Arriving in San Diego in the mid-1890s, Mary Munroe surveyed the scene. Some people lived north of the train station in a village called Old Town, while others lived near the harbor at New San Diego, where business was conducted.
People of color were beginning to move into Sherman Heights and Golden Hill. There were colored Civil War veterans who lived in Golden Hill — Robert Tillman and Alexander Luckett and his family. There was another colored man who owned the Palm Nursery. Many colored people lived downtown — particularly the longshoremen, washerwomen, day laborers, teamsters, barbers, and grocers. A colored watchmaker from Georgia named Meadows was planning a store on Fifth Avenue.
Then there was the East End. It was the area adjacent to where her brother had gone to live and where Solomon Johnson had moved with his family. The East End was considered one of the better areas to live, not only because it was close to the business center of New San Diego, but because people took care to construct homes that would last.
Mary Munroe decided to go into service and worked for Colonel Kastle, who lived in the East End at 35 18th Street. After she worked for him for a year, she saved enough money to rent a cottage farther out. It was on Main, between 30th and 31st.
In the summer of 1897, Mary Munroe, 75 years old, retired to her cottage on Main Street. She could not hear well now and relied on her vision. But she became more and more desperate after she left employment. Her brother, George, was nearby, and she asked him for money, for she was unable to feed herself. He explained to her that he could not help.
On November 14, as she was walking along National Avenue, she started to step out over the electric-car tracks when she was struck with a great force from behind. She lived on for a few moments, but then the darkness descended, and her troubles were over.
The following is a partial transcript of Coroner’s Inquest No. 524. (In official records and newspaper articles, Mary Munroe’s name is sometimes spelled “Monroe.”) The inquest was conducted on November 16, 1897. Ten jurors were present. The coroner, Theo. F. Johnson, asked the jurors to view the body, after which questioning of the witnesses began.
THE CORONER: Now if you will just come this way and view the body.
You see the left leg is severed at the knee. This hip (left) has been struck; evidently the car struck her hip. There is no other injury that I find, above that.
J. D. ROGERS, being first duly sworn by the coroner, testifies.
BY THE CORONER:
Q. What is your name?
A. Rogers, — J. D.
Q. What is your occupation?
A. I am a motorman.
Q. By whom are you employed?
A. The San Diego Electric Railway.
Q. Were you so employed last Sunday?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Employed by them — you were in their employ?
A. Yes sir.
Q. How long have you been in their employ?
A. About seven months.
Q. Have you occupied the position of motorman all that time?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Have you ever acted as a motorman before that time?
A. Yes sir.
Q. How long have you had experience as a motorman?
A. It is between thirteen and fourteen months that I have run a car altogether.
Q. Where were you employed before working for them?
A. For the Citizens Traction Company.
Q. In this city?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Have you had any experience in running an electric car, except as motorman?
A. No sir, only as motorman.
Q. Have you ever had an accident previous to this one that you had Sunday?
A. No sir, I never did.
Q. What is your line now, from where do you run and to where?
A. I am an extra, you see, I run on any line that there is a place open for me. I was on Fifth and H that day. I have been running on Fifth and H now every day this month; that is on the night run, make my noon relief and then go on at 5:30 at Fifth and D streets.
Q. You go on at Fifth and D streets?
A. Yes sir.
Q. From where does that car run and to where?
A. It runs from upper Fifth to 31st street.
Q. What is the distance between those two points?
A. Well, I think it is about five miles.
Q. What is your time for making the run?
A. Forty minutes, an hour and twenty minutes the round trip.
Q. At what time did you go on on Sunday?
A. At 5:30.
Q. This was your first run for the day?
A. Yes sir.
Q. You had an accident that run?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Where did that accident occur?
A. Well, it was about 85 or 90 feet, between 85 and 90 feet on the other side of 30th street.
Q. On what street?
A. On National Avenue.
Q. Will you tell the jury about the accident?
A. Well, just before I got to 30th street I sounded my gong. I shut my current off, I was expecting to stop for a passenger; we had some seven or eight passengers, and it is something we hardly ever do is to pass 30th street without making a stop. Just as soon as I saw I didn’t get no bell I turned my current on, just as soon as I passed 30th street. This lady was just in the act of stepping over the rail when I seen her. She was kind of going the way I was, coming up to the track, and just stepped right in and made three steps when I struck her. Just as soon as I seen her I hollered at her, grabbed my handle, reversed my car, and just as I reversed I struck her.
Q. Where was she when you first saw her?
A. Just in the act of stepping over the rail.
Q. On which side of the car track was she?
A. The left hand going east.
Q. Your car was going east at this time?
A. Yes sir.
Q. And she was on the left hand side?
A. On the left hand side.
Q. How far from the track was she when you first saw her?
A. I forget whether it was her right foot or left, I think it was her right foot was just going over the rail when I seen her. Coming up behind my head light, you see, I could not see the woman, but just as soon as she stepped in the light I seen her. It was very dark, cloudy, if you remember.
Q. Was her back towards you?
A. Yes sir.
Q. At what time was this?
A. It was close to 5:55 when I struck the lady, it was not half a minute from 5:55 when I hit her.
Q. You looked at your watch?
A. I looked at my watch just as soon as my car stopped.
Q. What date was this, of the month?
A. The 14th.
Q. November 14th?
A. Yes sir, November the 14th.
Q. Of 1897?
A. Yes sir.
Q. On National Avenue, City of San Diego, County of San Diego, State of California?
A. Yes sir.
Q. When you first saw her, was she facing you?
A. No sir.
Q. Her back was towards you?
A. Her back was towards me and she never looked up from the time I hollered. I hollered at her twice. I hollered just before the car struck her, and just as she went to step in the track. She never looked up at all, just looked right at the ground, and she never made a noise of any kind when the car struck her at all.
Q. How far from the front of the car was she when you first saw her?
A. Well, she was between fifteen and twenty feet, not over twenty feet from me when I first seen her.
Q. You sounded the gong before you reached 30th street?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Did you sound the gong after that?
A. No sir.
Q. You did not sound the gong when you first saw her?
A. I had no time for it.
Q. What means did you take to stop the car?
A. I grabbed my controller handle with one hand and my reverse with the other. I brought my controller handle back to about the sixth notch, and throwed my reverse the other way, reversed the car.
Q. That is all the means you have at hand for controlling the speed of the car, is it?
A. To make a sudden stop, a quick stop, yes sir. Of course we have our brake, but we never depend upon our brake to make a quick stop. I was taught that when I went to the San Diego Electric Railway.
Q. If you could have used the brake, would that have assisted you any?
A. No sir, it would have been a disadvantage.
Q. How far did your car go after you saw the woman before it stopped?
A. Well, I do not think it went over — after I seen her I could not say, from the time I struck the woman I think the car went about twelve or thirteen feet. I made an [awful] sudden stop. My car was going at the time about five miles an hour when I seen the woman, when I first seen her.
Q. Was it going at full speed?
A. Oh no, no sir.
Q. Not as fast as you usually run?
A. Oh no sir.
Q. You had brought it to a partial stop, you say, before you reached 30th street?
A. Yes sir.
Q. And had just fairly started again?
A. I throwed my current off before I got to 30th, expecting a stop. When I seen that I did not get no bell, I put my current on again, you see. I always aim to catch my car at the same speed she is going, when I throw my current on; it is a saving of current and everything, it is a saving of everything, and just as I got my current back on to the car, this lady stepped out in front of my — and I just grabbed my handles and hollered at her. I hollered at her just as she went over the rail, I hollered and grabbed my handles, one in each hand.
Q. Could you from your position see just how you struck her?
A. I think I struck her on the hip, I could not be certain, with the controller stand, I think it struck her on the hip. It struck her pretty close and I think on the right side — I would not be positive but I think it was on the right side. I could not say which side it was on, but I know the controller stand struck her on the hip or pretty close to it.
Q. From the position that you occupy usually as a motorman, can you see a body close up in front of the car, in front?
A. I can see within three feet of the end of the car. I can see close enough to reach a switch point and throw the switch, just as good of a night as I can of a day. The car I run has the patent headlight on it, it sets down right on the dash.
Q. Was there any electric light near this crossing?
A. Well, there is a light at 31st street and one at 28th.
Q. Did that give much or any light at this point where you struck the woman?
A. No sir.
Q. Your headlight, how far ahead does that throw the light?
A. Well, I can see a passenger about half a block, a little over half a block ahead that I can see a passenger good.
Q. Then how far out at the side does this light it?
A. Well, after the light gets a little piece ahead of the car, it shows the full width of the street, but the headlight starts out in this way from the headlight (indicating an angle).
Q. The rays converge?
A. Yes, until it gets the full width of the street.
Q. Well, at her position when you first saw her, should she not have seen the light, even though her back was towards you?
A. It seems to me there is nothing in the world to hinder her from seeing it. When she stepped over the rail, it looks to me like there was nothing to hinder her seeing the light there.
Q. At her position, she was in the light so you could see her distinctly?
A. Yes sir.
Q. And the light was projected considerably in front of her?
A. Yes sir.
Q. She did not appear to hear you at all?
A. No sir, never noticed nothing at all, just went with her head down all the time, just looking at the ground, never looked up.
Q. Did she have anything in her hands that you noticed?
A. I could not see that she did.
Q. What was done when the car stopped?
A. Well, the first thing, just as soon as I got my car stopped, I just turned around and told them “My God I have killed a woman.”
Q. What was done then?
A. Well, the conductor jumped out and ran around behind the car to look for her.
Q. And what did you do?
A. I stayed right in my car, right at the end until they all got out, and then I asked them to come around and look at my handles, to see that I had my car reversed, and everything.
