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Tape Number: XI, Side One
July 23, 1985
Okay, you can go ahead whenever you'd like.
Probably one of the most unusual things that is totally unknown as far as the political history of Los Angeles is concerned
is the whole, best scenario of blacks in relation to a mayor. This was a situation where Sam [Samuel W.] Yorty—going back
now to about early 1960—was always a person who was a political-type person. Political animal, I guess, is what we generally
call ourselves. Well, a number of us had sat around, probably five or six people—a couple of people out of the Watts area,
couple of folks off the Westside, couple of people out of central Los Angeles—and we were talking about the fact that we were
not getting our fair share of activity as it applied to the city government. There had been the vanguard established by a
few people with the two-four committee; that was a committee that said that we would politically make an effort for two state
senators and four assemblypersons, based upon the reconfiguration of the state, as far as the ten-year period. Every ten years,
this state is required to redistrict or establish new political boundaries. Somehow we just felt that the time was absolutely
ripe to make the move as far as city government was concerned. Traditionally, in the past, we had had very few
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commissioners, and those commissioners who were there had served well, so they had not fallen at anyone's feet, and we had
a basis to move forward on. One of the important things was that we knew that we must submit quality people in order to see
to it that all of the necessary kind of essentials were taken care of if and when we got commissioners. Now, Los Angeles,
since the mid-1920s, had established a commission form of government. And therefore, it meant that the power was extremely
diluted and commissioners could carry significant clout. So we recognized the whole political situation that was there, and
then it was a question of how could we access to it so that we would be in a position to make some moves.
There was at one time in Los Angeles a group of basically Westsiders, basically conservative, honest, wealthy people, who
had had a major impact. I think they used to call themselves the Committee of Fifteen. They met on a weekly basis, and they
impacted upon what happened in Los Angeles: what city department heads were placed in, and what people went on to commissions,
and, by and large, they had a major impact. I think it goes back to Asa [V.] Call and his group, who did an excellent job.
They certainly were not in tune with any particular sort of forward movement for this community, but they, in their own minds,
felt that they were doing a good job. But they
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always had the access situation. So we started looking at the situation and we wondered what we'd be able to do with [Norris]
Poulson because Poulson seemed to be making some gestures out to the black community. Poulson and his wife [Erna Loennig Poulson],
for instance, had been guests over at our home when my grandmother [Sadie Nelson King] was here visiting, and, basically speaking,
there was a significant increase in the activity of the mayor as far as the black community was concerned.
Anyway, we analyzed the situation and it turned out that even though Poulson had not done a very creditable job in total,
that the entire black leadership of the town seemed to be leaning in the direction of Poulson, which was kind of an oddity.
Poulson was basically a conservative, basically, and when we say conservative, we're not trying to type him, because it is
somewhat difficult, but certainly he was not one who was making any great strides as far as improving the racial impact. Now,
you got to remember, 1960 there were not any black members of the city council. The only minority member of the city council
that had been there was a Hispanic; that was Ed [Edward R.] Roybal, who, by the way, did an excellent job as a city councilman,
but blacks had not moved into that particular level. So we began to think, is there a legitimate possibility of us actually
locating a candidate and putting
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our particular candidate into the race? Well, a rather fortuitous meeting occurred in the new county courthouse. Sam Yorty,
a former congressman, former assemblyman, had become fairly vocal during the 1960 convention that took place in Los Angeles.
He was stridently opposed to the Kennedys, had gotten his share of ink in connection with that, and had really always wanted
to be mayor. Sam had filed to run for mayor as far back as in the 1930s. That, of course, was simply, another [one of the]
indices that he was strictly a political animal. He had been out of politics in the sense that he was out of electoral politics.
So one of our guys by the name of Everette [M.] Porter was walking into the entrance, on the Hill Street side at 111 North
Hill, new county courthouse. And he saw Sam getting on the escalator. He called Sam and said, "I'd like to talk to you," and
Sam went on up to the second floor and came back down to the first floor on the next escalator. The question was posed to
Sam, "Would you like to get together and talk to a small black community committee, about your running for mayor?" Sam was
such a political animal, he was ready to run for mayor before the question. We met; if my memory is correct, we met that night.
