A LEGal Battle

THE RUMFORD ACT - CALIFORNIA FAIR HOUSING

One of the many forms of racial segregation in Southern California was housing covenants, which barred any non-white resident from buying, renting or selling a home. The California Real Estate Association (CREA), a statewide organization of real estate agents and property owners, was determined to keep certain areas all-white, often using the excuse of “maintaining property values.”  Discriminatory restrictions like these can be seen as far back as 1900 in the region, and it wasn’t until 1963 that they were banned by the Rumford Act, named after Assemblyman William Byron Rumford (pictured right), the first African American elected to a state public office in Northern California. Also known as The California Fair Housing Act of 1963, it banned racial restrictions against people of color who sought housing. 

PROPOSITION 14 

A CALL FOR CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

Opponents of the Rumford Act put Proposition 14, which would nullify the Act’s fair housing provisions and amend the state constitution to prevent future legislation regulating private property transactions, on the ballot in 1964. CREA led the effort to get Prop 14 on the ballot, gathering over a million signatures, more than double the number needed to qualify for the 1964 ballot. CREA was joined by other organizational supporters, including the California Apartment House Owners Association, the American Nazi Party, the American Council of Churches, the White Citizens Councils local branches, and the National States Rights Party. Most supporters of Prop 14 hid their racism behind arguments about property values; property rights being more important than human rights; local control and state over-reach; and stopping socialism and “forced housing.” 

Prop 14 had wide support in Glendale, and a Glendale resident, Howard L. Byram, the former Los Angeles County Treasurer and Tax Collector, was the Statewide Chairman of the “Yes on 14” Committee. Several hundred Glendale Methodists bought a large ad in The Glendale News-Press, protesting their church’s official stance and urging yes votes on Prop 14 to “reverse the trend towards socialism.” Reverend William Steuart McBirnie, founder of Glendale’s United Community Church and conservative radio commentator, also called the Rumford Act socialist, and said, “The impression is given that this entire issue has been created by the real estate people. This is not true. All conservatives are united on this issue—against it.” St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glendale lost parishioners and tithes due to the national Episcopal Church’s stance on the proposition. Prop 14 passed by a margin of almost two to one statewide; in Glendale, the margin was four to one. In 1966, Prop 14 was struck down by the United States Supreme Court.   

Rumford.jpg
Yes on 14 flyer (1964) (1).jpg

The New York Times, May 10, 1964, Page 59. "Rightists in West Fight Housing Act; California Gain Power in Drive Against Integration"

"The radical right wing appears to have wide influence in the campaign to repeal California's fair housing law.The Rev. William Steuart McBirnie of the United Community Church in Glendale, Calif., frequently delivers the invocation at Goldwater rallies. Mr. McBirnie also produced and distributed an attack on the Rumford Act, calling the law “a giant step into socialism." “The impression is given that this entire issue has been created by the real estate people,” Mr. McBirnie said. “This is not true. All conservatives are united on this issue—against it.”

The California Real Estate Association is leading the effort to repeal the fair housing law by amending the state constitution. Although only 483,000 voters' signatures were required to bring the initiative measure to a vote, the campaign produced well over a million signatures.

The Rumford Act, named for William Byron Rumford, the Oakland Negro Assemblyman who introduced it, was passed last year after a bitter fight in the Legislature. Then the realtors and the California Apartment House Owners Association formed a group to oppose the law.There has been no question that the chief impetus of the campaign has come from the realtors. But many extremist right‐wing organizations have attached themselves to the effort and have been accepted.The proposed constitutional amendment would forbid the Legislature or any subordinate government, such as a city or county, to pass a law abridging or limiting the right of a seller or lessor “to decline to sell, lease or rent such property to such person or persons as he, in his absolute discretion, chooses.”

RESISTANCE - RELIGIOUS LEADERS FIGHT FOR FAIR HOUSING

Not every religious leader or institution supported Prop 14. The National Council of Churches (NCC), not to be confused with Prop 14 supporters the American Council of Churches, which was smaller and created in opposition to the NCC, opposed the proposition.  When the Rumford Act of 1963 faced reversal through Prop 14, a group of church leaders of different faiths joined together to show their support for fair housing.   

In 1969, a former real estate agent and chairman for the Pasadena Urban Coalition spoke to Glendale’s League of Women Voters to urge racial inclusion and denounce segregation: 

 

From Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1969 “Pasadenan Warns Glendale League: Open Housing Not Easy”  

Glendale branded (1945 Dec 6).jpg
Rev. Herbert Yates arrested July 28, 196

THE FIGHT FOR FAIR HOUSING GROWS

Rev. Herbert Yates arrested while protesting Proposition 14

Valley Fair Housing Protest.png
Roy Wilkin, NAACP news conference RE pro

Roy Wilkin representing NAACP at a news conference regarding Proposition 14

“It simply is not true that a Negro family moving into a neighborhood can cause a loss of value. But if the whites are sure that property values will decrease, they will sell their homes for less to get out fast, and this white flight is the real cause of loss.”  

Copyright notice: Any materials under copyright in this exhibit are covered by the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act.  Permission and preferred attribution were requested of all copyright holders.

Goodman, George. "Bigotry of Fair Housing Act Opponents Rooted in Past." Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), Aug 27, 1964, pp. 1. ProQuest, https://search.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/bigotry-fair-housing-act-opponents-rooted-past/docview/564696782/se-2?accountid=35804.

 

-Byron Rumford. Fair Legislation: The Byron Rumford Story. Five Bellz Entertainment. http://fivebellzentertainment.com/press/fair-legislation-the-byron-rumford-story. Accessed January 2021

 

"Why Yes on Proposition #14?" Flyer, Max Mont Collection, Special Collections and Archives, University Library, California State University, Northridge.

 

"Prop. 14 Gets Backing of Glendale Minister." Los Angeles Times, 10 Oct. 1964, p. B7. ProQuest, https://search-proquest-com.glendalepubliclibrary.idm.oclc.org/historical-newspapers/prop-14-gets-backing-glendale-minister/docview/155030431/se-2?accountid=11124.

 

"Realtors Push Drive for Petition Signers." Los Angeles Times, 12 Jan. 1964, p. N16 ProQuest, https://search-proquest-com.glendalepubliclibrary.idm.oclc.org/historical-newspapers/realtors-push-drive-petition-signers/docview/168475031/se-2?accountid=11124.

"Clerics Plan Fight for Rumford Act: Church Leaders In Glendale and Burbank Organize." Los Angeles Times, 12 Jan. 1964. ProQuest, https://search-proquest-com.glendalepubliclibrary.idm.oclc.org/hnplatimes/docview/168468266/25C73B1FF199451APQ/1?accountid=11124.

 

“Glendale Branded as Black Spot of Nation.” Glendale News-Press, 6 Dec. 1945. Glendale

Central Library, Glendale Library, Arts & Culture.

 

Barber, Mary. “Pasadenan Warns Glendale League: Open Housing Not Easy.” Los Angeles Times, 1 May 1969, p. SG5. ProQuest, https://search-proquest-com.glendalepubliclibrary.idm.oclc.org/docview/156209361/A086C3805F514051PQ/1?accountid=11124.

rumford, Prop 14, and the battle to legalize bigotry