SI Vault
Joe Jares
June 23, 1975
The California oil town had a history of Klan-inspired turmoil before a lynch mob drove out the only blacks—13 local junior college athletes
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June 23, 1975

Violent Return To A Troubled Past

The California oil town had a history of Klan-inspired turmoil before a lynch mob drove out the only blacks—13 local junior college athletes

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Before Tinson could be cornered, a white football teammate picked him up in a car and drove him to the police station for his own protection. Police soon broke up the crowd that had remained and continued to yell threats in front of the dorm. The few black students still trapped inside were taken to the station in protective custody. The police suggested—but did not demand—that the blacks allow themselves to be escorted to Bakersfield, and the students agreed, most of them indicating they would return home rather than risk going back to the school. Four blacks who had gone away for the weekend were called by friends and told that they had better stay where they were. Steve Maston, an excellent running back from nearby Wasco, did not get the word, and he drove back to school Sunday night. He was chased by three cars carrying a total of five white men but managed to escape.

The town's 4,000-circulation newspaper, the Daily Midway Driller, ran a subdued account of the incidents that was written by Editor Dennis McCall. McCall, a tall, skinny 33-year-old who is growing a beard for Taft's "Oildorado" celebration coming up in October, is a third-generation Taftian. His grandfather, Red, was an oil driller in the Midway-Sunset field, and his father, Jack, worked in the oil fields for 33 years until his retirement. Jack McCall is now a night supervisor in the college dorm. Dennis McCall, who is also president of the college Booster Club, published an editorial on the near lynching in his paper:

"What happened here last Sunday is a sickening reminder of our earlier days when a local faction of the Ku Klux Klan tried to force this city to accept its version of 'justice.'

"Evidently, the national tragedies of the last decade have taught some of us very little. The ideal of equal rights means nothing when ignorance and superstition prevail.

"This is 1975, not 1920, and still a crowd is able to force black residents to leave Taft in fear of their lives. There are strong indications this group does not intend to stop there either...."

Unfortunately, McCall was right. On Tuesday night a pickup truck cruised by the dormitory. Since the blacks' departure, "nigger-loving" white students at the college had become targets for verbal abuse. This time someone in a crowd of white students standing outside the dorm foolishly yelled out a challenge. McCall was among the group and decided he had better cross the street and get away from the impending confrontation. That, too, was a mistake. The truck backed up and out jumped Rick Riddick, 22, who chased after McCall yelling, "Hey, you're the bleep-bleep we're after. You're the nigger-lover that put that article in the paper."

Riddick caught McCall, threw him against a car with enough force to put a dent in it, knocked him down with a punch to the left temple and continued to pound him while he was on the ground. The college students later told McCall they could not come to his aid because a man in the back of the truck was holding a gun on them.

For the next few nights McCall and his wife lived with the fear that someone would fire-bomb their house. They slept with a softball bat and a fire extinguisher at the side of their bed, but refused a friend's offer of a gun. Nonetheless, McCall had the courage to press charges against Riddick, a shop foreman who had lost his job because of publicity about the incident. Riddick turned conciliatory later in the week and beseeched the editor to drop the case. Remembering the viciousness of the attack and still feeling the bruises, McCall refused. Riddick pleaded guilty to assault and battery, was fined $250 and was ordered to pay for repairs to both McCall and the dented car. He probably would have been jailed as well, but McCall requested that Riddick only be put on probation, because he had a wife and two children. The judge agreed.

Riddick quickly found a job in the oil fields and insisted that the judge's decision to go along with the editor's request for leniency was proof that he had been "screwed."

"Hell, it wasn't nothin' but a fistfight, and I got fired from my job," Riddick said. "He told 'em not to put me in jail, and when someone has that much stroke, you know what that can do."

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