Hardy Brown, Sr. | Publisher Emeritus
In keeping with Black History Month, I want to share with you what I shared with the San Bernardino City Council at their meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 17.
I had been reading several of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches and thought his topic of “The Other America” was appropriate for this time in our history and befitting the current status of the City of San Bernardino, though what you are reading in this opinion article is longer than the three minutes I had for the council meeting.
Dr. King gave this speech at Stanford University on April 14, 1967.
He opened by saying: “Mr. Bell, and members of the faculty and members of the student body of this great institution of learning. Ladies and gentlemen, I have several things that one could talk about before such a large, concerned, and enlightened audience.”
“There are so many problems facing our nation and our world that one could just take off anywhere. But today, I would like to talk mainly about the race problem, since I have to rush right out and go to New York to talk about Vietnam tomorrow, and I’ve been talking about it a great deal this week and weeks before that.”
I, on the other hand, don’t have to rush anywhere because COVID-19 is keeping everyone inside. Let me share this one statement King said about RACISM; “Hitler was a sick and tragic man who carried racism to its logical conclusion and ended up killing six million Jews.” He went on to say that racism is a tragedy because its ultimate logic is genocide.
Dr. King explained what he meant by racism. “If I am not good enough to live next door to you, eat at a lunch counter next to you, cannot have a decent job next to you or go to school with you, all because of my race, you are saying consciously or unconsciously, I do not deserve to exist.”
He concluded this comment by saying—and this is the great tragedy of it—“[T]hat however unpleasant it is, we must honestly see and admit that racism is still deeply rooted all over America. It’s still deeply rooted in the North, and it’s still deeply rooted in the South.”
I am adding to King’s comment, it is also still deeply rooted out West and here in the City of San Bernardino and in other government agencies and private corporations in the Inland Empire.
It was one minute and 32 seconds into his remarks that King told those in attendance why he selected the topic: The Other America.
“I use this subject because there are literally two Americas. One America is beautiful for our situation. And in a sense, this America is overflowing with the miracle of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies and culture and education for their minds, and freedom and human dignity for their spirit. In this America, millions of people experience every day the opportunity of having life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in all their dimensions. And in this America, millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity.”
King quickly followed this statement with, “But, tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America, millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search of jobs that do not exist. In this America, millions of people find themselves living in rat-infested, vermin-filled slums. In this America, people are poor by the millions. And they find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty, in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”
I will be the first to say, we have made some progress in living anywhere our money can buy, eating at any lunch counter, being educated in every classroom; but Blacks can’t get a decent job within the City of San Bernardino. We are good enough to pay all the taxes for White people to earn high salaries with benefits while carrying the taxpayers’ money to live in other cities and thrive.
There is not one African American Department Manager in the city, and it is very noticeable when reports are made at council meetings. Then we have the Police Department, where 115 years have passed and never an African American as Chief, and only one to ever reach the rank of Captain. In that same 115 years only one Mexican American has been Police Chief. I know why—besides race, the Chief earns with benefits almost $500,000 a year according to a salary report in 2019. And just like King described in his speech, the Chief lives in Big Bear where there are very few Mexican Americans or African Americans and the living is easy.
I did a Public Records Request in July 2020 regarding city employees in San Bernardino and this is what I learned: Only 29% of the city staff are residents and only 8% of our sworn police officers live in the city. Whites make up 9.2% of the city population but occupy over 40% of the jobs and over 52% in the police department, with one Hispanic at the rank of captain and one African American holding the rank of lieutenant.
Blacks have been in San Bernardino since 1826 and last year, the City Council declared racism a public health crisis in the city. The city’s population is currently 66% Hispanic, 13.4% African American, 4.7% Asian, 5.4% mixed races, 1.3% Indigenous American and that leaves 9.2% White. If residents cannot earn a livable wage to care for their families or educate their children or feel like they belong, then they will move out.
According to the U. S. Census Bureau, the projected population for Blacks in the City of San Bernardino by 2025 will drop to 12.7%, which is the new kind of genocide of African Americans in this city.
If you think this is not true, look at these facts: Blacks were 14.6% in 2010, a high of 16% in 1990 and is now headed down to 12.7%. This is the same strategy used by the KKK against Blacks in the South after the Civil War. I know because I was a part of the last group that left the segregated South heading North and was forced West.
I keep hoping that Whites will prove me wrong, that they will “do the right thing” without being forced or taken to court to educate, employ, support our business, contract with our business owners, and that is why I see “six” different “cities” in San Bernardino—Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian and White. All of them live here, but Blacks cannot work here. Blacks have a poverty rate of 30% with an unemployment rate higher than any city in California. This is what Dr. King told the students at Stanford. He pointed out the good life of Whites in America and poor life of the citizens of color. Oh, the sixth city in my opinion, begins every workday, when the White staff comes into the city to work and then vacates the city at sundown to return to their well-kept communities.
The city continues to hire only Whites from out of town in management positions and now they want to hire outside White developers to plan and rebuild the city. They are even changing the rules to appoint non-residents to committees to plan the downtown area.
It is sad for me to say the city I love to live in has practiced racism since the days the Railroad Tracks were laid to separate neighborhoods; the Freeway was built with off and on ramps to the White communities and businesses and away from the Black and Latino communities; housing laws were used to relegate Blacks to the Valley Truck Farm and Westside communities; and schools that remained segregated until the NAACP filed a lawsuit in the 1970’s requiring integration. The city built the Inland Center Mall and Central City Mall without Black workers until they were forced to hire us. They are now wanting to redevelop the downtown area without the participation of citizens who live in the city.
I have seen this picture before, and it looks like the man wearing a white suit on a white horse on highway 70 in North Carolina.
Let me say however, we have come a long way and in the middle of all this, the citizens have elected for the first time, three African Americans to serve on the seven-member city council and three Blacks to serve on the city’s seven-member school board.
So, I am still holding out HOPE. Have a Happy Black History Month Celebration.