And we met in Sam's office. And we talked about, first of all, his concern for running, which was A-1; there wasn't any question
about that. We didn't have to analyze
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Sam's past. We knew that, number one, that Sam had no objection to having blacks in his office because there was a lady (and
now I do recall her name). Her name was Ethel [C.] Bryant. Ethel Bryant was a black woman from the Pacoima area who ran his
office when he was in Congress, which was most unusual to have a black, and consistently. Ethel was then called in and then
began to look at the situation, and the commitments were there from the beginning, as far as that race was concerned, that
blacks would have a very significant opportunity to be able to fully participate in city government. It was the key opening
and it was done by half a dozen people with a commitment to see to it that the city of Los Angeles made some dramatic political
changes which we mistakenly thought would have a great economic impact. The fact of the matter is that the economics needs
to be supported by the political, but the political, standing alone, or the political being first, will not have that much
impact on the economics. Got to be in business, got to have a business attitude, got to have business acumen, got to have
the skills and the background if you want to make money. You can't do that too effectively without, at least, political linkage.
But we, I believe, overfocused on it and felt that the panacea of the problems would be to be able to access the mayor's office
in Los Angeles.
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Would you say the economic impact was blunted or not there because patronage actually had been wiped out some time ago? Was
patronage a question, or was it a problem that the mayor just didn't come through, or was there just confusion over politics
Oh, I don't think it's really a mayor's fault or a governor's fault. You got to be out there in business and looking for the
business situations or you will get so immersed into the social concerns of a community until most of what you will be doing
will not be in terms of hard economics, but will be in terms of programs and grants and things along that particular line,
and the level of social acceptance. I think that the emphasis on business—a person who is going to make a success in business
has to have a driving commitment to make a success. Now, will you make money if you are successful? Well, the answer is not
necessarily, because you can be extremely efficient in terms of what you do and have a lot of the linkage, but that does not
necessarily mean that you will be effective as to timing and other kind of things in order to make money. You have to be able
to see the opportunity long before it's generally seen, and then you have to begin to energize those things, which in some
cases [is] somewhat described as risk-taking. But you have to have access to the information in order to be able to make a
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intelligent decision. But the whole situation was then that when the race began to move along, we picked up a lot of support
from all levels of the community. We picked up support in the [San Fernando] Valley, because the Valley had felt very alienated,
as they were growing like Topsy out there. And San Pedro area, which was remote, and what had generally happened was that
everyone, and throughout the city, with the exception of the central city, was feeling that they were sort of being left adrift
and that the direction was not there and that the assistance was not there as far as that community moving. So the reason
why I would say that there was never really a change in terms of the basic attitude of Sam Yorty—which was, I thought, and
again it's subjective in terms of thoughts along that line, which I thought was the continuing commitment to the blacks—was
because of the fact that it was not a situation where these were Sam Yorty's blacks. It was the other way around. It was Sam
Yorty who was the blacks'—I'm talking about now the group that put him together—he was the blacks' mayor. There was that level
of relationship. We went, we had access and went in and out of the mayor's office for the first time in the history of this
city. And again—
With a level of respect and command, not hat-in-hand approach.
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From the time that you entered into the garage downstairs, all the way, the respect was there, because the chief executive
of city hall respected the people. Just in terms of relating the personal situations, now, because I was community-based,
in the sense that I was involved in a lot of community activities, it meant that there was a wide spectrum of folk that I
related with. And when I think back on this situation, things that happened that were absolutely amazing to, say— The community
just didn't have any big amazement to me at all. My wife [Anita Givens King] had a surprise birthday party for me on one occasion,
and half of city hall was at my house, starting with the mayor, for this surprise birthday party when I came in, and I was
legitimately surprised. First of all, you know, when you're getting that age, you're not thinking about birthday parties.
[laughter] Yeah. I was in my early forties and my best years, because they were fun years and there was a lot of change that
was taking place. And I guess I perceived to some extent that I had some impact on the social changes out there. So I was
always— I had a very, very high self-image. I felt that I had done something good, both for the black community, for myself,
for my family and for indeed all of Los Angeles, because I felt that these kind of moves
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So historically, the bottom line is that Sam Yorty was a black committee's candidate.
Now, he served three terms. Did you or members of that committee always feel that Yorty fulfilled his obligations to the black
community? Was there some fault in a part of this committee or increasing criticism, alienation, and breakup of this political
Not at all. Five out of six of us— When it expanded, of course, a little bit. I would say it expanded to about ten people.
All ten—I'm sorry—nine out of the ten were there twelve years later. Nine out of the ten. And when you just look back, I mean,
the team never left. Team never left. Richard Jones worked in the mayor's office for the entire twelve years. Extremely talented
Is he still around?
