Left: Marge Wyatt and Delores Hickambottom Tuesday at the Museum of History
Dorothy Garcia, PHS class of 1973, was naming all the great electives a Pasadena student could take in the district in the early ’70s.
“Asian literature, science fiction, African studies,” she ticked them off on her fingers. “And” — here she looked toward the rear of the conference room at the Pasadena Museum of History Tuesday where a bunch of us had gathered to discuss the early years of desegregation of the schools — “it was because you all took us really seriously.”
“You all” would be revered former school board members Al Lowe, Marge Wyatt and Ann Hight, who helped preside over the schools during the busing period, and who took the wrath of the reactionary community for doing so. They eventually were booted by a new board majority that literally tried to make John Birch Society propaganda required reading. Dorothy and the rest of us hardly suffered from that lack of overly narrow standards that practically eliminates electives these days. Then she could be student body president, a cheerleader, a hippie artist and a political leader simultaneously. She went on to a storied academic career of her own at Bennington and Mills and teaching future teachers at Pacific Oaks, and now operates Art Aids Art out of Cape Town, promoting education and sustainable economic development in South Africa through the arts.
Al gave a joking reply to Dorothy’s praise of the dynamic between students and the schools then.
They took us seriously, he laughed, “Because we were scared of you!”
The conference was themed “The Integration of PUSD: How it Happened by Many of the People who Made it Happen & Its Legacy Today.”
Its legacy is clearly dismal, but it was not integration’s fault. And integration was not the darling of only the progressives — Ann, a stockbroker, future president of the Chamber of Commerce and lifelong Republican, recalled being appalled by the L.A. Times headline when she joined the board: “Liberal Integrationist Appointed to the School Board.”
It was those who left town who destabilized the schools. Conference co-organizer Michele Zack recalled how by 1975 Newport Beach was known as “Altadena By The Sea.” Al recalled federal Judge Manny Real, who ordered the district to integrate, saying in 1974: “I wonder what would have happened in Pasadena if all the energy expended in trying to block desegregation instead went into making it work.”
And it didn’t work because some in the educational establishment maintained the old legacy of institutional racism. Robin Kelley, recently lured away from Columbia University by USC, where he is now professor of history and American studies, became at 32 one of the youngest tenured full professors in the nation. At PHS in the late ’70s, though, the schools by then battered down, he was told by a counselor from whom he sought help with college applications that he shouldn’t even bother to apply.
The schools left us rather than we them. But anyone who hasn’t lifted a finger to remedy that, who has never been on a campus — or not in 30 years — has no credence in this conversation.