Long Beach Bestows Historical Status on Civil Rights Pioneer’s Home : Landmark: Ernest McBride, 85, co-founder of the local NAACP chapter, and fellow members tackled racial bias and other issues in his Lemon Avenue bungalow.
Long Beach officials admit that the beige Craftsman bungalow in the 1400 block of Lemon Avenue is no different than many others, but the City Council has declared it a landmark in honor of its owner, civil-rights pioneer Ernest McBride.
McBride, 85, is co-founder of the Long Beach chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. NAACP members often gathered at his house to discuss plans to battle such problems as segregated housing, racially biased school textbooks and discriminatory hiring practices.
He bought the house in the 1940s despite racially restrictive covenants and a petition by neighbors who wanted to keep him from moving in.
“He’s such an activist and a role model to everyone,” said Councilwoman Doris Topsy-Elvord, who suggested the historical designation for McBride’s house.
After forming the local NAACP chapter, McBride organized a student revolt that forced Poly High School officials to abandon minstrel shows and to drop a textbook that depicted blacks only as slaves.
He later led picketing at grocery stores that refused to hire blacks and pressured City Hall to open up more jobs for blacks.
“They used to brand him a communist because he was working on rights for black folks,” said former City Councilman Clarence Smith, who grew up in Long Beach and remembers some of McBride’s exploits.
McBride moved to California when he was 21, seeking a more receptive area to live than in the Mississippi Delta, where he was born, and Arkansas, where he lived as a teen-ager. Instead, he found a sign in a Wilmington cafe that declared: “We don’t serve coloreds here.”
But he chose to remain. “I decided I had to stop and fight somewhere,” he said. “And I decided Long Beach was where I was going to stop.”
Over the years he held a variety of jobs: bailing cotton, cleaning grocery stores, repairing cars. And nearly everywhere he worked, he fought for better wages and working conditions.
In 1932 he was hired as a janitor at a supermarket and worked there for eight years. He said his requests for a raise were turned down until he decided to organize the workers. He eventually won a raise and a shorter workweek.
A savvy crusader, McBride learned the importance of securing powerful allies. In 1942, when a union at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard refused to let in blacks, he rounded up 180 people to write letters of protest to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt ordered the union to diversify or face losing its status as a bargaining agent.
McBride said he worked at the shipyard as an electrician until he was fired for refusing to sign a loyalty oath during the McCarthy era.
He later found work cleaning cars at an auto dealership, eventually becoming a mechanic. He retired in 1972.
His wife, Lillian, died in June at age 82. They had been married more than 60 years.
McBride lives a quiet life in the bungalow that once was home to their three daughters and two sons. Dozens of awards are displayed in a back room. There are two keys to the city, a commendation that McBride received from the state Assembly for rescuing three children from a burning house, and plaques from several organizations, including the Democratic Party, the American Muslim Mission Center and the NAACP.
“It’s certainly too bad we can’t designate Ernie and his late wife Lilly as a historic monument,” City Councilman Alan S. Lowenthal said after the council’s unanimous vote. “He really is the landmark.”