Preserving the History of Progressive Politics in the Sacramento Region

By Sheila O’Neill, Head, Department of Special Collections and Univ. Archives

The Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) has an expanding collection of archival sources that document grass roots politics, community activism, and progressive political leadership at the local, State and national levels. Collections of individual leaders, local organizations, community programs, and organizing committees provide evidence of the role of community collective action in protecting civil liberties, safeguarding the environment, promoting peace and social justice, and providing for those in need of work, shelter and food.

SCUA began collecting the papers of progressive California leaders such as those of Congressman John Emerson Moss, author of the Freedom of Information Act, Senators Albert Rhodda and Leroy Greene, and former Mayor Phillip Isenberg over a decade ago. These collections provide valuable insights into a range of local, State, and national politics during a period of dramatic historical change in the United States, beginning in the 1950s with conservatism of the McCarthy era and followed by the social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s - the Civil Rights Movement, Free Speech and student movements, women's rights, and the anti-Vietnam War movement. More recently, with the aid of endowment funds, the department is developing a historical collection that documents history of the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and trans-sexual movements.
One area of collecting strength involves the local history of anti-war activities, particularly the student movement against the war in Vietnam and local organizations formed in the 1960-1980s to voice opposition to war, development of nuclear weapons, and the U.S. draft. Through donations of collections by community members and organizations, these materials have now grown to nearly 200 linear feet and include correspondence, photographs, newspapers, pamphlets, posters, banners, buttons, videos, t-shirts, hats, and other ephemera. The Sacramento Peace Center (1961-1986), the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (Auburn Chapter), the Grandmothers for Peace, Intl., Sacramento Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign (1985-1990) and Peace Action, Sacramento-Yolo County all serve as evidence of the ways in which local grass roots organizations developed and expanded to build common ground with other communities across the nation to voice opposition to war and nuclear arms. Most recently, materials were received that extend the peace collections to include the faith-based Inter-Religious Task Force on Central America.

At the same time that Sacramento community activists voiced opposition to war, they also organized against the injustices of the farm labor system in California, the treatment of youth in prison, the imposition of the death penalty, environmental pollution, nuclear waste, and outdated transportation systems. Collections such as the records of the American Lung Association, Emigrant Trails, the Wayne Hultgren Light Rail Campaign, and the records of the Modern Transportation Society document local response to the issues of sustainable transportation systems, clean air, and the effects of air pollution on the populations of the Central Valley. This year, the American Lung Association, Emigrant Trails celebrates its' centennial year of grassroots organizing inthe Sacramento region. The organization began in response to the rise of Tuberculosis in the city of Sacramento at the turn of the 20th century and has continued to play a leadership role in educating the public about the dangers of air pollution and nicotine use, lobbying against the tobacco industry's advertising campaigns aimed at youth, and promoting the development of the Sacramento light rail system.

The research files of the Quaker lobbyist organization Friends Committee on Legislation provide valuable insight into the range of civil liberties and human rights issues under debate during the 1950s-1980s, particularly with respect to the rights of prisoners, the imposition of the death penalty, and the treatment of incarcerated youth. The Alice Lytle papers also address the rights of juvenile advocacy, particularly racial and ethnic bias in the courts toward minority youth, women in prison, and the care of children with mothers in prison. Judge Lytle was the first African American woman appointed to the California Superior Court and the acquisition of her papers last year reflects the Library's interest in documenting the history of African Americans in the Sacramento area, particularly in the politics, education, judicial system and the arts.

A recent donation of the Wilson Riles,Sr. papers is another valuable addition to the Library's resources on African American history, as well as to the history of public education in California. Riles was elected Superintendent of Public Schools in California in 1970 and was re-elected by California voters again in 1974 and in 1978. When Riles first came to California to work for the California State Department of Education, he was the first African American hired as a professional employee. His years as Superintendent of Public Schools were marked by programmatic innovations in Early Childhood Education, the School Improvement Plan, and the Master Plan for Special Education. He was dedicated to improvement of educational opportunities for disadvantaged children and to the involvement of parents in the classroom. Riles gained national recognition for his innovative approaches to education and inter-group relations and was appointed by President Richard Nixon to chair his National Task Force on Education. His papers document a dramatic period of social change for educational institutions, including school integration, busing, student unrest and the devastating impact of Proposition 13 on California's educational system.

SCUA has also made significant headway into collecting materials related to Sacramento's Mexican American community. In 2002 Professor Ricardo Favela donated his collection of over 200 silkscreen posters of the Royal Chicano Air Force(RCAF), a political and cultural artist collective that began at CSUS in the 1960s. The collective was closely affiliated with Caesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Movement, producing posters and flyers for marches and events and publicizing the plight of migrant farm workers. The RCAF poster collection reflects over 30 years of political, social and cultural activism in California from the 1960s through the 1990s. The collection continues to be built upon through purchases, along with the work of other Chicano artists, including the work of cartoon artist Jaime Hernandez, whose comic book series, Love and Rockets, was co-authored by his brother Gilbert Hernandez. These two very different collections are used by students and faculty in history, humanities, and graphic design to examine the content, design, language and the creative context of these works, as well as representation of cultural and political ideals of the time. The Library also continues to purchased manuscripts, newspapers, pamphlets, photographs, posters and other ephemera that document migrant farm labor in California and the role of the United Farm Workers Union in protecting the rights of migrant laborers. It is anticipated that the papers of former Mayor Joe Serna will be transferred to the Library in the near future, providing further insights into the recent history of Mexican Americans in Sacramento in a very significant way.

Finally, the University Archives holdings contain documentation on the history of Ethnic Studies, Women Studies, the Mexican-American History Project, Native American Studies, and other programs that were developed at CSUS during the 1960s and 1970s in response to student demands for more relevant curriculum. Photographs of student demonstrations and rallies during the same period, as well as faculty papers, such as those of feminist writer Sally Wagner are also a rich source of documentation on campus life during a period of tremendous social change.