Q. Did you go to see the position of the body at all?
A. Yes sir, I went and seen, and asked them to let me back up off of her, the hind truck was still on her.
Q. When you went around to see the body, you found the hind truck on the body?
A. This leg was right under the wheel and this one was right in front of it. [Indicating on the body.]
Q. That is, the right leg was under the wheel?
A. Yes sir.
Q. And the left leg —
A. She was lying on her back with the right leg under the wheel and her left one right in front of it.
Q. The front truck had passed over the leg?
A. Yes sir.
Q. What was the position of the body?
A. Well, she was lying right on her back. She seemed to be lying straight.
Q. Was the body outside or between the rails?
A. It was outside. Nothing but her feet I think — I did not look very close but I think one foot, I believe was cut a little bit shorter than the other, cut off a little further down, and the other a little further up. It seems as though she fell kind of angling, just a little bit angling to the track.
Q. Was there any evidence of life when you saw her?
A. Yes sir.
Q. What evidence?
A. She was just breathing a little when I looked at her, and I turned right around and went back.
Q. She did not seem to be conscious at all?
A. No sir.
Q. She did not speak?
A. No sir.
Q. Did she make any movement of her arms, or —
A. No, not when I was looking at her.
Q. What was done next, you backed off from the body?
A. Yes, I went back to the front of my car and stayed there. When I went to back the car I asked them to come around and see that I did not move my handles.
Q. Do you remember who it was that witnessed that?
A. No sir, they were all strangers to me, I did not know a person’s name that was on the car with the exception of the conductor, nary one.
Q. Do you know what was next done with the body?
A. No sir, I do not.
Q. Did you see the body moved a little ways so as to get it off from the track?
A. No sir, I was at my car at the handles then.
Q. This was not at a crossing where this occurred?
A. No sir, it was on the other side of 30th. It was between 75 and 80 feet, or 80 and 90 feet, from the crossing, about as near as I looked at it. I looked at it as I was going over it afterwards, at the rails, and I think it was between 80 and 90 feet; it will not miss it but mighty little.
THE CORONER: Are there any questions now by the members of the jury? (No questions.) Anybody in the room, any questions that they would like to have asked? (No questions.) If not, we will excuse you. Please remain around somewhere near, we may want to ask you some further questions.
JOHN KASTLE, sworn by the Coroner, testifies as follows.
BY THE CORONER:
Q. State your name?
A. John Kastle.
Q. And residence?
A. No. 35 Eighteenth street.
Q. You have seen the body of the deceased over whom we are holding this inquest?
A. Yes, casually here in the house.
Q. Do you recognize it as any one you knew in life?
Q. What was her name?
A. Her name was Mary A. Munroe, I think, I backed several letters or wrote her name for her several times.
Q. She had been in your employ?
A. Yes sir.
Q. In what capacity?
A. Chiefly as our cook, she was a servant, she did our cooking.
Q. How long had she been in your employ?
A. Well, she was in our employ the last time nearly a year, and was once there before.
Q. And had been so previously?
Q. How long since you first employed her?
A. Oh, it was about a year and a half, I guess, Doctor.
Q. Was she a strong vigorous woman?
A. No, she was very active — smart old woman.
Q. She was an old lady?
A. Yes, she was not strong, but very active, and a very smart old lady.
A JUROR: Of nervous temperament, I suppose?
WITNESS: Very quick and smart.
Q. Was she in possession of all her faculties?
A. Yes, excepting she was deaf.
Q. How great was this deafness?
A. Well, at times she was very deaf, I thought.
Q. Could she hear ordinary conversation?
A. No, not very well unless she was standing right close to you and just happened to catch it, she could not.
Q. You had to speak very loud to make her hear?
A. I had to speak very loud to do it, yes.
Q. And if her back was towards you, was it more difficult to make her hear?
A. Yes sir.
Q. There might be some considerable noise occur and she not know anything about it?
A. Oh yes.
Q. Was her eye sight all right?
A. Pretty good.
Q. How long since she left your employ?
A. Oh, she has been gone two or three months, I think.
Q. You knew where she was residing?
A. Oh yes — we saw her.
Q. When did you last see her alive?
A. My wife called on her on Sunday afternoon about four o’clock, that same Sunday that she was killed.
Q. That was at her home?
A. At her home, yes, I drove her out there in a buggy.
Q. Where was her home?
A. Out on Main street nearly opposite Frank James.
Q. You do not know the number?
A. No, I do not.
Q. Did she say anything about her condition, financial condition then?
A. She did, she said she was poor. She complained of having no means, to different persons.
Q. When she was at your place, you did not know of her having any means?
A. Why, we paid her a good deal of money and we thought she ought to have some. We paid her, I guess, in the neighborhood of $100 the last time she was with us.
Q. How much did you pay her at the time she left?
A. Oh, we paid her every week.
Q. So that when she left, it was just a week’s wages?
A. Oh yes, that was all. We always paid her every week promptly. Would rather do it, you know.
Q. How long did your wife remain there?
A. Oh, my wife was there half an hour or three quarters.
Q. The deceased did not complain of feeling sick at that time?
A. Yes, she said she was not feeling very well, so Mrs. Kastle told me.
Q. Did she complain of not having enough to eat?
A. Oh no, she did not say anything of that kind, no.
Q. Did you know of her having any relatives in the city?
A. I did not, we never heard of any.
Q. Did you ever hear her say anything about any relatives here or elsewhere?
A. She had some relatives north, in the north part of the state and she was in correspondence with some parties in the northern part of the state, so she said.
Q. You did not know about her having any children?
A. No. I am under the impression that she claimed to have a son. I had not heard of his being dead, until here in the papers, the paper said so.
Q. She was not lame?
A. No sir, very active, the smartest old lady I ever saw.
Q. She was not sick at any time while at your place?
A. Smart as anybody in every way, smart intellectually, a fine old lady, a very nice old woman.
Q. She was not sick at any time while at your place?
A. Yes — yes, she was under the weather once or twice, and we took care of her, you know, until she got all right again. Yes, she was delicate — not very stout.
Q. Did she say anything about what nationality she was, did she ever speak about it?
A. No, I do not think so. You see, it was very difficult, Doctor, for me to talk to her. My wife would talk to her — you know, women will talk together — but I did not ask her any questions about things of that sort, it was rather difficult for me to get her to understand, that is the idea.
Q. Has your wife said anything about that — she told her anything about that?
A. No, she has no distinct memory of anything of that kind. She was exclusive you know, in a way, she was not particularly communicative yet she was very pleasant and a very intelligent woman.
A JUROR: You considered her a white woman?
WITNESS: Oh yes. We came from slave states, and we never saw the least indication otherwise, my wife and myself both. I came from Kentucky and my wife was from Missouri, and we have had colored people around us all our life, and she never showed any indications of being colored, not the least in the world, and when I heard the claim made I was surprised beyond measure — beyond measure.
Q. There was nothing in her appearance or anything that led you to suspect that she was colored, or had any colored blood in her veins?
A. Not the least in the world. My wife says she has been in the room when she was undressing, and she has seen her feet and parts of her body, and she was just as delicate and as regularly formed and as white in any way as any woman she ever saw. That is all I know about it. She was very nice and neat about her person, extremely so.
MR FLINT: If I may be allowed — I have a note given to me, and it reads as follows: “Ask him, if the Chinaman or baker came, how they made her hear?”
WITNESS: Well, sir, people could come to the door there where she was at work right at the kitchen table, right this way (indicating) and the door was over there (indicating) and she would be turned the other way, and they could knock the door down and she would not hear them. They could rattle, rattle just as much as they pleased, she would not hear them if she was looking the other way, cooking or doing anything about the sink in any way, within ten feet, yes within eight feet of the door, she would not hear anybody if they were knocking. The baker soon found out that she could not hear and he would come right in. She got in the habit of laying the ticket down on the table and he would come in and lay the bread down and go off, and the Chinaman the same way. The Chinaman soon found out that he could not make her hear without coming inside, if she was looking the other way. The door was a glass door, and if she could see him, all right, but if she was looking the other way doing anything about her place, she would not know it at all.
THE CORONER: Are there any other questions you want to ask? If not, we will excuse you, Colonel.
MR YOUNKIN: Doctor, if the gentleman who claims to be the brother is present the jury would probably like to hear from him.
THE CORONER: Oh yes, I shall do that. Before that, here is a note and envelope in the same handwriting, which was handed to me by Mr Flint. He says it was handed to him by Mrs Dodson.
MR FLINT: Mr Perrin told me he had received a letter from Mrs Dodson, and that she said she had received one from this lady, and he asked if he had better get it, and I told him yes. While I was in here he was called out. That is all I know about it. You will observe the date of that letter, it was mailed later than the date of the letter itself, and it was said some young lady had found it and mailed it, whether before or after the accident I could not say.
THE CORONER: The letter is dated “San Diego, No.” — probably standing for November, and reads as follows: “Dear Mrs Dodson. I dropped a line to the Helping Hand a few days ago of my sad condition, not able to work and not enough to eat. Oh do not let me starve to death. Yours, M.A. Munroe, Main street N. 611. I took cold and it fell on my nerves, I walk but slow.” The address on the envelope is Mrs Dodson, San Diego, California. And below that, Mr Dodson, Real Estate office, and the letter bears the post mark, evidently San Diego although it is partly blotted out, November 15th — something — P.M. ’97.
A JUROR: It is after the accident.
THE CORONER: Yes, but the letter is written the 13th. The handwriting corresponds with this note that she left in the drug store.
G. R. MILLEN, sworn by the Coroner, testifies as follows.
BY THE CORONER:
Q. What is your name?
A. G. R. Millen.
Q. Your occupation?
A. Blacksmith, sir.
Q. Your place of business?
A. No. 1840 K, sir, between 9th and 10th.
Q. And your residence?
A. The same, sir.
Q. How long have you resided in San Diego?
A. I have been here about ten years, sir — a little over.
Q. Have you been in business here all that time?
A. I have been in business about — yes sir, I went in business, I brought my materials and tools to go into business when I came here, and I have been in business pretty much ever since, here — only a few months before I came —
Q. At your present location?
A. No, I first built on Second and I, in front of the Russ Lumber Company, and there I had some misunderstanding or other, the real estate men were disposed to take advantage of me, and I moved my building where it is now.
