“They don’t know the struggle we had. They don’t know we had to dodge bullets. They don’t know the KKK was marching down on E Street. We have to make sure our children remember the past.”
– Frances Grice
When 84-year-old Redlands resident Frances Grice closed her eyes for the last time on New Year’s Eve, the community stopped and took notice of the passing of an icon, an icon who lived her life serving others.
As declared by many of those who knew and admired Grice over her many long years of community involvement and activism, “she fought her entire life and never quit.”
In the 1960s, Grice and two other local mothers, Bonnie Johnson and Valerie Pope, came together and formed the Community League of Mothers. This league of extraordinary women was joined by other members of the community and together they raised their voices on behalf of the city’s poorest African Americans and boldly fought to end segregation in San Bernardino schools.
It was a noble and necessary cause, one that required steadfast leadership and unrelenting determination. Grice possessed both. Not surprisingly, the struggle took years, but finally in 1973, the efforts of Grice and the others yielded victory when the California Supreme Court ruled in their favor and against the San Bernardino School District. The court determined the school district was guilty of segregation and discrimination. At long last, the vile practice in the City of San Bernardino was ended.
When speaking about those years, NAACP Executive Committee member Bobby Bivens, told one reporter, “She taught me that anything is possible. We should stick to it and keep fighting for what is good for our community.” He continued, “She taught me that I can really make a difference through civil rights advocacy and that I must reach back and train the young people. As a result,” he proclaimed, “I have the best NAACP Youth Council in this region.”
Grice, a native of Detroit, Michigan, settled in San Bernardino in 1962 and over the years, helped reshape what were once acceptable racial norms in the community. Her work in relation to school integration was just the tip of the iceberg relative to her community involvement.
She truly spent her life paving the way for others. For example, in 1967, Grice founded Operation Second Chance. It provided high-tech as well as other educational and employment training for disadvantaged youth and welfare recipients. The agency also assisted workers who were displaced because of plant closures.
Grice also facilitated a summer youth program which provided opportunities for students as young as 14 years of age to experience life in a university setting. Even though Grice lost both of her own children when they were young, she never wavered in her commitment and determination to make the lives of those, in the inland region, particularly the young, better.
Beyond this, she designed and implemented community outreach programs not only for use by local agencies but for state and federal agencies as well. And if that was not enough, her efforts on behalf of the community she loved did not end there either.
Her energy, effort, commitment and creativity seemed endless. In another effort, she developed and managed employee training programs aimed at academic achievement and employment opportunities in local water companies.
During her life, Grice was a powerful catalyst for change that brought together local, state and federal government officials in partnership with business leaders and members of the community. Probably her most long lasting achievement was conceiving, securing, funding, and building the Public Enterprise Building on the city’s westside. Her vision was certainly not limited to what she could see but to what is possible.
In 1977, San Bernardino was named an All-American City, an honor some claim was partly the result of Grice’s advocacy on the city’s behalf.
Grice never shied away from challenges. In 2014, she reveled in another achievement that took more than three years to accomplish, when what was formerly Little Mountain Elementary School in San Bernardino was renamed for the city’s former mayor, W. R. “Bob” Holcomb. According to reports, when Holcomb passed away in 2010, Grice promised his family at his funeral that there would be a school named in his honor for his good work.
Grice wanted to recognize Holcomb for all the good he did for the city and its children during his tenure as an attorney on the city’s Board of Education and as the city’s mayor. She had interacted with Holcomb when she was a member of the Community League of Mothers fighting for desegregation.
In the final analysis, her lifetime of devotion and efforts overall, did not go unnoticed. Adjectives used to describe Grice since her passing have remained effusive. She was a motivator, mentor, civil rights and business leader who promoted diversity and fought tirelessly for civil rights, equal justice and equal opportunities in everything from education to employment and housing, in addition to economic and community development. Grice spent a lifetime, walking her talk.
Her advocacy on behalf of these issues and others, earned the local icon well-deserved recognition at the local, state, congressional and presidential levels. In 2007, Grice was honored for her work by the Los Angeles Black Business Association at that year’s “Salute to Women Conference and Awards” celebration. Grice was a National Small Business Advocacy Award recipient, a member of the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Statue Maintenance Committee, an All-American City representative and a member of the NAACP.
Grice was a bright light of courage during the dark days of struggle for justice and equality. She led in the tradition of countless other Black women whose names may never be known but whose work and sacrifice helped lay the foundation for better days. Grice spent a lifetime working on behalf of her community and the City of San Bernardino is a better place because she walked among us.
Grice accomplished so much and yet much remains to be done. In the words of composer, scholar and social activist Bernice Johnson Reagon, “They are falling all around me. . . Every paper brings the news that the teachers of my sound are movin’ on…But you’re not really going to leave me. It’s your path I walk. It is your song I sing. It is your load I take on…”
A public viewing for Grice is scheduled for Thursday, January 18th at Harrison-Ross Mortuary in San Bernardino, 738 E. Highland Avenue from 1 to p.m. 5 p.m. and services will be held the following morning, January 19th beginning at 10 a.m. at the Loveland Church located at 17977 Merrill Avenue, Fontana.