On: March 06, 2023
I had an experience in Palm Springs, California, the last weekend in February and I think Evanston needs to hear about it.
It is clear, our work here is inspiring those who need hope.
- First it was an honor to be invited to participate in a remarkable and historical event and to speak before the community about the importance of reparations.
- Second, I knew hardly anything about the one square mile of land called Section 14 in Palm Springs before being invited to speak by legal counsel Areva Martin.
- Third, I was not at all aware of the magnitude or overwhelming injustice and the horrific consequences of what occurred in the late 1950s.
The history of Section 14
Back then, the city of Palm Springs led by Mayor Frank Bogert, who was laser-focused on an area of land called Section 14, a part of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Reservation.
Those living there included indigenous Americans, Mexicans and Negroes. The Cahuilla granted the latter two groups rights to live on their reservation because Mexicans and Negroes were not allowed to live elsewhere in the city.
Homes, stores, families and businesses were part of Section 14 and had been for generations. But as Palm Springs became more of a high end vacation destination spot for the rich and famous – and a permanent residents for some of those same people – the city became embarrassed about the poverty in Section 14.
When officials met to discuss it, instead of deciding to improve the area, the city decided to destroy the entire reservation.
In a brutal and cruel move, the mayor and city informed residents they had a few days to vacate their homes and businesses. Some were given a week and others a weekend. No agreements and no assistance were given to relocate the residents and there was no payment for those living in Section 14 who were losing their homes and businesses.
It was all burned to the ground and residents were forced to move.
I was floored by the magnitude of the injustice and the fact it took place in the United States of America during the 1950s.
Pearl Devers, chairperson of the Section 14 Committee, gave me a tour of the site. She was born and grew up in Palm Springs and is one of hundreds of survivors who remembers the reservation.
I listened to her and other survivors tell their stories.
One Mexican woman had a granddaughter speak the words her grandmother had written: “I remember on the reservation something very different. There was no prejudice there, no discrimination, no racism. We were all very poor and our parents helped every other family. The children were raised together, played together, went to school together. We fought and loved each other as all children do.”
An African American survivor spoke of her father: “After seeing his house go up in flames, he was never the same. It led him to alcohol and he suffered as an alcoholic for the rest of his life. So did dozens and dozens of others. The sheer pain of seeing where you lived, where your parents lived, destroyed in one fell swoop, was too much to bear.”
Remembering Section 14 today
On Friday, people came to the United Methodist Church of Palm Springs – a group as diverse as the residents that must have been living in Section 14 so many years ago.
With a great deal of empathy, I rose to share the story of Evanston. I talked of Blacks who suffered their own kind of injustice through racism. I talked about the damage that had been done and how it was passed on from generation to generation.
And when I said Evanston was the first municipality in the United States to pass a resolution for a reparations program, the survivors of Section 14 lifted their arms and voices in a collective and unified response saying: “justice is coming.”
On Sunday, the Annual Palm Springs Black History Parade closed down Palm Canyon Road for a festive-filled occasion. At the the interfaith worship service, I spoke about the urgent need for unity.
It may have been my imagination, but there seemed to be an air of possibility in the atmosphere.
I concluded by saying: “All of you united are able to bring justice. Not only to the survivors of Section 14 who are with us today, but you will bring justice to a city that must reckon with its inglorious past, in order to move towards a more glorious future.”
Only after the service did I learn that there had not been an interfaith service in Palm Springs for more than a dozen years.
But as clergy and laypeople filed out of the church into a beautiful and sunshine-filled Sunday afternoon, it was evident something had happened at the service. I shook the hand of every single one of the hundreds of people who attended the service.
I received hugs, kisses on the cheek and generous words of kindness. And it was clear that such a response was not because I had spoken so well. Rather, it was because they knew I had listened and heard them.
And what I shared was simply Good News. “God has seen what happened to you. God is doing something about it,. Even these many years later. And justice is coming.”
How was your weekend?