Q. And have been in business there ever since?
A. Yes, ever since.
Q. Have you a family?
A. No sir, I have never had a family, sir.
Q. Where were you born?
A. I was born in the state of Georgia.
Q. How old are you?
A. I am now 72, sir, in my 73rd year.
Q. Did you come from Georgia directly here?
A. No sir, I have been out of Georgia for the last forty years — fifty years. I left Georgia and went to Mexico in forty-six or seven. I then went back to Georgia and I then came to California in ’52, and this is my third visit to California, sir.
Q. You came here in ’52?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Where did you locate?
A. I located in Calaveras County.
Q. You did not remain there?
A. I remained there for a short while, made some money, went back and came again.
Q. Went back where?
A. Back east, sir.
Q. What place in the east?
A. I went all over. I have never had a permanent home in all my life, except California is the most permanent I have ever had. I have been a mover, always a resident wherever I stopped, but I have never stayed no place because I have never been satisfied in the United States.
Q. You have seen the body over which we are holding this inquest?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Do you recognize it as any one you ever knew in life?
A. Why, of course I do.
Q. As whom?
A. It is my sister.
Q. When did you last see her alive?
A. She was to my place of business about two weeks ago, as near as I can guess. She called in one evening and spoke to me and told me her condition was very poor, and that she thought of getting another place where she could raise chickens, and I told her I was sorry I was not able to help her, there was a time I had been, but at the present time I was not able to help her. I have been financially and physically oppressed, and mentally.
Q. Where was she born?
A. Born in the state of Georgia, sir.
Q. How old was she?
A. She ought to be about seventy-five.
Q. She was older than you?
A. Yes sir. They have got her age down much less, but she was older than me. I do not deny anything, and there is a great many people don’t like their age to be known, but if I was a hundred and fifty I should make it known very readily, and if I was acceptable, it would be acceptable on those terms.
Q. She was older than you, you say?
A. Yes, she nursed me.
Q. You remember her as early as you can remember anything?
A. Well, I can remember my father before I did her.
Q. You remember your mother?
A. My mother also. My father died when I was a small boy. My mother died about ’67 or ’68, I think, I do not remember now, I cannot say accurately.
Q. You say she was your sister?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Did you have the same father and the same mother, both?
A. Of course sir — my mother was a lady — I hope you will excuse me.
Q. I did not mean that, I did not know but she might have had another husband.
A. No sir, my father and mother were man and wife, sir, and they had six children, and I am the youngest boy and the only one living today.
Q. There were six children, you say?
A. Yes sir.
Q. How do you account for her being so fair?
A. Well, I will tell you. I see it every day. You will have me explain it to you, sir?
Q. If you please.
A. We see every day Mexicans come here with a family of children, one light, and two or three colored, dark — now if you will explain that to me, I will acknowledge it.
A JUROR: Do you claim to be a Mexican?
WITNESS: No sir, I claim to be an American, sir — I do not claim it, it is simply a fact.
THE JUROR: Born in Georgia makes you an American.
Q. Was your father a full blooded negro?
A. Negro? Well, if he was I do not know it. Do you know anything about it? I have asked the question a hundred times. That is all that hurts my popularity here, that I cannot get down and say I am a negro. My father was a man, my mother a lady, and I do not know nothing more. I have never saw anybody that was blacker than me — if I was blacker than the hinges of hell I would get up and tell you — and if we stood on a level we would be just on a level.
Q. Was your father as dark as you are?
A. I think he was about my complexion.
Q. Was your mother darker or lighter?
A. My mother was a shade lighter than me, I think.
Q. How were the other children?
A. Three dark and three light.
Q. Were any of them as light as this sister who was dead?
A. Yes, there was none of them darker than me though.
Q. You knew her when she was a little girl, you say she cared for you?
A. No, she knew me when I was a little boy, and when I knew her she was a good big girl, because she could not have nursed me if she hadn’t been. There was one between me and her, understand.
Q. You remained there at home until you left Georgia?
A. No sir, my father died when I was a small boy, and I was raised by a French family.
Q. Did you keep track of your family, of this sister?
A. Keep track of them, why I lived in the same town, sir, until later years, she moved out to Columbus, Georgia, from Augusta, Georgia. My father lived in what was called Westbury, he was a tailor by profession, and there he lived, and he was taken sick and he moved to Augusta, Georgia, and there he died.
Q. Was this sister ever married?
A. She was married of course, sir, yes sir.
Q. Did she have any children?
A. One child, sir — had two, but one lived and the other died.
Q. She has one living now?
A. No sir, it is dead.
Q. When did he die?
A. He died, I guess, about twelve or fifteen years ago.
Q. Has she a husband living?
A. No sir, he’s dead. Myself and her husband came to this country in 1852. Myself and three or four young men came to this country in 1852.
Q. Did she come at that time?
A. No, we came, and I went back. I found that her husband was getting reckless and I went back and apprised her of the change and had her sell her property and I took her on to New York and let her come to California, and I remained in Washington City and kept her son at school, and then I came and brought him here.
Q. You have seen her every few years of her life?
A. Yes sir, certainly. I visited a place in Mariposa County where she had a farm some years ago — have been some time there. I have lived in Calaveras. I lived in Trinity ten years, done business in Weaverville ten years. There was a gentleman lived here that knew me, possibly. I lived there, done business there ten years.
Q. How long has your sister been in San Diego?
A. Soon after the death of her husband she written me and I written her too, that she better come here and live with me. Later she came, and I got rooms at Mrs. Bell’s for her and she remained there until she broke up and moved — went out to Oceanside or somewhere to her family. She never knew what it was to wash a pocket handkerchief until she came to this country. She had a husband, he took care of her, but he, like most young men, got reckless when he got here.
Q. And she has lived in different families since?
A. No sir, I do not know any families she has lived in, only I have heard this gentleman — she never lived in no family in all my life to know, except this. She had no occasion, until she came here.
Q. What year did she come to California?
A. She came in fifty — it must have been the first of fifty-four.
Q. Then did she go back?
A. No, she has never been back. I remained there and she came. I went on to New York and had her come out, and I remained in Washington with her son.
A JUROR: Her husband’s name was Munroe?
WITNESS: Yes. He left, and she followed him, and when she got to him and everything became reconciled, she took hold and managed everything, and made her peace.
Q. They lived together again?
A. Oh yes, they lived together.
Q. What county was that in?
A. That was in Mariposa.
Q. Did she live there until she came here?
A. No sir, she later came to Merced and stopped.
Q. And lived there until she came to San Diego?
A. She has been here over two years, I think it is over two years. I have got letters probably that will tell, over two years ago, that I have written to her, and I have got a dispatch that she dispatched to me from Frisco when she was coming and I got rooms at Mrs Bell’s and she remained there until she broke up and went with some family. She never knew what it was to work for families or anybody else until she came to this country.
Q. Are you the only relative that she has, as far as you know?
A. No sir, I am the only brother.
Q. And she has no children?
A. She has no children, no sir.
Q. And no husband?
A. No sir, I am the only brother, sir.
Q. Then you are the only near relative?
A. Only near — she has got a niece, she has several nieces in Colorado. I have a brother that died there fifty years ago.
THE CORONER: Have any of the jurors any questions to ask him? If not we will excuse him.
The jury after deliberation return the verdict which is hereto attached.
We, the undersigned, the jurors summoned to appear before T. F. Johnson, the Coroner of the County of San Diego, at Johnson’s Undertaking Parlor on the 16th day of Nov. A.D. 1897, to inquire into the cause of death of Mary A. Monroe, having been duly sworn according to law, and having made such inquisition, after inspecting the body, and hearing the testimony adduced, upon our oaths, each and all do say, that we find the deceased was named Mary A. Monroe was a native of Georgia, aged about 75 years; occupation servant widow; that she came to her death on the 14th day of Nov A.D. 1897 in this County, by being run over by an electric car of the San Diego Electric Car Co of City of San Diego San Diego Co state of Cal. and further that death was caused by unavoidable accident.
In Witness Whereof, as well as the said Coroner as the Jurors aforesaid have to this inquisition set their hands and seals on the day of the date hereof. E. A. Stevens Foreman.
[Signatures of 10 Jurors and Coroner]
On November 15, 1897, the morning following her death, the San Diego Union reported that “Mrs. Monroe came out of Whitmore’s drug store a moment before the accident, and started to cross the street diagonally in a southeasterly direction toward her home. She walked beside the car track a part of the way, car No. 3, in charge of Motorman John Rogers and Conductor George Swaine, meanwhile approaching from the west. The gong was sounded repeatedly, and there was no indication that the woman intended to cross the track until just before the car reached the spot, when she stepped directly in front of it.
“A quick movement was made by the motorman to stop the car, but its velocity was only slightly lessened when it struck Mrs. Monroe and knocked her down, her body falling on the north side of the track, but her limbs being caught under the wheels and crushed. When the car was finally stopped the rear wheels were resting on her crushed limbs. The conductor and motorman, with the assistance of men who had witnessed the accident, lifted the body from the ground, but the woman was already unconscious, and after gasping two or three times, expired.
“Coroner Johnson was summoned from National City, arriving at the spot within a few minutes. He found that both limbs of the woman had been almost severed at a point below the knees, and that death had resulted from the shock. Coroner Johnson gathered all the information possible, and will hold an inquest this morning. The body was removed to Johnson & Co.’s undertaking rooms.
“Mrs. Monroe was a widow, about 63 years old, and up to three months ago was employed as a domestic by Col. John Kastle at No 35 Eighteenth street. On account of failing health, she left three months ago to live in a cottage on Main street, where she expected to make a living by raising chickens. She formerly lived at Alpine, and before coming to this county had been a resident of San Francisco and Oakland. Beyond the fact that she periodically corresponded with some person at Merced, and has a son living somewhere in the northern part of the state, nothing is known of the deceased. She was very deaf, and her unfortunate death was due to that defect.”
