Rollingwood, California – a suburb just south of San Francisco near Richmond, became the focal point of a debate on racial discrimination and violence in the early 1950s on the West Coast. While the issues of racism and prejudice seemed to be almost commonplace in the South and the East, not much had been heard on the national level from California.
At least not until March 3, 1952 when the from yard of the home of Wilbur Gary and his family, who had just moved in on Brook Way in Rollingwood, was aglow with the burning of a white cross on the lawn. The African American family had moved into an all-white neighborhood and it touched off a storm of protest and intolerance not seen for some time.
Wilbur Gary, a Navy veteran along with his wife and five children moved into the modest home in the suburb of Rollingwood, having bought the house for $8,000. News of the Garys a: being black and, b: moving into the neighborhood, brought a protest from the Rollingwood Improvement Association and a crowd gathered outside the Gary home, hurling racial taunts and threats at the family inside.
The incident touched off a greater controversy surrounding African-Americans living on West Coast at the time. During the War, housing was constructed to accommodate the influx of Defense workers streaming in from points east and south. The majority of these defense workers were Black and they had lived in the segregated communities of the Canal and Terrace Housing projects. During the war, the African-American and Mexican population swelled to over 100,000 by the end of World War 2.
But after the war, with industry scaling back to pre-war output, the housing projects were no longer needed and wholesale evictions were taking place, primarily of Blacks and Mexican-Americans. This forced many Black families to investigate other neighborhoods for adequate living space. And when the house became available in Rollingwood, The Garys took advantage of the good fortune and bought the house.
The ensuing controversy only served to steel Wilbur Gary’s reserve and not move out, despite getting an offer by a White group of neighbors to buy the Gary’s house, offering them more than the market price. The Gary’s steadfastly refused to move, and it was taking this stand that signaled the beginnings of a change in racial attitudes in America.
This documentary, produced by San Francisco radio station KCBS, interviews the principles and attempts to shed some light on the problems echoing seemingly all around the country. Like Rosa Parks refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus two years later, the refusal by Wilbur Gary to move out served as a catalyst in a change in race relations in America.
Here is that documentary Rollingwood USA, as it was aired on the West Coast in March of 1952.