back to the “Mexican School” she had been previously attending. Mendez and four other Latino fathers sued various school districts for discrimination. They won, primarily because the school districts claimed that the segregation was necessary because of the “language issue”, but it was soon discovered that many Mexican-American children (including Mendez’s daughter) spoke English as well as most white children. The school districts appealed the ruling, but the Mexican families won appeal, and Mendez’s daughter, along with other Mexican-American children, were able to attend white schools. (It is interesting to note, however, that this case applied only to Latinos. It was apparently still alright to segregate Asian- and Native-Americans from white schools.) Although rarely heard about or discussed (at least in the educational circles I have travelled in), Mendez is considered by many to be a significant stepping stone towards Brown vs. Board of Education, which ended segregation in schools once and for all.

So, generally it was a very well-done and informative 50 minute programme and I’m so glad I decided to attend this broadcast! I learned a lot about not only my country’s history and the civil rights movement before Martin Luther King, Jr. said “I have a dream …”, but of the court system in California. And, I’m glad to live in a country that allows such history to be shared openly. Apparently (and this is according to a friend I was talking to), Pearl Harbour isn’t really taught in Japanese schools or even discussed much in Japan. (Whether this is from embarrassment of their actions or the shame of losing the war, I don’t know.) Also, I’ve been told Americans are “strongly discouraged” (emphasis mine) from visiting Nagasaki or Hiroshima where the atomic bombs were dropped (thus ending the war) because they don’t want to see Americans around there (Again: shame, fear, hatred? Don’t know.), but Pearl Harbour is usually swarming with Japanese tourists taking pictures, and swooping their hands through the air imitating planes saying, “… and we came from this direction …”