Not only is he still around, he's in his eighties now. He is a very viable person, very operative with the major Baptist church,
the Second Baptist Church of Los Angeles, and is a state commissioner on aging, appointed by [Governor George] Deukmejian.
He is still having significant impact; and in his eighties, he is also one of the vice presidents of the local NAACP [National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People], was one of the co-founders
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of the Black Agenda [Inc.], and, from what I understand, is an excellent bridge player. Now, I don't play bridge. [laughter]
I'd never be in a room when any activity like that's occurring. Okay, that's one.
Now, Everette Porter first went on as a police commissioner and then later ran for Congress.
What? Against [Augustus F.] Hawkins?
Against Hawkins. He lost in the primary. Then—
What year was that he ran against Hawkins? 'Sixty-four? 'Sixty-eight?
I guess it was '62.
That's from the beginning.
Yeah, that was when they had open primaries. He later was made a municipal court judge—
Everette Porter. And he ultimately resigned, and then he—
Was that an appointment by Yorty?
No, no, no. Municipal court judges are appointed by the governor and he was appointed by [Governor Ronald] Reagan. Yorty had
a major influence on that appointment. Because Yorty was the person who recommended Everette Porter to the governor. And the
appointment was made. So
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the team never left. And—
That was true of Judge Billy G. Mills, too, through Yorty's offices; he was appointed later to a judgeship, that family court
There was a good deal involved as far as the Billy G. Mills appointment was concerned. There were a lot of us who were involved
in that appointment, and it goes really back to the— It had some other kind of political overtones that were involved in it,
and Yorty was one of those who was a supporter of that particular situation, because it was what Billy wanted and desired
to put together. But it wasn't a heavy Yorty support but the support was there. Another thing that is probably not that well
known as far as Yorty is concerned is that Yorty was one of the principal backers of Tom [Thomas] Bradley.
Well, our committee was impressed with Tom, and we met with Sam, and told Sam that we would like to see if it would be possible
to get an appointment of Tom Bradley to the city council. There was a vacancy that occurred because Navarro, who had been
the tenth councilmember, had run for city controller. He had won the job of city controller, and it left an opening. It was—
What was Navarro's first name?
As well as I knew him, I cannot really recall.
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[Charles Navarro] So it left this opening, and we spoke with Sam Yorty about appointing Tom Bradley. Or, let me back that
up; it was actually a council appointment to be ratified then, basically by the mayor's office. And Yorty used the influence
that he had, and we were not able to gain the necessary votes in order to put Tom in. But we did come up with five votes for
The council was twelve members then?
You know, I've really forgotten whether it was twelve or fifteen at that particular point, but anyway, we had five votes,
I recall, and it was insufficient in order to get him through. But we had the full support of Sam Yorty.
Now, this is 1960.
We are now—
No, '62, '63.
Right. Bradley comes in about '63. Now, the council—
Well, actually, there was one person in between.
Joe [E.] Hollingsworth.
Hollingsworth was appointed—
By the council.
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By the council. And, at that particular time, we were just absolutely certain that a black was going to be appointed, and,
of course, when Joe Hollingsworth was appointed, what we did at that particular point was we began to move toward trying to
see if we could work with him. It became evident that it would be rather difficult to work with him.
Not that he was particularly negative. He just wasn't particularly responsive.
Meetings, getting together, just basically maybe the political courtesies.
He didn't want to establish a relationship with city hall or the black community?
Well, he didn't want to establish a relationship with those of us that perceived ourselves to have some level of political
impact that were not a part of the basic Democratic machine.
He was a Democrat.
He was a Democrat, I believe. That's my best recollection.
Or was— I thought his background was from the business community and he didn't have much of a political record, or did he?
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No, he didn't have much of a political record. And the acumen that he showed in terms of showing deference to our committee
was not there. I can't remember over a very, very few times of even being able to meet with the guy. And, of course, I lived
in the district.
This is part of the Tenth.
