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  • Writer's pictureGabriel San Roman

Slingshot: A RecKKKoning in Brea Redux

Dear Subscribers:

A week ago, I wandered around Loma Vista Memorial Park searching, in vain, for the grave of Benjamin "Walking" Elliott, the subject of my last Slingshot. Being Fourth of July weekend, I expected a sea of plastic American flags on the Fullerton cemetery's grounds, setting a scene of historical irony for him.

I didn't find that, either.

But a pair of Old Glories did catch my attention. They stood a few rows out from an area I surveyed at random. I walked over to the flags with curiosity.

Much to my surprise, the path led directly to the grave of William E. Fanning.

Last year, I plunged into the history of the Ku Klux Klan in Orange County during the 1920's. Fanning appears on a Klan membership list donated to the Anaheim Public Library by the late Leo J. Friis, a former Anaheim city attorney and respected local historian. Activists spent a year-and-a-half trying to convince Brea Olinda Unified School District trustees to change the name of William E. Fanning Elementary School on account of his documented Klan affiliation.

The board ultimately changed the school's name, but kept Fanning within it in tribute to the Brea educator, principal and superintendent. I published "A RecKKKoning in Brea," an OC Weekly cover story, in the aftermath.

And now I stood before the man's grave, a year later.

The moment found us in the midst of a Black Lives Matter movement having turned into a wider anti-racist revolt, one that already started to transform anti-Black OC. The name of Louis E. Plummer, a former Fullerton Klan member, was scrubbed off a historic auditorium last month. A renewed call to rename Fanning Academy of Science and Technology sounded with protests and petitions soon after.

Vivian Gray, a Black Brean and a recent Brea Olinda High School graduate, started a petition that collected more than 3,000 signatures.

"It’s time the BOUSD Board of Education acknowledges Brea’s racist past and puts an end to allowing racists tributes within our city," read Gray's petition. "The school must be renamed."

Would Brea double-down?

The answer came a day after my cemetery sojourn with a surprising twist. Fanning's grandsons, staunch deniers of their patriarch's documented Klan membership being definitive proof, wrote a letter to the board requesting the name be changed, paying fealty to bettering racial justice while citing, among other things, the coronavirus pandemic.

"We believe that continuing to disagree over a name on a school unnecessarily distracts from the education of Brea's children," the letter stated. "As descendants and with personal knowledge of his character, we know that William E. Fanning would tell us, at a time like this, that educating children must be the most important priority."

A special meeting followed on July 7 where the board unanimously voted to rename Fanning Academy. It will now be known as Falcon Academy. Trustee Carrie Flanders, faithfully reneging on her promise to be brief in remarks, admonished anyone who'd take the occasion to pluck a feather in their cap in victory.

"This is the Fanning family’s story to write," she said, "and their decision to make."

The trustee ended by opining that the time for ethnic studies in Brea's schools arrived. But Fanning's Klan membership and the city's era as a Sundown Town, where Blacks had to leave by dusk or else, is ethnic studies.

While Flanders choked up during her comments at one point, Brea choked on another lost opportunity. Changing the school name while denying the history deprives Breans, especially White Breans, of the chance to reckon with and atone for the city's past.

Despite that, it's clear that without OC Weekly's historical journalism--from Gustavo Arellano's OC Klan pioneers series to my cover story last year--and the activism of Brea residents and educators, renaming Fanning Academy wouldn't have been a conversation, much less a moment.

Once Fanning's name is scrubbed from the school, all it will adorn is the centenarian's grave marker, the one that I unintentionally visited a week ago, as if guided by the hidden hands of history.

- Gabriel San Román

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Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina

Mouse Muckraker

Downtown Disney welcomed back the mouse-eared masses in Anaheim on the same day OC reported its highest death toll from the coronavirus pandemic.

That's it for this edition of "Mouse Muckraker!"

I jest, I jest. But with hospitalizations soaring in OC, the Disney deprived lined up to visit the open air shopping mall, anyway. The World of Disney store especially attracted antsy shoppers looking for a bit of magic in uncertain times.

With Disneyland's 65th anniversary arriving this month, they rushed to get their hands on commemorative merchandise, including a sparkly new spirit jersey with "the Happiest Place on Earth" emblazoned on the back. One Disnerd filmed a swarm of people on top of each other snagging spirit jerseys without any pretense of social distancing.

The Instagram story went viral.

Sure, everyone in the store wore a mask, but as has been cautioned by public health officials, being masked up is no license to ignore social distancing practices.

World of Disney workers are represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 324, a member of the Coalition of Resort Labor Unions. Some coalition union leaders expressed dismay at the sight online. If Downtown Disney caused such a scene on its first day, what would both theme parks being reopened bring?

In truth, Disney could've spared itself the embarrassment.

Making anniversary merchandise exclusive to in-store shoppers as opposed to online ones bears responsibility for what happened. And if there's exclusive items offline in high demand, a better system must be put in place in order to avoid creating swarms of shoppers amid a pandemic.

It seems the Mouse is moving in that direction with the anniversary collection going online this Tuesday, but only after whetting Downtown Disney's opening weekend appetite.

Naranja Notes

On my way to Loma Vista Memorial Park a week ago, another unexpected sight caught my attention. Small plastic cups spelled out "Black Lives Matter" on a chain link fence along Harbor Boulevard in Fullerton. Red cups were arranged in the shape of a heart. It was a sign of the times we're living in. I smiled but didn't stop to take a photo.

I should've!

The makeshift message lasted all of 24 hours. A Latino on the other side of the fence uploaded photos to Twitter after a white guy riding in a Kia didn't take kindly to the show of solidarity and decided to do something about it. A shouting match ensued at the scene.

"Black Lives Matter supports killing cops," the guy said, pulling the cups off the fence, in video shared with me. "You have the right to put it up, I have the right to tear it down."

He left white plastic cups strewn all over the floor after finishing his tantrum and departed.

Stay classy, OC!

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