Much has been written over the years of the struggles of minority groups in Sonoma County. Many of the stories focused on discrimination against Chinese, Japanese and especially the Jewish migrants portrayed in Kenneth Kann's classic work, Comrades and Chicken Ranchers.
Now comes an important book looking at the African Americans of Sonoma County, written by a member of one of the county's leading black families and a long-time writer for the Press Democrat.
In the foreword, the Rev. Ann Gray Byrd notes that the book "includes a look at the struggles of early 'freed slaves,' the establishment of South Park, the founding of the Santa Rosa-Sonoma County branch" of the NAACP and at many other individuals and groups.
Mathematically speaking, African Americans have never been a large part of the Sonoma County population but the people involved, both male and female, have made major contributions to improve the "racial climate" in the area.
Like many minorities, in earlier times, blacks were pretty much confined to the South Park area near the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Deeds to some properties included a Covenant which read: "1947 Proctor Terrace Deed That no person not of white or Caucasian race shall be permitted to use or occupy a portion of this property except in the capacity of domestic servants in the employ of a white or Caucasian owner or occupant".
Whether in terms of getting more input into local schools or getting a drink at a local bar, progress came slowly. Seven members of the NAACP conducted Santa Rosa's first sit-in in 1962 when a bartender at the Silver Dollar Saloon refused to serve them. The authors note that "the NAACP members went in, sat down and ordered drinks. 'I'm sorry boys, you've had too much already,' was the owner's response. They left the bar, filed a lawsuit and won not only a small amount of money, but more importantly, the right to be served.'''
Author Byrd was one of nine children of Gilbert and Alice who used education as a ladder to improve themselves and expand racial understanding. The family also donated $150,000 to establish the Gray Foundation, which has provided scholarships for qualifying graduates of Sonoma County Schools since 1992.
There are short biographies of the many people who have expanded interest in eliminating poverty, building religious identity and contributing to the community. These include the Rev. James Coffee, longtime leader of the Santa Rosa Community Baptist Church, NAACP leaders Platt Williams and Willie Garrett and Healdsburg community leader Smith Robinson. Many women played major roles in poverty programs, including Marteal Perry and Eddie Mae Sloan. Jeanne Buckley became a distinguished judge, specializing in work with juveniles for more than a decade, and Sue Sion became a teacher, administrator and principal in Santa Rosa Schools.
The book, with its message for progress and hope, fill an important gap in Sonoma County History.
GLIMPSES, A History of African Americans in Santa Rosa, California, compiled and written by Ann Gray Byrd with Sheri Graves, 164 pages, $30.