Yeah. My home is in the Tenth [City Council] District, and I felt that I had, you know, at that particular point, I felt that,
both as a constituent and as a person who was involved in political movements— Now, by this time, I had been out on the front
line for twelve years or so, in terms of the political arena, because I really started in the early fifties. And our team
had kind of started in the early fifties. This is part of the same team that was involved in putting together the black community
for Goodie [Goodwin J.] Knight back in, I guess it was '53, when we supported Goodie Knight. In fact, we had the first fifty-dollar-a-plate
dinner for any politician given by blacks. So we were really beginning to sense that it's about time now that you have to
acknowledge where we are and who we are and that our support is meaningful and that in an environment that has a lot of various
groups of political pundits that we were out there
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and we had to be dealt with. And we could not be dealt with in the same old sense as before, because we had seen victory,
we had seen situations changing, and we had been there as part of the vanguard. Now, to a large extent, we were a little bit
different than most of the traditional Democratic groups, but we related with anybody going in our direction. Now, of course,
I was a Republican at all times, and it meant nothing to anyone at all, because we were all trying to become politically more
sophisticated and to make some effort to be involved in both parties. Now, it seems—
Why was there sort of a consciousness since the fifties to be involved in both parties? Or sixties, early sixties?
Well, there were some of us that were involved in each of the parties; most, about 90 percent, of course, were involved in
the Democratic party, but—
I mean of this mayor's committee, that group?
The mayor's committee had mostly Democrats.
Were they heavily involved in the party machinery?
Oh, they were mavericks like Yorty?
We were all, I guess, if you— I don't quite understand the term "mavericks," because it was my view that—
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Sort of running off from the group—
No, I thought the group was running off from us. [laughter]
[laughter] The other way around. Okay.
But, I enjoy the use of the term "maverick." I like it.
[laughter] The group was running the wrong way. You like to reverse things, don't you?
[laughter] "I wasn't leaving them; they were leaving me." You know, well, that's what a number of people [say] who were Democrats
who turned Republicans: "I didn't leave them; they left me." [laughter] What's her name, Bobbi Fiedler. I mean, that was all
they argued. "I didn't leave it; it left me." [laughter] A whole lot of Democrats.
And, there was interaction and there were a few people who clearly were fighting the battle, and we— It was more fun, really,
in the Republican party and more difficult, because there you didn't have a lot of the rhetoric that you had over on the Democratic
side. I mean, the rhetoric over there was a little bit different than the actions, but there wasn't any rhetoric. Well, it
wasn't just an overstatement, but there was considerably less rhetoric that was over on the Republican side. And on the
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Republican side, you got what you could legitimately demand, and, hey, what you could legitimately bring forth in terms of
support and votes and other things. That's what you got. I mean you got it on the basis that it was quid pro. I mean, if you
could bring something, you could get something. If you couldn't bring anything, you couldn't get anything. There wasn't the
tokenism kind of situation; well, they didn't see any need for tokenism. I mean, if you couldn't impact on that whole political
surrounding situation, hey, you got exactly what you brought. You drew interest at the bank on the money you put in. You were
rarely able to take a small amount and you know, catapult to the front with it. So it was a very interesting situation. We
saw a lot of movements that were out there. Some of the movements were good. We ended up, I think, initially with nine commissioners
being appointed. Now, there—
You mean black commissioners?
Black commissioners, in a very, very rapid-fire situation.
Nine out of how many possible commission appointments?
Well, the number has expanded now, and I think it's up, it's maybe like a hundred and thirty now, but at that time, if I just
had to take a guess, I would say, and again
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I'm just guessing, I'd say about ninety. Could have even been a little less than that. But you know the political situations,
they always expand in terms of number. But we got like 10 percent of the commissions.
Yeah, I guess they didn't wipe out everybody on commissions; they wanted some continuity and stability, right?
Sam Yorty's no different than any other politician.
He wiped out everybody and put in whole new commissioners everywhere man for man?
He wiped out about 80 percent of the people. And those people that he did not wipe out were basically people who were supportive
during the final campaign or who maybe had covertly supported by not participating heavily in the Poulson campaign. But if
a commission had five people on it, you could bet the family farm that there would only be one left and that would be for
[laughter] Yeah, and he'd be removed shortly, eh?
Well, the four of them, you could bet, would go. And there were good reasons. Number one, there was a difference in who was
holding the mayor's seat. Persons entitled to their people who have loyalty—their team—and I guess, in a sense, to go the
Yorty way. Yorty decided that with our assistance that city hall was going to be opened up, and city hall was opened up. Tremendous
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changes. Everybody does clearly understand, of course, that there were the constraints of the civil service system, for good
or for bad, but it was no longer the days down there where blacks were not significant and viable. They were sitting in on
the major committees of this administration.
