This group of black leaders helped shape Sonoma County. Here’s how their work lives on today.

James “Jim” Gray, 77, of Santa Rosa, said his parents, Alice and Gilbert, were part of a driving force behind the civil rights movement that unfolded in Santa Rosa, which happened in conjunction with similar activism taking shape in other parts of Sonoma County at the time.

In 1960, the two, along with local NAACP founder Platt Williams, picketed a Santa Rosa F.W. Woolworth store because of the chain’s segregation policy at its food counters in the south.

His father was also part of a group of black men who sued a Santa Rosa bar, the Silver Dollar Saloon, in May 1962 after the owner refused to serve them, Gray said.

The men staged the sit-in after the local NAACP chapter received multiple complaints that the bar owner was refusing to serve black people. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court.

When asked if his parents ever explained to him why they got so involved in the local civil rights movement, James Gray said: ‘We didn’t need to have a conversation, it became obvious given what was happening in the Deep South. .”

Rubin Scott, member and former president of the Sonoma County NAACP, said that while he does not know the Gray family personally, he views their ability to bring community members together around local civil rights issues as a show of force and organization that has disappeared. unmatched in Sonoma County.

Still, Scott, who revived the NAACP chapter in 2018 from near extinction, believes there are parallels between the couple’s work and the activism that took place in Santa Rosa nearly two years ago amid other Black Lives Matter protests that took place nationwide in the wake. of the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

During this time, several local politicians and law enforcement officials have met with Scott to discuss practices that he believes could lead to fairer policing.

The needs of black people are still neglected

While these conversations have opened the doors to greater collaboration between police and the local black community, there are other areas, such as education and housing, where the needs of black residents are still being overlooked, a said Scott.

The black community’s small share of the county’s population, measured at 1.5% in the last census, is often used to justify the allocation of resources to other minority groups, he added.

“The NAACP is able to communicate with the community and see what the needs are locally, in real time,” Scott said. “We’re able to…stand up and say, ‘Hey, there’s more of us here. We have a voice that is here and we need help.

Faith Ross, co-founder of Petaluma Blacks for Community Development, said the organization has helped its members stay connected over the decades, although the group is now tackling new issues such as underrepresentation of black leadership for local youth.

With more than 40 years in existence, the group’s long history and involvement in the community means that city leaders look to its members for input when issues involving black residents arise in the community, said she added.

She said several of her members serve on the city’s ad hoc community advisory committee, which in December provided the Petaluma City Council with a list of more than 30 recommendations following its examination of issues of race, diversity and equity in the city.

Among the recommendations were calls for police surveillance and the creation of a multicultural centre.

“You talk about these issues and try to come up with solutions, instead of letting everyone else do it,” Ross said of the band.

Robinson, who had a vision to create Petaluma Blacks for community development, said training from Eddie Mae Sloan’s organization, Sonoma County People for Economic Opportunity, gave him a foundation on how to approach the leadership as it expanded its involvement with other local groups. She has also served on the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women, the Sonoma County Grand Jury, and the Sonoma County Black Forum.

Sadler, who worked for Sloan for about five years from 1970, said teaching others to be “good leaders in our communities” was one of Sloan’s specialties. An important part of her approach was to gain buy-in from the communities she worked with when developing solutions to poverty, Sadler said.

“She taught us … how to engage with communities in a mindful, respectful and supportive way without imposing herself on them,” Sadler said.

Sloan’s granddaughter Cruz, who grew up living with Sloan at her home in Graton, said her grandmother’s caring nature extended beyond her working hours.

It was common for Sloan to invite people she met at work home for dinner, or reach out to a stranger, Cruz said.

Sloan died in 1998. She died before Sloan House, a local women’s and children’s shelter, was named in her honor, Cruz said. Nonetheless, Cruz said such recognition from her grandmother, who was especially committed to helping women and children in need, remains important.

“I know the work was important to my grandmother, and to see her recognized all these years later, it was amazing that her legacy lives on,” Cruz said.

Reverend Turner, the current pastor of Community Baptist Church, remembered his predecessor and uncle, Reverend Coffee, as an intermediary between the community and local leaders.

“If anybody had a problem (with the police), they would call the chief,” Turner said. “If someone had a political problem, he called her.”

Although the church has become much more diverse than when it was founded, Turner said the place of worship serves as a hub for several new and existing black residents of the city.

In recognition of the area’s black residents, the church is aiming for an African diaspora hub, though efforts to get the project off the ground have stalled as it seeks funding, Turner said. He said no such space, which specifically celebrates black culture, exists in our region.

“It’s so people know the history here,” Turner said of the need for the center. “The story from our point of view.”

You can contact editor Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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