The next day, the San Diego Union headline mirrored the times, saying: “She Was a Negress.” The subhead read: “A Brother Astonishes Friends of the Dead Woman. Mrs. Monroe Was Thought to Be Purely Caucasian — Inquest to Be Held This Morning — Theories of Suicide Entertained Through Her Suspicious Actions.” The article went on: “An inquest will be held this morning on the remains of Mrs. Mary A. Monroe, the woman who was killed by an electric car at Thirtieth street and National avenue Sunday evening.
“It was learned yesterday that Mrs. Monroe, a few minutes before her death, had left her name and address at the drug store near the scene of the accident, and this has given rise to the suspicion that she intended to commit suicide by throwing herself in front of the car. Her deafness was pronounced, but the headlight in front of the car shone brilliantly on the track far in advance of her before she stepped between the rails and was killed, and this of itself might have served as a warning. Her poverty and advancing age is given by acquaintances as a probable reason for suicide.
“Another fact concerning the woman that occasioned surprise yesterday was the appearance at the undertaking parlors where her dead body lies of H. Milne, a colored blacksmith who lives on K street, between Ninth and Tenth, and who identified the body as that of his sister. The astonishing thing about the incident was that while Milne would pass for nothing but a negro, the deceased was very light in color and during her residence of several years in this city was regarded as a Caucasian, except by a few persons who knew both Milne and the woman, and who had heard both say that they were brother and sister.
“The most astonished person when the fact was made known yesterday, was Col. John Kastle, at whose home Mrs. Monroe had been employed as a domestic for over a year up to three months ago. ‘There was never a suspicion in our home,’ said Col. Kastle to a reporter, ‘that Mrs. Monroe was anything else than a white woman. She had none of the characteristics of a colored person, and what is more, I came from Kentucky and claim to be able to recognize a negro when I see one. I don’t believe she had negro blood in her veins.’
“But notwithstanding the opinion expressed by Col. Kastle, investigation of the matter yesterday proved beyond question that the deceased was a sister of Milne, the colored blacksmith. Milne, who is 75 years old, came to San Diego ten years ago. About three years ago he applied to Mrs. Harriet Bailey, who kept a lodging house near Ninth and K streets, for a room for his sister, who was daily expected from Merced.
“The sister came, and was none other than the deceased. The landlady was surprised at her resemblance to a white person, and Mrs. Monroe volunteered the information that she was part negro, and a sister of Milne. But Mrs. Monroe had no acquaintances among the colored residents of the city, and to all who met her she appeared to be a white person. After a few months spent at Mrs. Bailey’s lodging house, Mrs. Monroe went to Alpine to work as a domestic, later entering the employ of Col. John Kastle.
“Mr. Milne went to Public Administrator Kammnan yesterday morning, upon hearing of the death of Mrs. Monroe, and representing himself as the brother of the deceased, the key of her house on Main street was handed over to him and he took possession of the premises. All the effects left by the deceased are worth not to exceed $25 or $30.”
The story of Mary Munroe gives an idea of attitudes prevalent in San Diego’s white community 100 years ago. Although blacks were only a small proportion of the population, they were subject to close scrutiny.
When George Millen arrived in 1887, only a few blacks lived here. Among them were the Solomon Johnson family, the Lowdines, the Chavers, the Joneses, and the Sneeds, and several widows: Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Bell, Mrs. Harris, Mrs. Smith, and Mrs. Stokes. This small number, however, far surpassed the number here in earlier times. Census returns, cemetery records, and studies document who was here and when.
Twenty-one years after Father Junípero Serra founded the San Diego mission, a census was taken of California’s population. In his book The Census of 1790, William Mason discusses the terms used in the census to describe racial groups. He states that “Some 463 adults are listed with caste designations in the  census [of California]. Of these, 232 are listed as either europeos or españoles…. Why there was a differential in the listing of españoles as opposed to europeos by 1790 may tell us something about the term español and what it had come to mean by 1790 in Mexico, particularly on the frontier.
“An additional 88 were listed as mulato, color quebrado, pardo or morizco [terms meaning part black]. Mulato can best be translated to mean mulatto in English although in the census the term seems to have been more elastic, not only including those who were half black and half white, but also persons who seem to have been somewhat less than half black or somewhat more…. Color quebrado is roughly synonymous with mulato, although in other parts of Mexico it is applied to persons who seem to be rather more than half black….
“The terms may have differed only in regard to who was taking the census. In all likelihood these are terms known to presidio commanders and they called the persons as they saw them, rather than as these soldiers and settlers saw themselves. Color quebrado and mulato were used in San Diego; what the difference was between the two is not known….”
“The rather haphazard approach to caste terms in California is also suggested by the use of varying terms for brothers and sisters in different presidios or pueblos…. Caste changes in California from one year to the next are not lacking.”
Regarding the population of San Diego in 1790, Mason (in “The Garrisons of San Diego Presidio: 1770–1794,” San Diego Journal of History) states: “There were 190 persons listed in the…census, of whom ninety-six were adults. Among the adults forty-nine were listed as españoles, of whom three were europeos, that is people born in Europe; two were from Spain, one a Belgian. There were twenty-five mulatos and colores quebrados, that is, people with some degree of African ancestry who made up about a quarter of the adults.”
Mason examined garrison lists of soldiers stationed at the San Diego mission and presidio between 1770 and 1794. Although most garrison lists did not indicate race, the soldiers’ names can be cross-referenced to the 1790 census to determine race.
The first black soldier to appear at the mission or presidio was a color quebrado man in 1775. Two mulato soldiers had arrived in San Diego by 1777, one mulato and three color quebrado soldiers by 1782, two mulato soldiers by 1784, and three mulato soldiers and five color quebrado soldiers by the time of the 1790 census. There were also at least five mulata wives and one color quebrado wife in San Diego at the time of the 1790 census. Of the above-listed individuals, at least one mulato man, three color quebrado men, and one mulata woman came to California on the Rivera Expedition in 1781. These individuals came to California from places in Mexico or Baja California; one color quebrado man came from Santiago, Cuba.
The next arrival is recorded by William Smythe in his book History of San Diego. According to Smythe, one black individual came to San Diego in 1804. “Captain Joseph O’Cain, on a trading expedition in the O’Cain, ventured to call and ask for provisions…. While his ship was in the harbor, a negro sailor named John Brown deserted from her and was afterward sent to San Blas.”
In the late 1840s, two black men lived in Old Town, Richard Freeman and Allen Light, also known as Black Steward. Freeman owned a house on the plaza, which he sold. He then purchased another house across from the Whaley House and became the unofficial postmaster until 1850, when a white postmaster was appointed.
Allen Light’s life is described in a newspaper article discovered in the Light Biographical File at the San Diego Historical Society archives: “Better known by his nickname of ‘Black Steward,’ he entered the pages of California history in 1835 as a member of the crew of the Boston hide and tallow brig Pilgrim, a vessel well known to readers of Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast.
“In all likelihood, Allen B. Light was employed as a steward on the long voyage around the Horn….
“We know that he jumped ship in California waters, possibly in Santa Barbara, since he joined a group of local otter hunters and quickly distinguished himself as an outstanding marksman with a musket.
“In the 1830s, it was illegal for any foreigner to hunt the sea otter without a license signed by the governor of the province. One such license holder was Capt. George Nidever of Santa Barbara….
“According to Nidever’s own narrative, Black Steward was ‘intelligent, well-behaved, mannerly, and above all, a good hunter.’ As such, he was literally worth his weight in gold to Capt. Nidever, because in the 1830s the pelt of the California sea otter was highly valued by the mandarins in China, who paid up to $2,500 each for the fur of the little sea mammal….
“Black Steward excelled in such feats of marksmanship, and he soon became a noted figure up and down the coast from San Diego to Monterey….
“In the year 1836, Black Steward hired himself out as a mercenary soldier at $2 a day under the generalship of Juan Bautista Alvarado, the revolutionary governor who seeked to wrest control of Alta California from Mexican rule….
“After earning $35 as a mercenary soldier, Black Steward decided he was wasting his talents, so he returned to Santa Barbara and went back to hunting otter in the Channel — as a poacher, not for Capt. Nidever….
“In 1841, the government decided that if they couldn’t lick Black Steward — who was then cutting a wide swath as an otter poacher — they would join him. So they appointed him game warden to prevent illegal poaching of otters in California. His last known hunting expedition was around Monterey in 1846, the fateful year Fremont’s Americanos were taking over California.”
Light’s presence in San Diego was confirmed in 1948 during renovation of the Casa de Machado in Old Town. David J. Weber, in an article entitled “A Black American in Mexican San Diego,” Journal of San Diego History, Volume XX (April 1974), describes how personal papers belonging to Light were found hidden in a window well. One of the papers was called a “sailor’s protection,” which substituted for the “free papers” that most states required blacks to carry.
“In his autobiography,” Weber writes, “Frederick Douglas described how he himself made his escape to freedom with the help of a paper such as Light possessed. In 1838 Douglas fled from the slave state of Maryland, carrying the seaman’s paper of a friend. Douglas took the train out of Baltimore and when the conductor asked to see his ‘free papers,’ he replied that he did not have them. But, he said: ‘ “I have a paper with the American eagle on it, that will carry me round the world.” With this I drew from my deep sailor’s pocket my seaman’s protection, as before described. The merest glance at the paper satisfied him, and he took my fare and went on about his business.’ ”
Weber depicts Light as a threat to Henry Fitch, an important trader in Old Town: “One of Fitch’s agents…complain[ed] about the high price that he had agreed to pay Allen Light’s men for otter skins. In 1844, a curious phrase in another letter written to Henry Fitch suggests that Allen Light had become a rival to Fitch. Edward Stokes wrote to Fitch: ‘You say you wish the otter Hunters to have another trial, you had better push them before the black Steward comes, for after they arrive the San Diego Hunters may go to sleep.’ ”
Whatever the outcome of the rivalry, Light “frequently purchased supplies in San Diego and sold skins there. Perhaps for that reason Allen Light made San Diego his home sometime in the 1840s…. In 1847, if not before, [Richard] Freeman and Light moved into a four-room, single-story adobe on the west side of Old Town Plaza, between the Casa de Machado and today’s Wallace Street. Freeman purchased this house from Henry Fitch on February 10, 1847, for $96. The house, which no longer stands, came to be known as the Freeman-Light House, or the San Diego House.”
