The Founding of Westside Action Group (WAG)

The Founding of Westside Action Group (WAG)

Hardy L. Brown

Hardy L. Brown

Ratibu Jacocks asked me a couple of weeks ago if I felt up to sharing a few thoughts on the genesis and history of WAG, since this was Black History Month. I could not say no to him.

WAG was born in 1972 when a group of Black men gathered on the corner of Mount Vernon and Goodlett Streets in the Checker’s Café with the mission of becoming a political action organization to influence our political and economic agenda and raise money to train and elect African Americans from the Black community to public office. That was what Bob Parker and I had in our mind before the meeting.

We soon discovered that the word “political” would have to be dropped because so many Blacks worked for organizations or government agencies that did not allow political involvement of its employees or so they were told. Pressure was being applied to corporations to hire Blacks and the Sun Newspaper turned out its first Black reporter, Lee Harris.
Edison had moved forward and hired many Blacks and Latinos from the community: Don Griggs, Lloyd Walker, Shelly Garrett, Leonard Jacks, James Reed, Michael Darby, Al Yzaguirre, Pete Baeza, Ruben Amadore, Frank Palimino myself and many more in various departments. All of us lived on the Westside of San Bernardino. The Gas Company got in the act and hired Sam Martin Jr. and the phone company hired people of color as well. I had the most visible job of all being the first Black to read electric meters in the area.

There was Bank of America, Safeway and a Westside super market located on Mt. Vernon and Highland Ave. Four service stations located on Baseline, one on Highland Avenue and Foothill and Medical Center. There was one located on Mount Vernon owned and operated by a Black man.

While some of these good things were going on some of you might remember Mayor Ballard ordered guns be placed on fire trucks when they went on calls in Delmann Heights. This caused major unrest in the Black community and some of us thought we might have to organize and protect our community from this hysteria.

Tom Bradley had been on the LA City Council since 1963 and was close friends with Norris Gregory and Frank Tillie, who owned Tillie’s Funeral Home located on Mount Vernon and later moved to Baseline Ave. Bradley made many visits to San Bernardino during that period as an invited guest of his fraternity brothers Tillie and Gregory.

Norris Gregory was elected the first Black Council member in the newly created 6th Ward in San Bernardino in 1969. Norris had defeated Art Townsend, publisher of the Precient Reporter in a hotly contested campaign.

Charles Seymour was asked to publish a newspaper called The Tribune to counter the Precinct Reporter and was successful at doing his job.

I supported Norris and held several coffee meetings in my home on California Street for him.

At that time Don Griggs, Wesley Jefferson, James Marshall, Sharon Brown, Morris Antwine and many other involved citizens lived in California Gardens.

As a parent of children living on California Street, I wanted a stop sign on California Street to slow down the traffic that had a clear shot from Baseline to Highland Ave. That is how the stop sign on California Street in front of Rio Vista was put in by requesting it from Norris if he was elected. This was my first realization of what elected representation can do for you and a community.

John Woods was appointed to the San Bernardino City School Board as the first Black to serve on the board and some angry racist who was against bussing of children, later recalled him and five others. John later ran for congress on the Republican ticket and lost. His campaign headquarters was on Mount Vernon and 16th street.

The community was loaded with organizations at the time like: NAACP, Urban League, NCNW, Black Fathers, Social Lites, Prince Hall Masons, Elks, VFW, A. Phillip Randolph Institute and several sororities and fraternities including our churches of New Hope Baptist, St. Paul AME. Temple Baptist, Delmann Heights Foursquare Gospel with political influence.
Operation Second Chance was an organization headed by Francis Grice, which had tremendous political and economic influence in the community and region at the time as well. She had a staff which included Wesley Jefferson, Bobby Bivens, Keith Lee, and others that knew how to get things done including encouraging the NAACP to file a lawsuit against the school district.

The NAACP leadership at the same time in 1972 was focused on integration in our school district and rightfully so and brought lawsuits against the district in April of the same year.

The Black Fathers, which I mentioned earlier, had grown out of a racial incident at one of the high schools and no organization was able to confront it in the manner the community wanted it addressed.

Rev. William Dillard, my pastor at Delmann Heights Foursquare Church was picked to head Black Fathers as its first leader a few years earlier and later Bob Parker took over as president. By Black Fathers being linked to a specific issue and incident, men soon lost interest and thus the need as Bob and I talked about — WAG was born.

Bob had his own business and I was now a manager at Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, Kaiser Hospital in Fontana reporting to Art Forbes of Riverside, another Black community activist. It was because of our community activism that got us hired to run a special community healthcare program for Kaiser. So I had no fear about being involved in politics.

As a matter of fact, Kaiser had me talk with Councilman Norris Gregory about supporting its clinic being moved from 9th and “D” Street to its current location on Date Street because without Gregory’s vote they would not be able to relocate. I got Kaiser management to hire Pam Bolton as Clinic Assistanct to become the first Black to work there.
When Checkers Café closed we moved the meetings to the Kola Shanah in keeping with our desire to support Black business.

Bob had envisioned that WAG would conduct its meeting in the manner of Kiwanis from his experience as president of the club that meets at Mitlas. He was and is the only Black to head that local group made up of mostly Latinos. The meeting would open with the Pledge of Allegiance followed by prayer announcement and then a speaker followed by questions.

In the early days, many Wednesday morning meetings found only Bob, Rev Gertrude Wetzel and myself. Then I got a promotion that required me to travel into Los Angeles more often and that left Bob all along. Bob and I were neighbors by then because I had move from California Street to 20th and Gardena Street just around the corner from Bob’s house.

So this gave me time on the weekends to talked often with Bob. We would talk about community issues including giving up on WAG but we knew that people needed this organization. I expressed to him the habits of our people coming to meetings when there is a issue. I had witnessed that habit at church and in the south when I went home.

It is refreshing to see so many in attendance at WAG on a regular basic now, which is a testament to them and the fact many are retired or have jobs that almost require you to know what is going on the community.

For more of the WAG story, please attend their 42nd celebration in March or attend a WAG meeting held each Monday at noon at the Boys & Girls Club in San Bernardino.

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