Letter to the Editor:
In December of 2020, the City of Burbank became the fourth city in the nation (after LaCrosse, WI; Goshen, IN; and Glendale, CA) to pass a Sundown Town Resolution. This Resolution acknowledges our city’s history of racism and pledges to do better by reviewing City policies and practices through an anti-racist lens, and engaging with the community on issues of racism, discrimination and social justice.
The Resolution was researched and written by the Burbank Human Relations Council and is a natural extension of the work that BHRC has been doing in our community to build bridges of understanding since its founding in 1953.
For example, in 1963, BHRC sent member Sue Landing and BHRC President Vernon Michel to Alabama for the last leg of the 5-day Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery. BHRC was a proponent of declaring MLK Jr. Day a holiday since as far back as the 1970s, well before it became a Federal holiday in 1986.
But Burbank’s history, like the history of America is full of contradictions. We’ve witnessed painful injustices as well as inspiring compassion in our community. Perhaps more importantly, ours is a story of change and people pushing to close the gap between promise and reality.
Did you know that in the 1930s, the Grinnell Heights subdivision up on the hill posted colorful advertisements featuring restrictive covenants that promoted the “Superb view of mountains and valley. FHA approved. Schools within easy walking distance. Protective restrictions” and further stating that “No portion of this tract shall ever at any time be used or occupied by any but the white or Caucasian race”? Many Burbank residents still see similar language in existing deeds today.
Though it was not codified, it was understood that Blacks had to be gone by sundown as recently as the 1960s. Sociologist and historian James Loewen documents that history in his book “Sundown Towns Today”.
In 1948, when the old 2500 seat Olive Memorial Stadium stood where the baseball and softball fields at George Izay Park are actively used today, Burbank played host to spring training for Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Browns. Satchel Paige, a former star of the old Negro league, was a pitcher for the Browns, but was not allowed to stay with his team at the Olive Manor Motel, the team’s regular spring training headquarters.
In October of 1958, three car-wash establishments in Burbank were threatened with bombings “if they did not fire their negro employees.” That same year Vernon Michel, a black man, moved to Burbank. Neighbors, led by a local realtor, circulated a petition to get the future BHRC President and Civil Rights leader and his family out of our city.
If you are interested in adding your name to the Sundown Town Resolution, BHRC invites you to visit Geo Gallery at 1545 Victory Blvd between 9am-4pm on Saturday, February 5, Monday, February 7 or Tuesday, February 8. The Resolution will be framed with community signatures to back it up, and will hang in Burbank’s City Hall by the City Clerk’s office as a reminder of how far we’ve come and the work still to be done.
If you want to be part of the conversation, we also invite community members to join us in dialogue with New York Film Academy’s Denise Hamilton as part of our ongoing Race Relay circle on Thursday, February 10 at 7pm. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
As James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” We applaud the city for taking this important step and look forward to working with our community toward a more positive, inclusive future.
Board Member, Burbank Human Relations Council