Allen Light lived in San Diego only briefly. By 1851, Richard Freeman had died, and Light seems to have left the area. Weber presents evidence that he may have moved to Yuba County in 1852.
The newspaper article about Light concludes that he was “holding down [the office of game warden] in San Diego in 1848 when gold was discovered in the Sierra Nevada. It is believed that Allen B. Light…joined the gold rush to El Dorado….”
In 1850, a black man named Jack Lilley worked as a servant in the household of Edmund Hardcastle, a soldier. They lived in one of several wooden houses south of Old Town along the bay, where Edward Heath Davis and carpenters and soldiers were constructing a military barracks. Additionally, seven black people lived in Old Town: Margaret Talbot, who lived in the Henrietta Davidson household; Daniel Baltimore and Joseph Cross, laborers for Charles Johnson; and four blacks listed in the census by first name only: Robert, Thomas, and Mary (laborers for Albert Smith), and William, who lived in Dr. Isaac Brewer’s household.
After the Mexican period ended and California became a state, it was difficult for blacks to live in Old Town, as Anglo-Americans began arriving with their prejudices. Robert L. Carlton, in his article entitled “Blacks in San Diego County,” Journal of San Diego History, Volume XXI (fall 1975), relates the following: “In the official report of a grand jury investigating lawlessness in 1852, the foreman of the jury referred to a group of blacks as ‘a den of sable animals.’ He recommended that ‘these colored men be compelled to leave our town, unless they be employed in some useful labor.’ ”
Carlton also reports that “In 1853, a black laborer, who had worked during the morning on the ‘Derby Dike’ (a short-lived levee to divert the San Diego River away from San Diego Bay), was told that he had to eat his lunch outside the place where the white workers were eating. He refused, saying that if he could not eat with the other workers, he would not work with them. He then left town. The editor of the San Diego Herald that autumn was the well-known George Derby, whose main job at the time was to supervise the building of the levee. Derby employed intricate sarcasms in relating the incident, making it clear that he found such an attitude ridiculous in a black man.”
Carlton discusses other evidence of early racial discrimination. “The best known illustration of racial prejudice in San Diego involved a light-skinned black woman who did not even live in the area. She was not named in any of the accounts, but worked as a matron on a passenger steamer between San Francisco and San Diego (probably the Orizaba). She had attended Mary Walker, San Diego’s newly-hired schoolteacher, when Miss Walker had suffered from sea-sickness on her way to San Diego in 1865. In May 1866, Mary Walker saw the woman eating crackers and cheese in a general store and invited her to lunch at the Franklin House, one of the principal hotels. The resulting uproar in the community lasted several weeks and almost caused the teacher to be fired…. At any rate, a new teacher was hired to take her place the next month. It is unclear whether Mary Walker suspected that her action would be so repugnant to San Diegans. She later married E.W. Morse and settled in San Diego, but did not refer to the episode in the articles that she later wrote about her early years in San Diego.”
San Diego’s anti-black atmosphere was such that by 1860, there were only four blacks listed in the census — two cooks, a miner, and a servant. The latter was probably Isaac Sewell, a body servant to Thomas Sedgewick, a civil engineer of Old Town. Sewell also appeared in the 1870 San Diego census but did not appear again in any census after that date.
Late in 1870, James Rankin caused a sensation when he arrived in San Diego with a white wife. A San Diego Union article written 17 years later discussed the couple. The headline read: “White and Black. The Matrimonial Troubles of a Darkey and His Wife. The Romance of a Mismated Couple. No Objection to a Divorce, but a Fight for San Diego Lots — The Story of James Rankin’s Married Life.”
The article began: “ ‘Romance enters even into the lives of the lowly,’ says an author, and it might have been added that the spirit is a respecter neither of race, color nor previous condition of servitude. In this cosmopolitan section of the world it is but a step from one position to another, or, as James P. Rankin, whose dusky face shines brighter than the cuspidores he polishes in an up-town saloon, would say, ‘It am but a mighty little step from head cook in de hotel to chief engineership of a “duff” factory an’ a salt horse hashery on board ship.’ James is a descendant of Ham. He is now about 50 years of age. He is tall of figure and gaunt of frame. Many years ago he was taught the art of cooking, and as he had a fondness for salt water, he shipped and served as cook on various vessels, and in that capacity has sailed all over the world. Along early in the sixties James was running in and out of San Francisco on a transpacific steamer, and it was while thus engaged that he met, wooed and won for a wife, a grass widow, whose name does not transpire.
“The woman was as white as James is black. But the color line was not drawn, and they married. James continued to cater to missionaries and globe-trotters on the China line, while his wife settled down to a quiet life in San Francisco. Nothing, so far as known, occurred to mar their domestic happiness until about the year 1870, when the vessel to which James was attached struck on a rock outside the San Francisco bar and went to pieces. All hands, including James, were saved. About this time, San Diego was being talked of as the terminus of Tom Scott’s Texas Pacific road. James and his white wife came here. New San Diego, or Horton’s addition as it is now called, was very sparsely settled. Cooks were not in demand, and after vainly trying to be installed as chef de cuisine, James gave up the task and submitted himself to the contractor of the Horton House, which was being built. A berth as hod-carrier was the only one available, and as such James started in. He worked hard and faithfully, and at the end was rewarded with the position of chief cook of the hotel. His salary was $80 a month, and on that sum he prospered and saved money. Hensley’s addition, near the City Park reservation, was laid out, and in it James purchased lots 22, 23 and 24, in block 43, for $100. The deeds were made in the name of Mrs. Rankin, and in her name they yet stand.
“During the residence of the Rankins in this city their domestic relations became strained. The mismated pair quarreled frequently, and as frequent as they quarreled it was noticed that Mrs. Rankin was ill for several days afterwards. Along about 1882, the couple removed to Tombstone, A.T. [Arizona Territory], and three years later their doings became of public notice through the divorce court. The wife was the plaintiff, and in her bill for the severance of the marital tie she charged her dusky husband with having, on innumerable occasions, bruised and kicked her in a shameful manner. The allegations the husband did not refute, and one bright May morning the judgment of the Territorial Court made the wife a free woman. James was in the Court-room when judgment was announced, but he made no demur to the entrance; on the contrary, he seemed released, and shortly afterwards returned to this city, where he has since made his living by acting as porter in various saloons.
“For a time Mrs. Rankin that was did not molest James, and he never heard of her until a few months ago, when he was served with papers in a suit brought against him by his ex-wife to quiet title to the lots referred to. In the complaint the woman set forth that the lots were her separate property, and were bought with money earned by her prior to her marriage. The lots are now worth in the neighborhood of $1,300. James was willing she should have a divorce, but did not propose to give up all the property. Arbitration looking toward a division was had. The woman refused, and thus the case went into Court on its merits.
“The case was tried before Judge Works, and it was on testimony introduced that this narrative was formed. The court did not write an opinion, but in giving judgment for the defendant, Judge Works stated that the evidence all went to show that the property was purchased with community funds, and as the title was legally vested in both the parties it could not be quieted. A suit for partition is now in order, and will be instituted in a few days unless the parties divide it among themselves.”
Robert Carlton writes in “Blacks in San Diego”: “Strangely, I have not found any reference to this couple in the business directories or other newspapers that I have checked. Also, I could not find him in the 1880 census, although, according to the 1887 [San Diego Union] story, he was so dark that no one would have mistaken his race. If the story is accurate, Rankin was the only black man married to an Anglo-American woman in this period in San Diego.”
Between 1870 and 1880, there were six black burials at Mount Hope Cemetery. Charles Infidel, a “whitewasher” from New York, died of meningitis. Samuel Martin, a waiter from North Carolina, died of heart disease, as did George H. Miller, a barber from Pennsylvania. George Cook, a servant from New Orleans, died of consumption, and John Dyxon, a bootblack from New Orleans, died of a skin disease. J. Thompson also died during this time, but his occupation and cause of death were unknown.
The 1880 census listed three blacks in central San Diego: Alexander Smith, Henry Holly Brown, and woman named Martha (last name unknown), who was a boarder. Blacks who arrived between 1880 and 1890, including the boom years of 1887 and 1888, can be traced through burial records at Mount Hope Cemetery.
Twelve adults and 15 children died between 1880 and 1889, including three children of Solomon and Cordelia Johnson. Of the 15 children, 12 had parents other than the Johnsons for a total of 24 parents.
Thus the total count for blacks in San Diego from 1880 to 1889 includes at least 12 adults and 15 children who died, the Johnsons, and 24 additional parents, plus the 3 individuals included on the 1880 census, for a total approximate count of 56 black individuals living in San Diego during this time, most probably an undercount of the actual figure.
No 1890 census is available for San Diego, but from 1890 to 1900, black families and individuals continued to arrive. The Bethel AME Church was founded in 1890 by Solomon Johnson, B.F. Newman, J.H. McReynolds, A.J. Hosman, and Cain Acker. But the atmosphere for blacks had not changed much.
In reaction, several men formed a group called the Afro-American Colonization Company of Mexico to colonize south of the border. The group was incorporated August 11, 1891, by James M. Fowler, W.H. Hamilton, L. >Montgomery, M.D. Allen, Ed Wilson, Samuel Edmonston, James Johnson, Benjamin Caddle, Thomas Grigey, and Alex Cox.
Nothing further is known about their colonization efforts. The names Atkinson, Fowler, Hamilton, Edmonston, Johnson, Caddle, Grigey, and Cox do not appear in the 1900 census.
