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African American Representation : Glendale’s history supports importance of including this element of population on panel

Glendale included no African Americans on a new human relations panel formed this year, an especially regrettable omission considering its history of race relations.

Mayor Eileen Givens says she tried unsuccessfully to find one or two black people for the 14-member Blue Ribbon Task Force on Community Relations when it was formed in the spring, and that the search is likely to resume. The group already has two Latinos and five members with, variously, Filipino, Korean and Armenian backgrounds.

Although blacks make up less than 2% of Glendale’s population, they clearly should be represented on such a cultural-rainbow task force.

Not the least reason is Glendale’s history. For decades it was well-known as an all-white city distinctly inhospitable to African Americans. It still has that reputation among many.

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The 1920s saw an active Ku Klux Klan there. Longtime residents remember hearing in the 1950s that black people were not allowed on the city’s streets after dark. In the 1960s, Glendale was West Coast headquarters of the American Nazi Party. In the 1980s, the Pace Amendment Advocates, an extreme nativist organization, established its headquarters there. A few years ago, a minority officer won a lawsuit alleging race discrimination by the police force.

Two versions of a Human Relations Commission came and went, the latter in the 1980s. Two years ago, a Glendale Community Council bloomed briefly, but it had no African Americans when it was formed or when it fell apart a bit later.

All this helps to explain the suspicion that blacks are bound to feel toward any signs of racial exclusion.

Of course it does not mean the average white citizen of today’s polyglot Glendale is likelier than anyone else to harbor racist views, or that the city is not trying commendably to improve the human relations climate as it continues to grow more racially, nationally and ethnically diverse.

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“I hear mostly strong support” from constituents, Mayor Givens says, but she acknowledges that forming the task force in the first place--and thus implying that the city is not perfect--was and is controversial.

City officials took the praiseworthy step of speaking out firmly against “hate crimes” this year when an Armenian organization’s offices and a Jewish temple were vandalized.

We look forward to the good work of Glendale’s human relations task force--and to prompt representation of African Americans, the minority group with perhaps the longest and bitterest memories of its past.


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