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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It is obviously not easy for blacks to live in that atmosphere. A black family that moved in and opened a small restaurant remained only about a year. The college's only black coed this year, who was a cheerleader, lasted one semester and took a job in San Francisco.

One problem is Taft's isolation. There is no bus service in or out on Sundays or holidays. The black athletes at the college, almost all of whom are from far bigger cities, have nothing to do but hang around the campus or walk to the Recreation Center not far from the Brass Rail. Most Sundays some of them eat lunch or dinner at Mrs. Bonnie Beaty's home at the opposite end of Center Street from the Sno-White.

Mrs. Beaty is married to a half-Filipino, half-Caucasian, and she has heard her share of racial slurs. "Yes, there's definitely a very large element of racism in Taft," she says. "Because Taft has always been all white, there is not only racism, but there is just no idea of any other way to live. They have never been exposed to ethnic minorities in any great number.

"There definitely is a good element in town. We have never been forced before this to stand up and take a poll of where each individual stands, so I could not speak with any accuracy as to whether the good element is the majority or the minority.

"It's been said in the last five years tensions have grown here, and I think probably they have increased because before then it was not thought of for a black to date a white. In Taft it's still a taboo. Interracial dating—not even necessarily dating, just boys and girls going someplace together in an interracial group—will upset people."

Last week in Taft there were signs that the decent citizens might be sufficiently aroused to stand up to the neo- Klansmen, and not let the college and the town become even more sno-white. The City Council asked for a Kern County grand-jury investigation. And Angel M. Alderete of the U.S. Justice Department's San Francisco office will be sending in a community-relations team.

"Law enforcement officials and interested folks are going to see that this doesn't happen again," Alderete said after a visit to Taft. "If the city and the school need to develop a contingency plan for reintegration, we will be available to help them."

And Alderete indicated he would meet with the young white Taft toughs. "I think they should be aware we are there and that, according to the Constitution and the laws of the country, this is not going to be allowed," he said.

There was a petition being passed around Taft last week asking that "the small group of radicals who in the past have threatened the students and upset the entire community" be punished.

Coaches Harrell and Lundahl were encouraged and began getting in touch with their black athletes to discuss their coming back. Word came from Miami that Rudolph Henderson, a running back, and his teammate Keith Mitchell would return to study and compete in football and track. And two more Miami athletes, one black and one white, were going to come with them.

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