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 home >> Civil Rights History Project >> Survey of Collections and Repositories >> Collections >> Collection Record

The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories

California state government oral histories

Repository: California State Archives

Collection Description (CRHP): Interviews with the following individuals pertain to civil rights in California:

William Becker, Assistant to the Governor for Human Rights, 1964-1967
Becker speaks of his responsibilities for improving the state's own minority hiring practices and as the governor's man on the spot when troubles like the Watts riots arose. He also encouraged the effort to respond to social unrest by making state services accessible in neighborhood service centers, but found that finance officials in general were reluctant to accept the concept.

Edmund G. Brown Sr., Governor, 1959-1967
Political campaigns are discussed in greatest detail in this memoir: the emergence and remarkable continuity of Roger Kent's Democratic party leadership in combination with the impact of the grass roots California Democratic Council, and the internecine wrangle among Republicans Goodwin Knight, William F. Knowland, and Richard Nixon. These factors were major in electing Brown as governor in 1958, thereby creating the first Democratic sweep in the state's twentieth century history. During Brown's years in office, the California political process and state public administration became significantly more systemized. He describes the effort that ended candidate crossfiling on party primary ballots and how it strengthened the parties' role, and the development of more active campaign strategies by Democrats and Republicans. Brown, primarily in response to the general increase in responsibilities of the growing executive branch, initiated a major reorganization that incorporated the plethora of departments and commissions into four more manageable super-agencies. Progress in civil rights, development of water resources, and creation of a major plan for higher education are among the programs Brown speaks of with greatest pride. He examines with candor his inner struggle over capital punishment and his fruitless efforts to convince the legislature to approve his recommendations for increased revenues in the face of growing budget dilemmas.

Virna M. Canson, Program Advisory Committee to the Consumer Counsel, 1962-1966
Canson comments on the NAACP's activities, the Rumford Fair Housing Act, consumer counsel, and the Office of Economic Opportunity. She also reports her successful efforts to maintain communication with the governor's office.

Samuel Ladar
Ladar was Jesse Steinhart's law partner. He discusses Steinhart's views on race relations as a part of his general concern in civic affairs.

Tarea Hall Pittman, NAACP Official and Civil Rights Worker
A tireless worker for civil rights, she was the West Coast Regional Director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1959 to 1967. She discusses her work in social welfare, California State Association of Colored Women's Clubs, California Council of Negro Women, Negro Educational Council, legislation on fair employment practices and fair housing in California, and the NAACP.

Joseph A. Rattigan, Senator, 1959-1966
Rattigan discusses the Chessman death penalty controversy, the Senate Committee on Un-American Activities, his role as a partisan for higher education, and his work on judicial reform. Other subjects include passage of the Rumford Fair Housing Act in the senate, role of lobbyists to the legislature, and the senate reapportionment struggle from 1960 to 1966.

Collection Description (Extant): Documentation of California state government with the use of oral history techniques began in 1969 with the Earl Warren Era Oral History Project. It was initiated by the Regional Oral History Office of the Bancroft Library and "centered on key developments in politics and government administration at the state and county level, innovations in criminal justice, public health, and social welfare from 1928-1953."

Interviews in the second phase, Goodwin Knight-Edmund G. Brown Era, "continued the earlier inquiries into the nature of the governor's office and its relations with executive departments and the legislature, and explored the rapid social and economic changes in the years 1953-1966, as well as preserving Brown's own account of his extensive political career. Among the issues documented are the rise and fall of the Democratic party, establishment of the California Water Plan; election law changes, reapportionment and new political techniques; education and various social programs.

"Work began on the Ronald Reagan Gubernatorial Series in 1979 [covering the period 1966 through 1974]. . . . Interviews in this series deal with the efforts of the administration to increase government efficiency and economy and with organizational innovations designed to expand the management capability of the governor's office, as well as critical aspects of state health, education, welfare, conservation, and criminal justice programs."

Initial funding came from the National Endowment for the Humanities with additional support from public and private sources. The three series collectively became the Governmental History Documentation Project.

Eventually the California State Legislature established the State Government Oral History Program (1985 stats. ch. 965) "to provide through the use of oral history a continuing documentation of state policy development as reflected in California's legislative and executive history." Under the administration of the California State Archives, oral history programs at Claremont Graduate School; California State University, Fullerton; California State University, Sacramento; University of California, Berkeley; and the University of California, Los Angeles conduct the interviews. The interviews "offer insights into the actual workings of both the legislative and executive processes and policy mechanisms. They also offer an increased understanding of the men and women who create legislation and implement state policy. Further, they provide an overview of issue development in California state government and of how both the legislative and executive branches of government deal with issues and problems facing the state.

"Interviewees are chosen primarily on the basis of their contributions to and influence on the policy process of the state of California. They include members of the legislative and executive branches of the state government as well as legislative staff, advocates, members of the media, and others who played significant roles in specific issue areas of major and continuing importance to California."

The program is "one of the most significant commitments made by any state toward the preservation and documentation of its governmental history. It supplements the often fragmentary historical written record by adding an organized primary source, enriching the historical information available on given topics and allowing for more thorough historical analysis."

Digital Status: Unknown

Extent: Approximately 400 interviews

Finding Aid URL: External Link

Language: English

Interviewees: William Becker, Edmund G. Brown Sr., Virna M. Canson, Marvin Holen, Samuel Ladar, Tarea Hall Pittman, Joseph A. Rattigan

Rights (CRHP): Contact the repository which holds the collection for information on rights


African American women civil rights workers--California
California--Politics and government
Civil rights movements--California
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Council of Negro Women




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   May 15, 2015
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