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  • Kalyn McCall

Woman's Work and Jim Crow

Women's Temperance League members seated outside the First Methodist Church on 6th and Bush. Inscribed on the back: From someof your friends and sisters --- to Lizzie H. Mills --- W. C. T. U. Women wear fancy hats and long high-collar dresses. Some children and men are also in the photo. A dirt road in the foreground passes by the church. Some of the women hold signs. Names are inscribed on the back, some of them too faint to read, and include: Emma Cash from Los Angeles, M. E. Stewart from Los Angeles, Charity E. Way, Sophia Webber from Riverside, Rachel Beardsley, Mrs. Ada R. Hand from Los Angeles. (It is noted that Lecil Slaback does not recognize this as a Santa Ana church.)
Women's Temperance League members seated outside the First Methodist Church on 6th and Bush [Photo Courtesy of Santa Ana Public Library]

Orange County has never had a substantial black population, but black people have always been a part of Orange County. Though they did not settle in large numbers, as white Americans began settling in the region, several people of African descent followed. Furthermore, with the completion of the railroads, despite not receiving a large Pullman colony as did Los Angeles, Orange County saw an increase of black sojourners to the area. However, few of them stayed, not simply because they felt jobs were unavailable. As the era of Reconstruction gave way to Jim Crow, theoretically the West could offer unimaginable opportunities that could not be found elsewhere. African Americans found work where they could, sometimes operating their own businesses, and had the chance to ensure that their children, some of the first generations born free, could receive on education. Those who settled in the region often became recognized and well known, seen as respectable hardworking fellows like Professor Dean or Willis K. Duffy. However, many who made the journey were never given a chance to settle, especially those seeking work.

Anti-vagrancy laws, and general lack of affection for black Americans, pushed them out and prevented their permanence. As such a small population, people of African descent were not the target of an abundance of blatantly restrictive legislation or racial animosity as one might experience in the South. But this peace came with a cost: the community needed to stay within their established boundaries. Black sojourners tended to be funneled to Santa Ana and Fullerton, keeping to themselves and remaining small so as to remain non-threatening.

Orange County never felt plagued with a “negro problem,” but ensured that racial fault lines divided the landscape. For instance, Orange County’s WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union), with Santa Ana’s founded in 1886, was one of the first women’s organizations created and one of its proudest. They actively participated at the local and state level in an attempt to spread their sense of morality and ensure the prohibition of alcohol. In 1908, the Santa Ana hosted a convention of Southern California WCTU chapters. Within days, however, the city made headlines as WCTU delegates boycotted the Rossmore Restaurant on Sycamore Street. A group, which included three white women and two black delegates from Los Angeles, entered the restaurant, but were shocked when, “The proprietors, Wilson & Wheaton, served the three, but as they were leaving the two negro delegates were asked not to patronize the place again.” After news of the incident spread, the next night, fifteen members of the WCTU returned to the establishment, asking if what they heard was true. Accordingly, the “waitress replied that the management, feeling it necessary to draw the color line, asked the delegates to stay away.” For the rest of the convention, the WCTU took their money elsewhere. For those wishing to forget the sectional strife that brought them to war, Orange County was a welcomed respite. Orange County’s black residents knew their place and stayed in the periphery, while most simply faded in and out, becoming distant memories.

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