Issac Atkinson published the city’s first black-owned newspaper. Gail Madyun and Larry Malone, in Black Pioneers in San Diego: 1880–1920, write: “Since the Civil War, blacks had been staunch Republicans and there were no less than four local political clubs organized by them: the Colored Voters Political Club in 1886, the Silver Gate Colored Republican Club in 1890, the McFarland Club in 1892 and the McKinley Club in 1896. Political heresy would not be tolerated as Issac Atkinson learned after he sold his bakery in Julian, moved to San Diego and started the first black-owned newspaper in 1892, the Colonizer. His Democratic views prompted the Republican San Diego Union to label him a ‘Judas’ and black Democrats as ‘freaks of nature.’ ”
By 1897, some headway was being made for blacks in California, for a new civil rights act was passed. A San Diego Union article described the legislation: “The new law is very sweeping, and renders any keeper of an inn, restaurant, hotel, theater, bath house, skating rink or other public place liable to damages for refusing to grant equal rights to all comers, regardless of color or race. The damages may be recovered in an action brought for the purpose, and the amount is not restricted except that it shall be not less than $50.”
One evening in the spring of 1897, Edward Anderson and his wife, owners of a mortuary and several businesses in San Diego, went to the opera. An August 17, 1897, San Diego Union article reported what happened next. The headline read: “Color Line Case. Anderson Obtains Judgment, but the Case Will Be Appealed.”
The article continued: “Edward Anderson, colored, obtained a judgment of $150 against John C. Fisher in Justice Bryan’s court yesterday. Anderson, who was refused a seat in the orchestra circle of Fisher opera house on account of his color, sued for damages, bringing his claim originally against the Pacific Mutual Life Insurance company, owner of the opera house. This complaint was afterward dismissed, as it was found that Mr. Fisher was sole lessee of the opera house.
“The case was on trial yesterday, and the testimony showed that the tickets for the performance were purchased at noon by a colored man, and that when Anderson and his wife appeared that evening, the doorkeeper took up the tickets but refused to give them a seat. He claimed that duplicate tickets had been sold, and that the seats were already occupied. He offered to allow Anderson and his wife to stand up in the balcony, but they demanded their tickets or their money. Then they were referred to Manager Fisher, who plainly told them that colored people were not allowed in the orchestra circle, at the same time refunding their money, which Anderson accepted.
“Judge Bryan, ruling under the new civil rights law as passed by the last legislature, said he had no alternative but to give judgment for the plaintiff….
“ ‘Do you intend to appeal the case?’ asked a reporter of Mr. Fisher.
“ ‘Why, certainly,’ he replied. ‘We made no attempt to fight it in the lower court. We did not introduce a witness, and simply made a legal appearance by attorney. Do you think we would stand that judgment? No sir, we shall appeal immediately to the higher court.’ ”
But “after nearly three years of fruitless litigation,” local historian Rick Crawford reports in a February 6, 1994, Union-Tribune story, “the Andersons had exhausted all legal avenues, and a case of overt racial discrimination had been upheld in the courts of California.”
During the period 1890 to 1899, 16 black children and 41 black adults were buried at Mount Hope Cemetery. The causes of death for adults, where recorded, were heart trouble, paralysis, lung congestion, pneumonia, bronchitis, and hemorrhage. Children died either in childbirth or of bronchitis, pneumonia, or meningitis. One child was placed in quarantine, and he and his two siblings died in 1899.
The 16 child deaths, 28 probable parents of these children (counting parents of the three children only once), 41 adult deaths, 27 people left over from the 1880s, the Mexican colonizers, which added 12 people, and 5 Bethel A.M.E. church founders, add up to 133 black people in San Diego from 1890 to 1899. The 1900 census, however, indicates that there were 355 blacks living in central San Diego.
While Mary Munroe’s story depicts the negativity toward blacks in San Diego, she and her brother George mirrored several other trends in the migration of black individuals to the city. First, they did not migrate to San Diego with others or in groups but instead came as individuals. They were older and single and thus were typical of those who were here in the earliest period. They were not from the “slave” category, for their father was apparently a free man in Georgia. They were from the South, as were most of the other black individuals who came to San Diego before 1900.
George Millen was never in the military, and that was also a trend. However, there were black Civil War veterans who came to San Diego, including Amos Hudgins, a barber, who worked near the Horton House and later at the Hotel del Coronado. Others were Walker Davis, Thomas Miller Jackson, William Laws (a cook), James Lilley, Alexander Luckett, who was a laborer, as was Edmund Marshall, plus Samuel Nickens (a waiter), Robert Tillman, and George Robinson.
Mary Munroe and her brother did not come for their health. Mary migrated to San Diego to be with George, and he came during the boom year of 1887 to find work. He realized the value of location and set up his business near the Russ Lumber Company, a major supplier of imported wood to San Diego.
Black families began to migrate to San Diego around 1887. The families tended to live in the outlying areas, those that would later become Mission Hills, Hillcrest, Banker’s Hill, India and Columbia Streets. Longshoremen lived downtown.
Mary worked in the service industry, as did the majority of blacks who migrated to San Diego. The best economic position was for families to stay together, particularly for grown children to stay at home. Mary Munroe and her brother, however, were old, single, and without the backing of other family members, and they did not make it into the better economic classes.
Mary Munroe did not mix with people of color during the time she was in San Diego. She lived in the East End, a more prosperous neighborhood. But her work took her into the household of Colonel John Kastle, part of a pattern of betterment that black individuals used. Solomon Johnson was coachman for Elisha Babcock, builder of the Hotel del Coronado. Mattie Coleman worked in the household of John Nutt, a wealthy man who lived on Walnut Street. A man named Jackson was butler to John Gay, who was a capitalist. Martha Smith worked as a servant for attorney Cassius Carter. And other black individuals were employed in the homes of wealthy white families during this time.
Little is known of Mary Munroe’s employer, Colonel Kastle. His biography in the book An Illustrated History of Southern California indicates that he was born in France and immigrated to America as a boy, settling in Lexington, Kentucky. He became a prosperous shoe merchant but sold his business in 1867. Twenty years later he came to San Diego. He was elected president of the Savings and Loan Association, was active in the Chamber of Commerce, was a promoter of the pioneer cable road, and was a supporter of the public park and a new opera house. His biography describes him as a modest man who owned considerable real estate in the business center of San Diego.
The East End, where Mary Munroe moved in 1897, was later known as Logan Heights. In an article entitled “Logan Heights: Growth and Change in the Old ‘East End,’ ” Journal of San Diego History, Volume XXIX (winter 1983), Frank Norris discusses the development of the area. “Its historical core, where the street pattern follows the bay front rather than compass directions is easily distinguishable on any local road map…. Traditionally, however, Logan Heights has usually been limited to an area bounded roughly, on the west, by Thirteenth Street…on the north by Imperial Avenue, on the east by Wabash Boulevard [I-15], and on the south by San Diego Bay. Downtown and its waterfront are to the west, Sherman Heights and Golden Hill are to the north, and southeast San Diego lies to the east…
“The harbinger of settlement in Logan Heights came with the development of Alonzo Horton’s nearby New Town, beginning in 1867. Within a year, the nascent real estate venture had proven so successful that it spawned several adjacent subdivisions…. Subdivision, and subsequent sale, of land in present-day Logan Heights quickly followed that of nearby areas….
“Actual settlement of the newly-opened lands, however, bore little relation to lot offerings or sales…. By the end of 1887…only twelve houses along with a school were reportedly under construction in the area…. In the 15 years after the boom, the study area then known as the ‘East End,’ grew slowly but consistently….
“Responding to the growth of the neighborhood, a horse- and mule-drawn rail car line was built into the area along present-day National Avenue in 1892; it was replaced the next year by the San Diego Electric Railway, which offered service from downtown to various Logan Avenue points…
“Migrants to the area came from many walks of life. Spanning the economic spectrum, a few residents were among San Diego’s most prominent families, including various business and political leaders of the time. In a community primarily situated within two blocks of the nearest car line arose many substantial homes of varying architectural styles. Quite simple homes, however, were also constructed; in one recorded instance, a four-room board-and-batten style home was constructed in a few days’ time by friends of the owner….
“The ethnic composition of the old East End was fairly typical of other San Diego neighborhoods, in that blacks, Mexican-Americans, scattered Oriental and various European ethnic groups complemented the native-born plurality. Both blacks and Mexican-Americans had lived in the area as early as the 1890s, but they attracted little notice; their numbers were small in relation to other neighborhood residents, and other parts of San Diego — particularly the central area — offered greater concentrations of these minority groups. Mexican-Americans were scattered throughout the East End. Blacks, however, were fairly concentrated along a few blocks east of present-day Memorial Park.”
Earnest Morgan lived in the East End in the late 1880s. In an interview conducted by Edgar F. Hastings on November 13, 1958 (interview transcript in the San Diego Historical Society Oral History Collection), Morgan talked about his life after his family moved to San Diego in 1884. “My father, Noah Morgan, was born in Virginia and fought in the Civil War. He and my mother, Catherine Fauntroy, married in Kansas. We came here by train at a time when there were no more than 10 or 15 other colored families in San Diego. Some lived out in brush country in East San Diego and toward La Mesa. Others lived in the East End, about the end of Logan Avenue, as far as Thirtieth and National.
“My father was a cook and worked for some time for the San Diego and Arizona Railway while it was being built, and before that, when it was being surveyed between Tijuana and Tecate. It was while on that job that the cook wagon tipped over. His back was broken and four days later he died in the Agnew Hospital on Fifth Street.
“When we first came to San Diego, we stayed down by the Santa Fe Depot until the railroad company made us move away from what then was called Squattersville. We moved then to H Street, where the Citrus Soap factory is. Later we had to move from there, so my father got a lot in Logan Heights and built our house….”
