Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Little Old Jackie from Pasadena

Pasadena was built by the kind of wealth so vast it doesn’t need to wear a watch because it determines who is late.  Let me set the environment for you.  It is linked to Los Angeles by California and the west’s first freeway what we now call the 110 or Arroyo Seco Parkway, but when it was constructed was known as the Pasadena Freeway.

You might wonder how having the first freeway in the west means time waits for you, and let me tell you.  They built it purposefully with looping curves and lovely parks surrounding it. No engineer’s straight line efficiencies for these people.  Driving into Pasadena was meant to be an event and one you went to through beautiful environs and narrow lanes.  Consequently when I was a lad growing up just about every high school in the San Gabriel Valley had a missing person from the graduating class who went to fast and plunged into the LA River or missed a curve and slammed into a tree

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Once you escape the curves you have the option of 3 exits for heading north into the city.  Orange Grove is the first and when you make the turn left the first thing you might notice if you’ve watched TV on January 1st it is the route of the Rose Parade.  

The blocks on this street are wicked long and are an artifact of it’s beginnings as one of the Southland’s first millionaires row built by easterners one upping each other in their western retreats.  The names on the mansions read like a who’s who of early 20th century mega-money.  Busch had his first gardens Gamble had a mansion that used no metal fasteners, Wrigley chewed up a huge chunk with a lovely house that’s used as the parade’s headquarters today.

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I doubt when Jackie Robinson’s mother moved the family to town in 1920 they used the Orange Grove exit for even in my day doing so was an invitation for the Pasadena Police to ask a Black person what they were doing, and most folks I know of the Black persuasion try and avoid that.  They would have most likely used Fair Oaks and turned left to drive through the city and north toward the Black section of Pasadena.

121 Pepper Street where the Robinson’s made their home is currently solidly in the area that Black folks clearly live, but when he moved there it wasn’t.  Pasadena has the honor or shall I say the indignity of being the only school district west of the Mississippi Riverr to have had to undergo court ordered bussing in the early 1970’s.  I happen to be a graduate of the first class to be integrated.  

There were strict lines and rules about where blacks could live and go without good reason. Customs that were enforced by realtors and bankers and police existed well into the bussing era, but despite that life for Blacks in Pasadena was relatively prosperous and nice.  The city is and was beautiful, and let’s face it, rich people really don’t want their maids hassled all that much.  It tickles me to read accounts of Jackie Robinson’s life and the poverty he underwent as a child to think in Southern California Blacks from Pasadena were thought of as rich, they owned their home and land, kind of uppity if I can borrow a term. The Robinson’s are considered one of Pasadena’s Black founding families and it’s just interesting to consider pioneers as poverty stricken.  There are worse curses than may your Grandchildren consider you poor I suppose.

Hail alma mater; blue and gold so fair,

we sing thy fame, we love thy name

thy strength shall never fail.

We sing thy praises, our love shall never die,

blue and gold all hail to thee-John Muir High.

You might be the luckiest high school coach in America if your team is down at halftime and you can call on the legacy of Jackie Robinson to motivate your troops, and our coach didn’t mind saying “Jackie didn’t fight for your right to stand up for you to lay down” except in memory of old coach I’ve omitted the swears, and before the great integration and to this date John Muir is and was an athletics powerhouse.

I like to note that during this time in Jackie Robinson’s life historians like to discuss that he was somehow “gang affiliated”.  That’s difficult for me to swallow in that the folks I’ve spoken to that grew up here in and around that era tell me a gang was defined as any 3 Black people meeting not actively sweeping or mowing lawns etc.

In 1938 Jackie and a group of his friends were riding home from playing baseball at Brookside Park a lovely golf course and park with an Aquatic center constructed for the LA Olympic Games in 1932.  He and his friends were accosted by a White man who called them several flavors of the N word.  Jackie’s friend escalated the situation, however displaying the temperament that would serve him in baseball later Jackie attempted to play peacemaker and calm the situation down.  Soon a crowd of as described by an arriving motorcycle cop consisted of “between 40 and 50 members of the Negro race” gathered.

Over the course of the confrontation the crowd melted until there was only one person left for the officer to draw his weapon on and take to jail Jackie Robinson. “I found myself up against the side of my car” he said “with a gun barrel pressed unsteadily into the pit of my stomach.  I was scared to death”

He was taken to jail where he was not allowed access to a phone and forced to spend the night after being charged with “hindering traffic” and resisting arrest.  

He entered a plea of not guilty paid a bond of 25 dollars and was released after contacting a baseball coach.  The charge had bite in that he was also because of a previously suspended sentence he had received.  He was required to be on good behavior something the arrest may have opened him up to.

Luckily for him Pasadena had UCLA boosters in its City administration.  A booster convinced him to change his plea and greased the wheels so that nothing further would come from the incident.  Without comment the Star News reported “That the Negro football player be not disturbed during football season”.

It’s interesting I like to postulate that Jackie Robinson learned the grace to handle racism form the worst elements America has to offer by growing up a midst what America would think of as its best elements.

Namaste Friends go see “42”


  1. Nurse Kelley

    Every time you post a photo of your grandson I think, “I should show him mine.” Everyone knows me as an old white woman, but not everyone knows my son is biracial – Black and Irish. He grew up and married a Filipina, they mixed their gorgeous genes together, and this is the present I got:

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    I LOVE the photos of Pasadena and your story. I graduated from HS in the LA area, so I’ve driven on the Pasadena freeway many times. Thanks for writing it.

  2. jlms qkw

    i had no clue.  

    i am reading myrlie evers-williams book, and she and her 3 kids have just moved to southern california and she is in college.  it is giving me a lot of inspiration for being a single mom.  

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