Jessie Mae Beavers might have been reminiscing about her family, so casual was her manner. How, when she was a girl, the YWCA had separate weeks at summer camp for its black campers. Heck, black Y members in the 1940s and 1950s--no matter where they lived--all had to belong to the same southeast chapter. And when she was at UCLA, Beavers continued conversationally, blacks weren't allowed to live on campus.
"It was a way of life. Nobody thought anything about it. At UCLA, I was just glad I'd been accepted. But no, girl, I wasn't bitter then. I'm not bitter now."
Nevertheless, Beavers is not about to let anyone forget those times. A Tom Bradley appointee to the city's Human Relations Commission 12 years ago and its president four times, she's made a lifetime career of involvement with the black scene--its politics, its society, its journalism:
--Head of the commission's affirmative action committee, she's drafted and published position papers, held seminars and organized task forces, including leading the 1982 investigation of discriminatory hiring policies in the entertainment industry and its examination of how minorities are portrayed in movies and television.
--Executive editor of the Los Angeles Sentinel (the area's largest black-owned newspaper), she's been writing (under her maiden name of Jessie Mae Brown) about who's doing what socially in the black community since she was a student at Los Angeles High School. During the years, both with the California Eagle and, since 1950, the Sentinel, she's accumulated a slew of awards from journalism organizations.
--She's a 30-year member and past president of the Lullaby Guild, a support group to the Childrens Home Society, and active in Links, the prestigious service organization, which every fall conducts a large debutante ball for young black women, and the sororities Iota Phi Lambda and Alpha Kappa Alpha. She's attended the Second Baptist Church since girlhood and, in 1978, chaired the Women's Day Committee, which as part of its celebration had the Paul R. Williams-designed church declared a historical monument by the Los Angeles City Cultural Heritage Board.
--Both she and her husband, LeRoy A. Beavers, are from old Los Angeles families. Her husband's uncle was George A. Beavers, one of the co-founders of the nation's largest black-owned insurance company, Golden State Life Insurance. LeRoy Beavers, now retired from management, began his career at the family firm and in the mid-1960s was among the first blacks hired by white-owned Equitable Insurance. He subsequently became its first black agency manager, running the Century City office. The couple, married 37 years, have three children: Deborah, 34, a project director with the city Parks and Recreation Department who is married to a Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Arthur Ross, and has a son, Arthur, 3; LeRoy III, 30, a private consultant specializing in entrepreneurship, and Kimberly, 26, a teacher at an L.A. Unified School District magnet school, who is married to another teacher, Paul Noble.
Jessie Mae Beavers is a high-energy person who's up at 6:30 every morning to walk briskly while her husband and son jog three miles around the Dorsey High School track. By 7:30 a.m. she is back home in Lafayette Park, getting dressed and ready to proceed with a day of meetings, bouts at the typewriter, luncheons and social functions. She has no concept of slowing down, and her age is the one question she won't answer directly. Rather, she'll respond, "To give you an idea when I came along, I remember listening to 'Myrt and Marge' on the radio." (It was a popular show of the 1930s.)
But age has undoubtedly given her a certain sense of perspective. Although she belongs to a few racially mixed organizations and serves as vice chairman of the county Music and Performing Arts Commission, she conceded that it is by design that she has focused her life in the black community.
"I was born in it. But I've chosen it. I'm dedicated to volunteer service, and I've always felt there was a job for me to do in working with the women here. That's why I've stayed with the paper too. I saw I could be an example as well as cover what we were doing. And I've enjoyed it. And I feel I've made a contribution."
That sense of perspective also extends to her views on human rights. Take one recent afternoon after a commission meeting. Even as she was declaring that affirmative action is still the hot subject and muttering about Clarence M. Pendleton Jr., chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (who has provoked considerable controversy with his statement that "black leaders and civil rights supporters are practicing a 'new racism' by promoting preferential treatment for minority group members"), Beavers was also musing about how funny it is that things that once seemed so vital can become distant memories.