“Logan Heights, where we had bought our place, finally became the colored section. After a while there were enough people to have a church, the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, between Thirtieth and Thirty-First on Greeley Avenue. The pastor was Rev. John Lang. The colored people practically built the church themselves. The people would buy the lumber and do the work…. The church was just some boards and nothing fancy, but it was a place of worship.
“In the early days the colored men worked mostly around hotels and railroads as janitors and cooks and quite a few worked at longshore. Quite a few old windjammers called at the coal bunkers. I worked there myself and I got to be quite a kid down there on some of the boats that came in. The coal and coke stored in the bunkers was hauled away by team.
“For recreation we fished around the 28th Street wharf. We would tramp crawfish out of the mud, for bait. A few of the boys had little rowboats. The colored people used to have quite a few dances on Saturday nights at Industrial Hall at E or F Street, on land later needed for Los Banos bath house. The longshoremen used the hall sometimes for their meetings….”
“Our place at the East End was at Thirtieth and Valle Streets. The old homestead is still there. We had chickens and a cow and some pigs, and two horses…. All the East End gang remembers our two burros, Boody and Dolly. They used to be over at the schoolhouse all of the time, and all the kids would ride them. Mrs. McLeod would make us drive them home if she would see them….”
“I was working for Ed Anderson at his IXL laundry at Ninth and I Streets when the Bennington [a gunboat] blew up. The uniforms that were salvaged were brought to us to be cleaned. The laundry was swarmed by people who wanted to get sailors’ kerchiefs as souvenirs of the disaster. A lot of MPs were detailed there to protect the stuff. Those days all of the ironing was done by hand.”
George Washington Woodbey, a socialist and Baptist minister, arrived in San Diego in 1902. He became a well-known member of the community and played a role in what his biographer called “probably the most famous free-speech fight in American history.” An article by Philip S. Foner, entitled “Reverend George Washington Woodbey: Early Twentieth Century California Black Socialist,” The Journal of Negro History, Volume LXI (April 1976), appears in the files of the San Diego Historical Society, and Foner’s book on Woodbey is available at the San Diego Public Library.
Foner writes that “George Washington Woodbey, the leading Negro Socialist in the first decade of the 20th century, was born a slave in Johnson County, Tennessee, on October 5, 1854, the son of Charles and Rachel (Wagner) Woodbey. Of his early life nothing is known other than that he learned to read after freedom came, was self-educated, except for two terms in a common school, and that his life was one of ‘hard work and hard study carried on together.’ A fellow Socialist who knew him wrote: ‘He has worked in mines, factories, on the streets, and at everything which would supply food, clothing and shelter.’
“Woodbey was ordained a Baptist minister at Emporia, Kansas in 1874. He was active in the Republican party of Missouri and Kansas and was a leader in the Prohibition Party, and when he moved to Nebraska he became a prominent force in the prohibition movement in that state. In 1896 Woodbey ran for lieutenant governor and Congress on the Prohibition ticket in Nebraska.
“That same year, he made his first acquaintance with the principles of Socialism when he read Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backwards, and his interest was further aroused by copies of the Appeal to Reason which came into his hands…. But he also heard Eugene V. Debs speaking during the presidential campaign and was so impressed that when the Democratic Party asked Woodbey to speak for Bryan [then running for president on the Democratic and Populist tickets], he agreed but delivered speeches which were geared more to the ideas advanced by Debs than those by the Democratic candidate. After several such speeches, the Democrats stopped scheduling dates for Woodbey’s speeches, and the black minister came to the conclusion that his place was in the Socialist camp. He resigned his pulpit and announced to his friends that henceforth his life ‘would be consecrated to the Socialist movement.’…
“Woodbey accepted an offer to become minister of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in San Diego and made his home in California for the next two decades….
“A frequent target of the police in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other California communities, Woodbey was in and out of jail several times between 1902 and 1908, and was hospitalized more than once as a result of police brutality. But he gave as well as received. When he was attacked and driven off a street corner in San Diego in July, 1905 by Police Officer George H. Cooley, Woodbey led a group of protesters to the police station to lodge a complaint. There Cooley again attacked the black Socialist, ‘using at the same time oaths and language too mean and vile to print.’ Woodbey was literally thrown bodily out of the station house. He immediately brought charges against the police officer for assault and battery and informed his California comrades: ‘In the days of chattel slavery the masters had a patrol force to keep the negroes in their place and protect the interests of the masters. Today the capitalists use the police for the same purpose.’…
“Although all witnesses testified that the Negro Socialist’s conduct had been ‘perfectly gentlemanly,’ and that he had a perfectly lawful right to be at the station house, the jury, composed of conservative property owners, took only fifteen minutes to find the defendant not guilty. Woodbey was furious and published the names of the jury men, calling upon all decent citizens to have nothing to do with them. He followed this up by returning immediately to the soap box in San Diego and held one of the biggest street corner meetings in the city up to this time. As he wrote: ‘The case has made more Socialists than I could possibly have made in many speeches. Had I not gone to the court with the matter the public would forever have contended that I was doubtless doing or saying something that I had no right to do or say. And when I complained I would have been told that if I had gone to the courts I would have got justice. Now, as it is, nothing of the kind can be said, and the responsibility is placed where it rightly belongs.’…
“In more than one California city Woodbey was arrested and hauled off to jail for trying to sell copies of his Socialist booklets. The writings made Woodbey’s name known throughout the entire Party in the United States and even internationally….
“He continued to participate in free-speech fights, and in 1912 was a key figure in what was probably the most famous free-speech fight in American history, the free-speech fight in San Diego, California. San Diego, of course, was Woodbey’s home town, and the place where he was the pastor of Mt. Zion Church for several years until he was removed because, as one who knew him wrote, he ‘loosened up his flock with the Bible, then finished his sermon with an oration on Socialism.’
“On January 8, 1912, the San Diego City Council passed an ordinance creating a ‘restricted’ district, forty nine blocks in the center of town, in which street-corner meetings might not be held. Unlike ordinances in other cities banning street-speaking, that in San Diego made no exception for religious utterances. All street-speaking was banned in the so-called ‘congested district.’ The reason given was that the meetings blocked traffic, but it was clear that the real purpose was to suppress the I.W.W.’s [Industrial Workers of the World] effort ‘to educate the floating and out-of-work population to a true understanding of the interests of labor as a whole, as well as their determination to organize the workers in San Diego who were neglected by the A.F. of L. [American Federation of Labor]. Among these neglected workers were the mill and lumber and laundry workers and streetcar conductors and motormen. This determination had infuriated John D. Spreckels, the millionaire sugar capitalist and owner of the streetcar franchise, and he and other employers had applied pressure on the Council to pass the ordinance….
“Two days before the ordinance was supposed to go into effect, the I.W.W. and the Socialists held a meeting in the center of the restricted district at which Woodbey was a leading speaker. The police broke up the meeting but did not intimidate the fighters for free speech….
“Woodbey was several times the victim of brutal police assaults as he insisted on exercising his right-of-free speech….
“The free-speech fight in ‘Barbarous San Diego’ was still in full swing in late April 1912, when Woodbey left to attend the Socialist Party national convention in Chicago as a delegate from California. By the time he returned home, the struggle was still continuing and he did what he could to help the cause, faced with defeat as a result of the power of the police, vigilantes, and the state government…. It was not until 1914 that the right of the I.W.W. to hold street meetings was established. Although the ordinance still remained on the statute books, the police no longer interfered when Wobblies spoke at street corners in the forbidden district. On the invitation of the I.W.W., Reverend Woodbey was one of the regular speakers at such meetings….”
Foner concludes: “We know nothing of Reverend Woodbey after 1915.”
Attorney Bert Ritchey, born in 1908, grew up in La Jolla. He moved to the East End in 1926 and attended San Diego High.
In an oral history interview conducted by Leonard Knight on April 4, 1985 (interview transcript available to researchers in the San Diego Historical Society Oral History Interview Collection and also in the April 1996 Journal of San Diego History), Bert Ritchey discussed the East End, saying, “Well, I’ll tell you one thing. There wasn’t a congested neighborhood any place in those days as there is now. In those days blacks lived throughout the city. They lived downtown, say from Sixteenth to Twelfth Street, they lived — the only concentrated area was in the Logan Heights district from Thirtieth to Thirty-second, from Ocean View to Logan Avenue, a small area, and that’s where most — it was the most concentrated group of blacks living. I would say twenty-five or thirty families there and that was the most concentrated district, but there were blacks living all over, East San Diego, North Park. They lived all over, and your problem today, of course, stems from the fact that it’s a lot of people now in one area of blacks. You didn’t have that way back forty, fifty years ago.”
Ritchey described his school days. “I never noticed — when I was going through school, from elementary school through high school — I never noticed personally, any prejudicial action on the part of any school authorities here. Way back in the — when I was going to high school, I used to go down to the downtown ymca often. Now, I was the only black boy who was permitted in the ymca. The ymca’s policy excluded blacks….”
Knight asked Ritchey, “Why do you think you were allowed and other blacks were not allowed at the Y in those days?”
“Well, that’s difficult to say except the fact that at that time when I was in high school I was well known athletically and they just seemed to accept me. I never had anything happen while I was at the ymca that would indicate there was any segregation, [that] in other words, there was a no-no for blacks.”
Asked whether his parents were noted in the community, or were very involved, Ritchey said: “Well, my father was well known in the downtown area because he worked for, let me see, what was the name, Stall’s Crockery Store, located at Sixth and C Street…. He worked there for many years, probably 30 years…. He was a janitor…. In those days, as you know, if a black is working downtown he’s got to be a janitor. He couldn’t be anything else. There was nothing else offered to a black.”
Ritchey was also interviewed by Nolan Davis, for an article printed on April 13, 1965, in the Evening Tribune. Davis began his article by saying, “If you would understand Southeast San Diego, you must know its history.
“Before 1900, San Diego was growing mostly northeast. New Town reached out toward Old Town. Land investors purchased in outlying areas — Coronado, La Jolla, La Mesa, National City.
