OB Versus the Klan and Other White Supremacists

by on August 17, 2017 · 10 comments

in Civil Rights, Ocean Beach

Less than two weeks after Donald Trump was elected, dozens of OBceans and San Diegans rallied against him at the foot of Newport and then marched down the sidewalks chanting, “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!”

This is a common chant these days at anti-Trump protests, yet the inclusion of “KKK” in a chant shouted out in Ocean Beach was not as out of place as it may have seemed, for OB does have its own history of a KKK – or Klan – presence, and the presence of other white supremacists over the years.

OBceans march against Trump down Newport sidewalks, chanting “No Trump. No KKK. No fascist USA!”. Nov. 20, 2016. Photo by Frank Gormlie

And within OB’s well known laid-back character and tolerance for alternative lifestyles – which has allowed artists, musicians, bohemians, gays and lesbians, along with bikers and skin heads, to reside within the dense neighborhoods of the community – there’s also been a fiercely, anti-racist attitude among the more liberal and radical residents, at least since the late 1960s.

But within its storied history, OB has had more than a flirtation with white supremacists.

The famous OB historian, Ruth Held, spoke of a number of racist incidents in her book about Ocean Beach,”Beach Town” (published in 1975) in Chapter 13, Sin and Scandal (see my May 2015 OB Rag post entitled, “History of the Rowdies and Ruffians of Ocean Beach). In the last section of the chapter, Held exposes the ugly underbelly of Ocean Beach: racism.

She writes:

As for black people (in those days the polite word was “negro” or “colored”) they were not wanted in Ocean Beach.

We had a little flurry of Ku Klux Klan activity.

One night a cross was burned in the wash at the head of Del Monte Street, and this may have been connected with the talk about keeping the negros out.  We’d  heard a rumor that one was going to move in, but that “we” would never stand for it.

But one did move in, in 1923.

King Clements rented a one-room house owned by Mrs. JJ Palmer. It stood on the alley back of the present Bank of America [Ed.: site of the current Apple Tree Market], next to a vacant lot. Quiet efforts to keep him out were unavailing. He stayed, and another negro, William McKnighton, moved into a tent by Clemen’s shack.

Late one night in May when Clements was out, two white men came and told McKnighton he’d better vacate the Beach for the good of the community. They fired shots into the air, then ignited the tent and Clement’s house. Clements arrived about this time and the two men started for San Diego on the run. Firemen came, some from downtown. Police arrested two white men. …

The white men were convicted that October of second degree arson. A special citizens’ meeting expressed regret and sympathy for them. But Mrs. Plummer sued for $10,000.

This ended the “colored” problem for a few  years. By the time they tried again, there was no KKK and the general feeling had changed.

The “they” in her phrase “they tried again” is presumably African-Americans. She ends the chapter:

So these days (1975) we’re kinder to children, old folks, women, other races. … Is there a chance we’ll get to the point again where we care about each other’s rights – so we can all be free from so many fears of what others are going to do to us?

Since Ruth Held’s account of this horrifying KKK terrorism in Ocean Beach, this writer is not aware of any other  threatening overt Klan actions in OB.

There has been a few residents, however, who have flirted with the Klan – as I have personal knowledge of one other series of incidents back in the 1970s, involving two young men who donned Klan outfits. Two guys who then worked at Zeke’s Chicken – where Baja Grill is now –  used to come out of hiding every now and then and flaunt their white Klan sheets and hoods on Newport Avenue.  But nothing else occurred that I’m aware of other than their brief parading around.

(Don’t forget that north San Diego County was once home to a large Klan network under the leadership of Tom Metzger.)

Outside the Klan, there’s been other white supremacists in OB.

There’s nothing more menacing to African-Americans than a hangman’s noose. In the early 1970s, OB had at least two prominent members of the Ocean Beach Town Council leadership who wore small, metal hangman’s noose on chains around their necks.

It was the symbol of an extremist, white supremacist organization, the Posse Comitatis. Their central belief was that the county sheriff was the only legitimate source of governmental authority – not the democratically-elected mayors and city councils – and it was up to the sheriff to keep the minorities in their place.

Both of these guys were older, and one of them lived behind his family’s small diner on Voltaire – across the street from where Hodad’s was then located. The other Posse Comitatis member, Bob Miller, was the president of the OBTC – and he led a campaign against hippies and demonstrators coming to OB to protest the 1972 Republican Convention that was to be held in San Diego (until scandals drove the confarb to Miami Beach). With time, Miller’s extreme views were undermined by more liberal and reasonable members of the town council. Nothing has been heard from this group for decades at the beach.

Ocean Beach has had its share of bikers, skin-heads and rough-and-tumble surf gangs over the years. Some individuals within these clubs have held and expressed racist views. Potentially, there may have been a number of race-related incidents in OB that have not been recorded or publicly known.

There have been a few incidents that we are aware of.

In the early 1990s, the occupants of a vehicle yelled out racial slurs and physical threats as they drove by an African-American man walking near Voltaire Street at him. When local activists heard about this incident, they organized a near impromptu rally against racism at the corner of Voltaire and Cable, and held a protest attended by a couple hundred people, with speeches by local civil rights organizations and politicians.

Recently, in late May of 2016, somebody carved racist and nasty messages into freshly poured concrete next to the residence of Juan Viella, a five-year resident on Lotus Street near Sunset Cliffs. These acts of vandalism and threats directed at an Mexican-American OB resident were made – not coincidentally – during Trump’s candidacy.  Here are the messages that Viella found (WARNING: vulgarity approaching):

“Trump 2016,” “Fuck Bernie”, “Build the wall,” “No Fags, OBSS”

The message was signed “OB SS” – “SS” being a reference to the Nazi storm troopers. Viella immediately scraped most of the hateful messages off the concrete.