No, let me point this out. When you talk about nine commissioners, now, my family came to Los Angeles as a unit in 1938. My
grandmother had, of course, been here in 1905, just couldn't make a living, and left. But my family, now, during that period
of time, there were never more than, if my recollection is correct, there were never more than three city commissioners. And
I think we had mentioned that it was like—
—Paul, Paul [R.] Williams, internationally outstanding architect who was very politically active. He was—
—significant as a national Republican. And you had [George A.] Beavers, who was from the largest local business, which was
Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company. And you always had the black spot on the police commission [Los Angeles City Board
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Commissioners]. I mean, that was the whole wrap-up. And then, to talk about a situation where all of a sudden, you went, like,
to nine. Now, there was one other person that was on, and that was that Gus Hawkins's brother [Edward A. Hawkins] was on the
public works commission [Los Angeles City Board of Public Works Commissioners]. So you had an almost complete doubling of
the number of commissioners. And all of a sudden they were visible. I mean, they were visible out in the black community.
The people who were appointed were not the people who were in a more secluded kind of an environment. They were open activists,
clear, visible people that were moving around in our environment, the society that was going on—not society necessarily in
terms of a class approach, but the total society. They were active and they were out there and they were doing things. The
level of popularity then of commissioners was fantastic. Being a city commissioner in the sixties meant almost that when you
walked into an activity you could almost see the red carpet roll out because commissioners were making decisions at that particular
point. I think today to talk about city commissioners, county commissioners, to talk about state commissioners, it does not
carry the political overtones or impact or, in fact, real sort of status and influence over the political system.
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Well, number one, there has been a proliferation of commissions and ad hoc committees. Certainly, every time now anything
that comes up, the standard situation is to appoint an ad hoc committee to make an evaluation. And the blue ribbon committees
have come, and instead of those things, once the report is made, there is a tendency for them to ultimately stay on the books.
And when you look now at a situation where— I believe that when Deukmejian went into office I got hold of the plum list, which
is really the list of appointments that are available. And, of course, even though you could go to a local library and get
the plum list, it is not particularly meaningful just to see it; you have to relate it to what's really going on out there.
And I think that there was something like twenty-three hundred appointments that were available to the governor. Now, that
twenty-three hundred was only just half of the iceberg because there's another seven or eight hundred where the governor really
has impact, but they are appointments within the departments to advisory committees. Now, the advisory committees are sometimes
Well, they have a number of names, but basically they're all really commissions. Some are statutory boards; some are boards
created by the department itself. There
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are new situations that come along. An example just today, meaning in recent times, you have the Afro-American Museum [of
History and Culture] that's located near the [Museum of] Science and Industry in Exposition Park near USC [University of Southern
California] and the [Los Angeles Memorial] Coliseum area over there. Well, when that was put together, a new commission was
formed, and that meant about four more appointments by the governor. It will soon be five appointments by the governor, so
it tends to expand. It expands a few at a time, but when you add up all of the things, you have the situation now with all
of the counties that have county fairs, and these county fair boards. Now, there are boards put together by the [Los Angeles
County] Board of Supervisors, in addition, so you've got this great proliferation, expanding of the number of commissioners,
probably two-, three-fold that has occurred. And also, [for] commissioners, the appointment process was a major political
situation. I mean, it was reflected in the Los Angeles Times
when you were appointed a commissioner and what city councilman so-and-so had to say, who voted in opposition of the appointment.
And so— [laughter] Today, I mean, you just don't hear anything like that. If there is a meaning of the word "rubber stamp,"
what happens is, say, the mayor makes the appointment and the rubber stamp goes into effect and 99
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percent go through and nobody knows it at all. I mean, it just doesn't have any public attention that's given to it, but,
I mean, there were TV interviews and radio coverage—
In the early years. [laughter]
Yeah, every person who was appointed a commissioner. You know, I remember the fanfare around my mother's [Leontyne Butler
King's] appointment to the library. There'd never been a black on the library commission [Los Angeles City Board of Library
So there was a real sense of importance.
[laughter] Oh, goodness, yes. I'm telling you—
Do you think that that has dampened or harmed black patronage toward politics, because those commissions don't seem like a
real reward anymore or something to hand out?
Well, what has happened now is that what people must do is that they must now promote themselves in relation to the appointment.
And it can be done—
To make it important.
They have to make it important. And it certainly can be done, but it means now that it takes a lot of work and a lot of effort.
You have to probably pay the photographer—