Saturday, September 24, 2011

"We had no racial problems here whatsoever."

The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.

I’ve been reading an interview with C. Stanley Chapman, son of Charles C. Chapman, the first mayor of Fullerton. Charles and his sons were very successful business men, first in the orange business, then banking, then lots of other stuff.

What strikes me about this interview is how it directly contradicts other interviews I’ve read, specifically about race relations in the 20s and 30s in Fullerton. When asked about the Ku Klux Klan, Chapman says, “I never knew anybody that belonged to the Ku Klux Klan. I don’t think it was ever anything here. We had no racial problem here whatsoever.”

What the heck? Was there or was there not a Ku Klux Klan in Fullerton? According to numerous sources, including former city attorney Raymond Thompson, there was indeed a significant KKK presence in Fullerton, and there were indeed racial problems and injustices. As a historian, all I have are the accounts of these people. I wasn’t there. So, how do I determine who is telling the truth and who is lying? And why would someone lie about history?

I will speculate. When this interview was conducted in 1972, the Civil Rights movement was well under way, and racism was becoming increasingly unpopular. I cannot imagine C. Stanly Chapman, a well-respected retired business man saying, “Yeah, we really exploited Mexicans back then. The KKK was very popular.” Was he lying to save face, to protect himself and his family from embarrassment?

I don’t know. However, Chapman makes an interesting slip of the tongue that suggests a darker side to this man. When describing his relations with his Mexican employees, he says, “The association was always delightful. One boy, Joe Martinez, who is in the hospital now, has been with us for fifty years” (emphasis mine). Chapman calls a man who is at least 50 years old a “boy.” This was a popular condescending name that racist whites in the south used to give to black men. By calling them “boy” it suggested a sense of superiority.


The Fox Theater used to be called the Chapman Theater.

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