Emory Hestus Holmes, a longtime civil rights activist who helped found the San Fernando Valley Fair Housing Council in the early 1960s after winning an anti-discrimination suit against his neighbors, has died at a San Rafael hospital. He was 70.
A Bay Area resident for 12 years, Holmes died April 6 of a respiratory illness, said his son, Emory Holmes II of Pacoima.
During the late 1950s while living in Pacoima, Holmes and his family became the victims of racially motivated harassment from white residents in the neighborhood, his son explained. Vandals threw rocks through windows of the Holmeses’ house, the son recalled, defaced the family car and even burned a cross on the lawn.
Holmes sued in 1960 and, according to his son, became one of the first plaintiffs to win a civil rights suit against a neighbor in California. Holmes declined any sort of monetary award, but the suit did stop the harassment. Emory Holmes II said that, over time, his family became friends with some of their former tormentors.
In addition to his work with the housing council, the elder Holmes was active with the Valley chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and many other religious, civic and social groups.
Born in Birmingham, Ala., on Nov. 17, 1924, Holmes, like other black children in the rural South, was barred from attending school past the sixth grade. At 17, he entered the Army where he helped to construct the Burma Road between Burma and China during World War II.
Wounded in combat, he returned a decorated veteran and later earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology from Tennessee State University. In 1955, he went to work as a systems analyst for a division of the RAND Corp. in Santa Monica.
He received his doctorate in sociology from UCLA in 1972 and became a professor, and later dean of students, at Cal State Dominguez Hills. In the early 1980s, Holmes moved to Petaluma where he worked as director of student services at UC San Francisco. He retired in 1983.
Funeral services were held Monday and Holmes was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, Calif.
In addition to his son, Emory, Holmes is survived by his wife of 50 years, BobbieJo Holmes; two daughters, Evangeline Bolton of Northridge and Denise Holmes of West Chester, Penn.; three sisters, Ada McMillan and Evelyn Farris of Zion, Ill., and Lillian Brown of Kenosha, Wis.; a brother, Clarence Holmes of Cleveland, and four grandchildren.