High School Students study Race in America

As a Social Studies teacher in Pacific Grove High School, one of the subjects I was to cover in the 9th-grade social studies classes was race. Well, I told the class, we are not going to spend time discussing Apartheid in South Africa, nor would we discuss race relations in Little Rock, Arkansas where the High School had recently been blown up. I said, let us take a good look at our own town of Pacific Grove, California, this nice little Methodist Church community (the West Coast copy of Ocean Grove, New Jersey.) PG still had ‘blue laws’ and no alcoholic beverages were sold in shops in PG. You had to go across the border to Monterey to buy a bottle of wine or spirits. And, of course, the town had lots of lovely old churches. But underlying all this pious façade was a racist attitude that reflected many values to be found in American communities in the 1950s and 1960s.

Sure, we did the intellectual trip but I wanted the students to experience racial prejudice so I assigned the class the task of locating the Relator’s ‘red line’ beyond which a home would not be sold to a minority person. I brought to class the deed on the property that I owned on which was written “This property is not to be sold to or occupied by any person of African lineage, Native American lineage, Oriental lineage or whose ancestors have ever lived under the domain of the Ottoman Empire (that kept out the Jews.) Samuel Morse, founder of Pebble Beach and formerly owner of all this property placed these covenants on all his property. I then related to the students’ several public protests when a Chinese or Korean instructor at the local Army Language Institute tried to purchase a home in Pacific Grove in the area protected by these covenants.

The students went out in pairs to do their field research. Two girls went to the Chamber of Commerce where they were met with indignation by the secretary there. She was outraged that their teacher was spreading lies and stirring up trouble. She insisted that there was no such line and sent them to see the City Manager who should know these things. Well, the City Manager was new to town so he called a friend who was a Realtor and asked him about the race line. His friend said, “Of course there is a line. Beginning at … “ he described the line as the City Manager marked it on a small city map. When he was done talking with his friend he got out a very large city planning map and with a red marker made a heavy line indicating the Relator’s ‘red line.’ The City Manager was appalled at this information and wished the girls luck in their research.

I secured that large map to the wall of the classroom and then asked the students to find as many stories as they could dealing with attempts of minorities to purchase or rent a home in the red-lined area.  It was noted that the vice-Principal of the school led one of the neighborhood protests against a minority moving into his neighborhood.

Well, as you can imagine, the ‘stuff’ hit the fan. Not only did the Board of Realtors get after the Principal of the high school, they protested to the School Board and all of this became part of the class lesson on “Race in America.” The Principal told me that I had been called some very uncomplimentary names but he agreed that the students certainly got a vivid lesson on the role race plays in their own small town, but, he said, “Please George, stick to South Africa next time!”