A new book on an unusually diverse, and accepting, community.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
“Seaside is the most important city in the region,” says Stanford historian and director of the Seaside History Project, Dr. Carol Lynn McKibben, “in terms of how it fits into the literature of urban America and California history: minority-majority, mixed race, de-industrialization, military. It’s a microcosm of American life in the 20th century. No other city on the Monterey Peninsula can boast that.”
Other local cities have enjoyed a cohesive historical accounting: The Steinbeck Center and the Salinas Stories History Project; the Monterey Maritime and History Museum and the California Room of the Monterey Public Library for Monterey; countless books on Carmel, Big Sur and Pebble. The Seaside City Council was looking for someone to compile the historical record for their fair city and McKibben made a strong case, citing her own local residency, academic credentials, an award-winning book on Sicilian women in Cannery Row and a personal fidelity to the story.
“I fell in love with Seaside,” she says. And she remembers why.
“When I went through [photo] collections; when I talked to people like Ewalker James, Mel Mason, Pearl Carrey, Ralph Rubio and Helen Rucker, everybody was passionate about their city… In minority-majority cities, people tend to move up the ladder and leave. Not here. It made me want to do justice to this.”
Because historical records were insufficient to tell the complete story, McKibben relied on oral accounts, starting with town hall-style meetings with locals and an interlinked web of community folks including activists and government officials. She heard stories of labor, civil rights, military life, desegregation, Fort Ord’s closure and more. A “living history,” as she calls it.
Photographs were important, she says, because they shatter myths that affect perceptions. For instance, photos of racially mixed groups of children cavorting on the beach in 1925 or in Little League photos in the 1950s dispels the “black town” myth (though systemic segregation persisted in housing).
The resulting “Images of America” series book, Seaside (Arcadia Publishing), starts with settlement in the late 1800s and runs to the 2000s. It’s a sweeping, nostalgic tale told in black-and-white photos and detailed captions.
It’s an uncommon story. She cites the L.A. community of Monterey Park, where Asians are the majority and live alongside whites and Latinos: “There was huge conflict between racial groups there,” she says. “They lacked Seaside’s communal sensibility. Seaside’s population was military. Everybody spoke the same language, understood the culture, how to live in mixed neighborhoods.”
When Seaside’s closest neighbor, Fort Ord, had their population instantly integrated by Harry Truman’s executive order 9381 in 1948, black and minority soldiers and their families, once off-base, fought for the same equality that they garnered on-base. And they were effective.
“What’s fascinating and important are that the changes that came about – desegregation, opportunities in jobs and government – happened because citizens were active: they got involved, ran for office, made change themselves… throughout Seaside’s history.”
The story is eminently readable and McKibben has taken a major step in stamping it in the record. Seaside has seemingly become a mission for her, which she’s pursued with academic rigot, but at her well-attended and entertaining lectures she radiates a personal passion for its story.
“I like happy endings,” she says.
SEASIDE is available at Borders, local retailers, online bookstores, www.arcadiapublishing.com, 888-313-2665. The Seaside History Project can be contacted at 394-2237. Dr. Carol McKibben lectures at Seaside City Hall 6pm May 20.