Slingshot: Heinekens With a Civil Rights Hero
Updated: May 4
Dear Subscribers: Five years ago this month, I worked at the Braille Institute of Orange County's library when an elderly African American man walked in wearing a black Tougaloo College Bulldogs shirt. We didn't offer much in the way of Braille books; the code of raised dots that blind and visually impaired people read with their fingertips is largely a thing of the past. Instead, we fulfilled digital audiobook orders for folks looking to pass the time with the adventures that literature brings. On any given day, patrons faithfully requested Louis L'Amour westerns, David Baldacci detective mysteries, Debbie Macomber romances and one too many selections from Bill O'Reilly's "Killing" series for my liking. But Joseph Jackson Jr. didn't want any of those books. He asked me for tomes on Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement. That piqued my interest, and then a conversation.
"What do you know about Paul Robeson?" Jackson asked, testing me. I could've responded by belting a bass baritone rendition of "Ol' Man River" but even though my voice can almost get that deep, I'm much too shy to pull such a stunt in front of strangers. I settled for a basic answer on the blacklisted singer, actor and all around civil rights hero. It was good enough for Jackson to briefly mention his own contribution to the black freedom struggle as a member of the Tougaloo Nine, a group of African American students who staged a "read-in" under the tutelage of Medgar Evers at the whites-only Jackson, Mississippi public library on March 27, 1961. I had never heard of the Tougaloo Nine and wanted to learn more. My mind already lit up with story ideas, especially since Jackson lived in Orange County. We traded contact info before he departed. My cover story pitch to OC Weekly didn't get an immediate go so I turned to the Pacifica Radio Archives in the meantime. They repurposed their repository of progressive radio into a syndicated weekly program called "From the Vault." I visited Jackson's apartment and had a long conversation with him about his life and the sit-in that soon became an episode. Sojourner Truth Radio with Margaret Prescod re-aired the conversation afterward. Finally, OC Weekly came around and I penned "Mississippi Learning" in June 2015. The story helped carry the tale of the Tougaloo Nine all the way to Congress the following year. Loretta Sanchez, then a representative, recounted Jackson's contribution to civil rights on the floor during Black History Month. With a revived interest, documentary filmmakers and authors regularly call Jackson to ask for his participation in their projects. Five years later, I keep calling, too. A week before California's coronavirus quarantine began, I promised Jackson that I'd visit soon to drink a Heineken and converse about black history and politics. It's a ritual we've kept since 2015 and I had a Times OC cover story I published in the Los Angeles Times about Santa Ana's first black cop that I wanted to read to him. Only, by the time we scheduled a date and time, the pandemic put an indefinite hold on our plans. Still, I gave Jackson a call and read him my article about Harlen Lambert and his new book Badge of Color: Breaking the Silence over the phone. Last month, we chatted again--only he wasn't expecting it. Jackson's son texted me an invitation to call in during Gumbo Soul, a blog talk radio program his father co-hosted to surprise him on the occasion of his 83rd birthday. I waited on hold for about twenty minutes. The love for "Papa Joe" flooded the phone lines with people from all quarters of his life sending well wishes. I stammered when my moment came, but recovered to say how much I looked forward to our next visit over Heinekens. In these times, the outpouring made it abundantly clear: our elders are essential. - Gabriel San Román Like what you're reading so far? To keep the Tallest Mexican in OC's Slingshot! newsletters going Venmo: @Gabriel-SanRoman-2. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook! Don't forget to tell your friends to join the San Roman syndicate by subscribing! Always feel free to let me know what you'd like to see more of in this newsletter!
Mouse Muckraker In the controversy over the pressured resignation of Anaheim city manager Chris Zapata on April 21, we've all heard about the "Zapata Memo." As the timeline is now reported by Voice of OC, mayor Harry Sidhu met with Zapata on April 16 at 10:30 a.m. Fifteen minutes later, Zapata fired off a memo to council members raising the issue of executive pay at Visit Anaheim, a politically-connected tourism promoting nonprofit that enjoyed a $6.5 million taxpayer bailout in March as part of a coronavirus economic relief package. "Given these impacts and the authority granting the City Manager an appointment to the Visit Anaheim Board of Directors," the Zapata memo read, "I will be recommending that the Board begin negotiation to reduce executive compensation." The former city manager cited Jay Burress' $432,954 salary as CEO, specifically. But by that time, pay already had been slashed. The "Burress Memo," which hasn't been reported on at all, said as much. Longtime Anaheim activist Duane Roberts first raised the issue of executive pay in his opposition to the bailout. He followed up by asking the city's spokesman in an April 2 email CC'd to Zapata if any executives at Visit Anaheim took a pay cut. Lyster responded that Burress and other remaining staff reduced their salaries by 20 percent. Conceivably, Zapata should've been up to date before citing old salary statistics in his outgoing memo. Councilman Jose F. Moreno, a Zapata supporter, responded to the issue directly to Roberts in an April 21 email from his city account. "I thought I'd share with you, not as an excuse by any means but as context of inadvertence, I would not be surprised if the city manager did not see your reply as he receives an immendse amount of direct emails and even more emails via 'cc,'" Moreno wrote Roberts. "Indeed I myself cc him on every email I send in the City to make sure he is in the loop or is aware of questions I am asking of staff." Fair enough. But what about the Burress Memo? On April 2, the same day as the Roberts email, Burress sent a memo addressed only to Zapata. It reads, "Visit Anaheim has reduced our budget for 2020 from over $20 million to under $9 million. We have laid off more than half of our staff, and all remaining staff have taken a 20% pay cut." So, apparently, we had a city manager who didn't read emails and memos? Either that or Zapata knowingly threw a PR bomb on the way out. Speaking of executive pay, it's being reported that Burress is now slashing his salary in half at the same time Visit Anaheim is touting almost a $500 million economic boost thanks to future Anaheim Convention Center bookings. But if things are going so swell, why is there more austerity instead of re-hires? San Román Memo: Visit Anaheim's future is dire but with Zapata now gone, austerity to come will insulate the Resort cabal from the worst of it with nary a concern raised from the city manager's office! By the Bylines
Last week, I proudly debuted my monthly "Off The Page" column with LibroMobile, an indie bookstore in downtown Santa Ana. It's where I'll pen features on books, artists and culture. For this month's column, I wrote about local poet, performer and artivist Anatalia Vallez who just released her debut book The Most Spectacular Mistake published by FlowerSong Press.