Sunday, December 23, 2007

MARNESBA TACKETT: A LIFE WELL LIVED IN PURSUIT OF L.A. EQUALITY:

by Betty Pleasant, Contributing Editor | LA Wave Newspapers

December 20, 2007 - Marnesba Tackett, the granddaughter of slaves who led the fight to desegregate the city of Los Angeles, went to sleep Sunday night and did not wake up.Tackett was 99 years old and in relative good health when she died in her West Adams home, which 55 years ago became the headquarters for the community organizing, civil defiance, protest demonstrations and legal actions that resulted in the outlawing of restrictive covenants that maintained segregated housing in Los Angeles, that broke open boundaries that kept the public schools segregated and forced the businesses on Crenshaw Boulevard to stop discriminating against black people.

Less than five feet tall, Tackett was a fiery little woman who never took “no” for an answer to anything. She was the recognized mother of civil rights on the West Coast and the driving force that wrested from the entrenched white majority virtually every right African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanics in Los Angeles now take for granted.

Tackett was a civil rights activist since she was 13-years-old and refused to pay for a hot dog at a segregated lunch counter in her Kansas City, Kan., hometown. Having joined the newly formed NAACP as a child, Tackett participated in all the sit-ins, demonstrations and protests held in the 1930s to integrate public schools and other facilities in Kansas City, and then moved on to fight Jim Crow in Tennessee, Georgia and Michigan. Then she came to Los Angeles in 1952 and the city has not been the same since.

“When I came to Los Angeles, I found the same kind of racial discrimination that I found in Kansas City, in Detroit, and very little better than what I found in the south,” Tackett told me during an interview four years ago. Upon arrival here, she immediately set about fighting the racism she saw all around her.

While working at an early job as an insurance agent, Tackett single-handedly forced the insurance industry to drop its practice of devaluing the lives of African-Americans by charging them higher premiums than whites, yet paying them less in benefits. Today, many of the country’s insurance companies are being used by black policy holders for those racist practices of yesteryear.

As chair of the Los Angeles NAACP’s Education Committee, Tackett raised money to pay for the Supreme Court briefs submitted by Thurgood Marshall in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan. case that desegregated the nation’s schools in 1954. That done, she turned her attention to the Los Angeles Unified School District, which she found was just as discriminatory as the district in Topeka.

She had textbooks with stereotypical presentations of blacks removed from the classrooms and she filed and won a lawsuit, Crawford vs. LAUSD, to make the Jordan High School facility and environment more conducive to the educational process.

Tackett’s activism had outgrown the constraints of the NAACP, so she created and directed a coalition of like-minded firebrands, called the United Civil Rights Council, which became the most effective civil rights group on the West Coast. UCRC held a series of massive civil rights demonstrations. One, in 1963, had 5,000 people in attendance, which for that period was an impressive number of angry people.

Tackett and her UCRC took on the school board for its racism, the police department for its brutality, the businesses along Crenshaw Boulevard for their refusal to hire black people and the White Citizens Council for its insistence on segregated housing.

Tackett worked with attorney Loren Miller to defeat Los Angeles’ housing covenants in the U.S. Supreme Court, and she and her UCRC stood toe-to-toe with the White Citizens Council against housing discrimination in Torrance, Covina, the San Fernando Valley and other parts of Los Angeles County. She fought the California Real Estate Association’s attempt to legalize housing discrimination in the state, and her success gave rise to the creation of some 40 fair housing groups which today monitor the treatment of minorities who want to live wherever they can afford and which take legal action against housing discriminators.

Tackett served on the board of directors of the Los Angeles Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1966 to 1976 and became SCLC/LA’s first female and first lay executive director. She created the Martin Luther King Legacy Association, Project AHEAD and the Black Agenda Inc., sat on the board and chaired several committees of the NAACP and was the leader of the Community Relations Conference of Southern California.

Born Feb. 4, 1908 in St. Louis, to Elizabeth Edwards and Ivory Adkins, Tackett’s grandparents, Richard and Annie Edwards, were both slaves who were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. She married Joseph Edgar Tackett in 1926, who was the assistant minister at Second Baptist Church when he died in 1958. Her daughter, Hazel Maurie Keller, died in 1988 and her stepson, Joseph Orin Tackett, died in 1978.

She is survived by seven grandchildren, including Michelle Keller Cole and Benjamin H. Keller of Los Angeles; 11 great-grandchildren, which include Terri Keller McRae, Dwayne Godoy and Isaac Keller of Los Angeles, and one great-great grandchild, Lauren Khali McRae.

A private family funeral service will be held Dec. 27, but her granddaughter, Keller Cole, said a public celebration of her life will be held on Feb. 4, 2008, which would have been her 100th birthday.

1 comment:

DrG said...

I remember Mrs.Tackett speaking to my school in 1977. She was barely 5 feet tall but she spoke as one 10 feet tall. She left a great legacy and now rest from her labors.