“In 1907, South Park and Eastside Railway precipitated development of Southeast San Diego as a residential area. The Railway began a line east to 25th Street, and later extended that line as the area grew.
“Southeast became a community of fine homes. Its tree-lined streets were peaceful and inviting. Several famous San Diegans were born there between the early 1900s and the ’20s.
“Bert Ritchey, a retired policeman, now an attorney with Montgomery, Maddox & Ritchey, remembers Southeast San Diego as an early-day ‘wilderness.’…
“ ‘In those days, the city was small, with a population of about 150,000 where you knew everybody,’ Ritchey said.
“ ‘The southeastern section here was more or less a wilderness east of 32nd Street — way out in the sticks.’
“He said Southeast San Diego’s Negro and Mexican population was small. Most of the Negroes were here because they liked the climate, he said.
“ ‘There were only about 5,000 Negroes and 7,000 Mexicans here,’ he said. ‘Most of the Negroes were concentrated in the area from 30th to 32nd Streets between Woolman (now Oceanview) Avenue and Logan Avenue.
“ ‘The Mexicans in those days lived from about 14th Street to Crosby, bounded by J Street and the Bay.’…
“Negroes worked as rubbish collectors for the city, he remembered. Others, like his father, were janitorial workers and shoeshine boys….
“ ‘There was little contact between the Negroes and the Mexicans and the whites. You never heard of racial meetings or contacts. Many restaurants downtown had signs up saying that they refused to serve Negroes. Hotels didn’t have signs up, but they wouldn’t serve Negroes either.
“ ‘But few people seemed anxious to do anything about it. In fact, nothing was done until Dennis V. Allen founded the San Diego Race Relations Society in the 1930s.’…
“Neighborhood patterns in Southeast began to change about that time, he said.
“ ‘Many whites were moving out of the old buildings,’ he said. ‘More Negroes began to move to Logan Heights. The area was in a state of flux until the early 1940s.’
“Crimes there, he said, grew out of proportion to Southeast’s population….
“ ‘One reason is that most of the Negroes migrated here from the South and in the South, in those days, a weapon like a knife was common in rural communities. You put a knife in your pocket when you left the house like you were putting on a hat.’…
“ ‘Dennis Allen and the Race Relations Society had been instrumental in breaking down the segregation patterns in restaurants and hotels in the late ’30s and early ’40s,’ Ritchey said. ‘During the war, Allen got jobs in industry for hundreds, though there still was no such thing as Negro engineers of any kind.
“ ‘Negroes in Southeast San Diego have made their greatest gains since the war. The biggest gains in employment and race relations have been made since the Korean War.’ ”
Nevertheless, a case of slavery was reported in 1947. Lionel Van Deerlin related the story in the Evening Tribune on August 15, 1985: “Defendants Alfred and Elizabeth Ingalls were blue-blooded Bostonians from Beacon Hill.
“He had served as an Army officer in both world wars, was a former Massachusetts state legislator, and, at 64, still a director of the new England Watch and Ward Society — a group dedicated to preserving traditional public morals….
“Third principal in the ensuing drama, the 54-year-old housemaid, Dora L. Jones, had been in Mrs. Ingalls’ employ since 1910. At age 17, court testimony disclosed, Dora had been seduced by Mrs. Ingalls’ first husband, prompting Mrs. Ingalls to divorce him.
“The grand lady exploited Dora’s sense of shame and guilt to dominate her life thereafter. According to the maid’s testimony, Mrs. Ingalls had told her she was under permanent probation as punishment for her ‘crime’ — as if this were a part of the divorce settlement.
“ ‘You owe me your life because you have ruined mine,’ Dora remembered her mistress saying. Should she ever try leaving Mrs. Ingalls’ service, the girl had been warned, she’d be clapped into jail.
“That threat remaining over the maid’s head, a seemingly incredible 37-year relationship followed. Dora never was paid for her dawn-to-dusk labors, and when the Ingallses traveled, she slept in their car while they occupied motel rooms.
“Indeed, it was at the end of a cross-country trip that the couple visited Berkeley late in 1946. A daughter, Helen, occupied an apartment there with her husband, Dr. Richard M. Roberts, a chemist. Helen found Dora huddled — thin, weary and ankles swollen — amid the car’s luggage. From childhood she recalled earlier abuses that Dora had endured. Joined by her husband, Helen went to Berkeley police and reported that the black woman was being held against her will.
“Finding Dora asleep in the car, police took her to the Robertses’ apartment, where she slept the night. Next morning Mrs. Ingalls reported that Dora had been kidnapped. This triggered an investigation that climaxed when FBI agents went to the Ingallses’ Coronado home…with warrants for their arrest on slavery. Dora Jones was placed in protective custody pending the trial.
“A second daughter, from Chicago, joined in testifying against her parents — prompting Mrs. Ingalls to denounce her children as ‘one a communist, the other a Nazi.’…
“The jury found Elizabeth Ingalls guilty as charged. [Judge] Weinberger imposed a $2,500 fine, ordered Mrs. Ingalls to establish a $6,000 annuity for her erstwhile slave — and arranged to have Dora live with a brother in St. Louis.”
Despite California’s civil rights law of 1897, in the mid-20th Century San Diego restaurants continued to refuse blacks service and banks would not lend blacks money. Dr. Jack Kimbrough, in an interview conducted by Robert G. Wright on October 11, 1990 (interview transcript available to researchers in the San Diego Historical Society Oral History Interview Collection), discussed redlining: “This is the fact that financial institutions, mortgage-lending institutions, would not okay lending money to certain religious or ethnic groups of people. You might have money and have good credit, but if you were black and you wanted to buy a home in La Jolla or something, who’s going to finance it for you? Nobody. And the same thing happened with the Jewish people in the other areas. So that that was one of the reasons that I became involved a little later on in the development of what we call a time savings and loan bank….
“[It was called] Time Savings and Loan. We had an office at Second and Broadway, downtown, and we were quite successful. The main reason I was involved that way, I think, in the beginning had to do with the fact that through our bank, the black or Chicano or Jewish person, if they were financially adequate, could buy a home wherever they wanted to and it didn’t have anything to do with their race…. I think it started about 1965.”
Wright asked Kimbrough about his part in the restaurant sit-ins.
“That was in 1948 when we did the sit-ins. That was technically a real sit-in, I think probably the first in the country. You know, they had the big ones back east with college kids in the early 1960s. Preceding the black revolution. But we had had a great art display at the museum in Balboa Park in 1948, ‘Portraits of Great Black Americans’ by Betsy Graves Reyneau. Her father was a Supreme Court justice for the state of Michigan. Somehow or other she’d gotten started in this particular thing.”
“She was black?” Wright asked.
“No, she was white.”
“So she helped organize the sit-in then?”
“No, she’d gone down from the museum at Balboa Park with two black friends, women, to have lunch after they’d left the Balboa Park museum. She called me at the office about 2:30. She was incensed, said that they’d been waiting there over an hour and a half and no one would serve them lunch at the U.S. Grant Grill. So she knew that I had been active in trying to break down segregation at restaurants here because I had a group of young students, black and white students, and I used them to organize the program.
“The thing that happened was that when I first came down here, I had damn little money. I’d walk downtown from 29th Street and back to save that dime. I stopped at a little greasy spoon place. It was a little place down — they used to have a post office down about Front and G Street, I think. Right across the street from where the courthouse is there now. And in that area I stopped in this place — it looked like the cheapest place I’d seen — to get myself a hamburger. And the character in there told me that they didn’t serve Negroes. The cheapest and crummiest place I could find and I still can’t eat here. What the hell kind of place is this?
“So I called Mr. Anderson, who was the head of the naacp and he told me that there was segregation all over this city and that we had a civil rights war in the state of California. In fact, it had come out of San Diego. He had had trouble himself earlier on so he had gotten this senator to write the civil rights law in the state of California, and because they never had any witnesses, the witness could say that the blacks that came in, they were drunk and disorderly and noisy, whatever, and they never won any cases.
“So I figured what they needed was some witnesses, so I talked it over with a couple of young people, students at SD State, and I became president — it was about 1947 — of the naacp in San Diego. So I had a meeting called for — we rented the Memorial Junior High auditorium and we set the stage up like a restaurant and we had the white kids from SD State College sitting at the table and then had the restaurant owner and manager and a couple of waitresses there. Then the black kids came in. When they were refused service, well, they would go up to the white kids: Did you hear what they said to us?
“This is the way we got the witnesses. So we had quite a few suits against the smaller restaurants all over town here. And we won all of them except one. The waitress said he was pinching her, making rude remarks, stuff like this. It was a funny little job, but…
“Anyhow, we won all the others, and since we had this thing going, we got $300 judgments out of these things. The lawyer got a third, the black kids got a third, and the white kids got a third. So we had quite a few cases.
“And then when this deal came up [with Betsy Graves Reyneau], I got the telephone committee of the naacp, called all the members, and told them what was happening, and told them to come down to the Grant Grill on Friday evening. So they all came down and sat out all evening and didn’t get served. So the next evening I came in about six o’clock I guess, the folks had been there since five and nobody had been served. One seat was left at the counter there. I went right next to Betsy Graves and sat there. This waitress came over and asked me what I wanted. They thought, ‘My goodness, they’re gonna serve you and we’ve been here for an hour and they haven’t served any of us yet.’ So when the waitress came back I said, ‘These people were here before I was and you haven’t taken their order, what’s the matter?’ So she didn’t quite know what to say, so she asked them what they wanted. And they ordered, so she went back and started talking to the people in the back of the grill room there. Carl Lidtke (sp.) was the manager of the Grill there. He worked with Larry Lawrence over at Coronado for years. Anyhow, we laughed about it afterwards.”
“So, he’s the one that denied them then?” Wright asked.
“No, it wasn’t his fault, this was the hotel policy.”
Read Part 2: As Far South as I've Ever Been