Despite these ugly incidents by white supremacists, there’s been a half century at least in Ocean Beach of a much more liberal attitude among community residents and businesses about race relations, a bias against racial intolerance, support for civil rights and an acknowledgement of the community and country’s problems with racism.

For example, members of the original OB Rag staff, (the Rag published 1970-76), were veterans of the anti-Vietnam war movement and who supported civil rights for African-Americans, Chicanos and Mexican-Americans. They brought with them a determination to stand in solidarity with the struggles ongoing during those days; the United Farm Worker Grape Boycott, the Black Panther Party, the Brown Berets, the American Indian Movement.

Teachers at the OB Free School during the mid-1970s openly taught their students to be free of racial prejudice.

Another example, in 1976, a local grassroots organization, the OB Community Planning Group, ran a slate of 14 candidates for the very first election of the OB Planning Board. It hammered out a very idealistic and visionary platform that all its candidates had to agree to. Here is an excerpt:

We believe that our society is suffering from its present degree of racial segregation. When we deprive each other and ourselves of meaningful contacts with those different from us, we restrict ourselves from the full rightness of life.

We support efforts to increase the racial balance of the community. We endorse an effort to recognize cases of racial discrimination in the housing market and seek legal solutions as well as less formal community efforts to abolish this discrimination.

We recognize that many other communities in our society are having serious racial conflict, however, we feel that because of the more open and progressive atmosphere of Ocean Beach, this could be a community where people of diverse ethnic groups could live together “and build a real sense of community.”

Eight of the group’s candidates were elected in that first election in which literally thousands of OB residents, property owners and businesspeople voted. For the rest of the OB CPG 1976 election platform, here.

A quarter century later, another progressive OB activist group appeared, the OB Grassroots Organization and weighed in effectively on important community issues. Here’s the OBGO Points of Unity:

“We are for:

  • Protection of the Environment;
  • Human Rights, Labor Rights and Civil Rights,
  • Diversity and Tolerance.”

Which brings us back to our beginning here. Many of the veterans of OBGO were organizers of the “OB Sez No to Trump” rally back in November of last year.

This short history of OB vs the Klan and other white supremacists illuminates the challenges of a nearly-all-white small community. Yet we’ve had our flirtations with racism but continue as a community to resist the ugliness of the ‘quest for racial purity’ through expressions of solidarity with peoples of color, of harboring and incubating our attitudes against inequality, of standing up to Trump who has now openly championed the Klan and other white nationalists.

OB will continue to be a village of toleration and a safe haven for radical ideas like, “all men and women are created equal.”

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Judy Collier August 18, 2017 at 6:48 am

Thank you for an excellent article.

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avatar Nancy Witt August 18, 2017 at 9:01 am

I’m with you, Judy. Frank did an excellent thorough article.

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avatar Elizabeth Turner August 18, 2017 at 9:11 am

Remeber when Willies Shoe Shine shack was torched in the 90s?. We didn’t waste any time in coming together to get him a new one and showed the haters they didn’t accomplish a thing. He said, then, that it had been a long time since he felt any racism in OB and was grateful to call this home. A gracious man even under fire!

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 18, 2017 at 11:40 am

Thanks Elizabeth for this reminder. As I recall, it was lit by a homeless guy, and not perceived as a racial incident. But many in OB did come together and built / bought a new shack for Willie.

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 20, 2017 at 1:56 pm

Here’s an Alt-Rlt guy from OB, organizing for an anti-immigrant rally this weekend in Laguna Beach:
“Ocean Beach Resident, Kenny Strawn said organizers are hoping to gain international attention through Sunday’s action. “We need to flood Laguna Beach with as much red that leftists won’t know what to do,” he said.

According to Tammy Gillies, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, Southern California has the largest presence of white supremacists in the entire country. “[…]From the 80’s and 90’s, this has been sort of the breeding ground for hate crimes,” she said.

Counter-protesters are voicing their opposition to the “America First” members and are planning their own demonstration on Saturday on Main Beach – one day earlier to speak out against hate. CBS8 http://www.cbs8.com/story/36170833/security-concerns-alt-right-rally-in-laguna-beach-this-weekend

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 20, 2017 at 1:58 pm

This proves that not all OBceans are liberal or leftwing. The OB guy who is organizing his alt-right friends to an anti-immigration rally in Laguna Beach today Sunday has a facebook page which has an image: Build the Wall; https://www.facebook.com/strawn.04

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avatar Debbie August 21, 2017 at 10:45 am

Is he from 92107 or OB San Francisco?

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 21, 2017 at 10:54 am

Well, his facebook page says he currently lives in Mission Viejo.

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avatar Debbie August 21, 2017 at 3:56 pm

Goodness….just a young pup….He likes social media… I don’t see anything relating to OB in his stuff….maybe he drove through here once :-)

Born on April 14, 1993

http://strawn-04.blogspot.com
http://twitter.com/strawn_04
http://instagram.com/strawn.04
https://www.youtube.com/c/KennyStrawn
https://www.spokeo.com/Kenneth-Strawn/California?clicked_ad_code=1

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avatar micporte August 22, 2017 at 6:55 am

“white guys can’t jump, black guys can’t swim”… encourage free and welcome beach access to the black community, free the white supremacists blond boy lifeguards and encourage registration to other colored /female applicants, for example… the southern poverty law center should look into the san Diego/Southern California “para-military ” white supremacist lifeguards,
not a joke,

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