Compared to the turmoil surrounding busing in larger cities, the integration of schools in Pasadena went reasonably smoothly. But desegregation did produce "white flight." Some white parents put their children in private schools. La Canada Flintridge, a small, predominantly white neighboring community, pulled out of the school district, leaving the school board with an even harder task of reapportionment.
The school board's Hickambottom said: "The board couldn't scrap the desegregation plan because it was the law, but they spent millions of dollars taking the matter back to court. . . . They dragged their feet."
A Mood Problem
Hickambottom was elected to the board seven years ago and had children in the public school system when it began to desegregate. He said: "I think it was the mood set by that board and the racist people in this community that have kept integration from working. We've desegregated the schools, but meaningful integration has never taken place. I'm not satisfied with the progress minority students are making. I want to get more people of color on the school board. We need an outreach program to attract more black teachers and principals, particularly black males, and I want to see the board willing to spend money on special-needs programs."
The school board that tried to frustrate integration was voted out of office, replaced by one that Hickambottom called "liberal." He said he is now counting on increased black activism to help improve school programs for minorities. Two months ago, representatives of black churches, sororities, fraternities and civil rights organizations formed the Black Coalition on Education, which Hickambottom refers to as "a first in the history of blacks in Pasadena."
"That's going to help get things done," he said. "The board reacts to pressure. Recently, I got some things done on that board and I know it was because 20 people from that group came down here."
Jean Mills, one of Pasadena's 11 black principals (about one-third of the total), is also excited about the formation of the coalition. But when asked if black children receive the same quality of education as white children in Pasadena, she laughed.
"I'm not going out there on that limb," she said. "I do feel there is a sincere commitment among this board and the new superintendent to see that every child receives a quality education.
"Unfortunately, we had to integrate the system to assure the education of all children. If I had been given up-to-date tools and equipment, I would have been very satisfied teaching in an all-black school."
"Not too very long from now, we could be back to the same segregated school system we had 10 to 12 years ago," Hickambottom said. "We now have some schools close to 90% minorities, and there is nothing we can do about it.
"In fact, my attitude is I'm not sure I want to do anything about it. We went through the court order. We tried. It really hasn't worked because the majority didn't want it to work. Now I say let's move ahead with the educating of our kids, providing the best possible education."
High Dropout Rate
Conditions in the public schools concern black Pasadenans. The minority dropout rate is high, and parents complain of drug use. Shelbi Wilson, a 16-year-old senior at Pasadena High School, said many students at her school drive expensive cars bought with money made from selling drugs, particularly cocaine.
The most successful black public figure in Pasadena has been Loretta Thompson-Glickman, a tall high school English teacher and former singer with the New Christy Minstrels. She was chosen the city's mayor by fellow members of the city board in 1982 and served a standard two-year term.
Born in New York, she had been adopted in infancy by a live-in handyman and domestic whose families had been in Pasadena for some time. She was active in the church and in the fight for school desegregation, and she was critical of the first black elected to the Pasadena board--Henry Wilfong, one of those who contemplated disrupting the Rose Parade a generation ago. Wilfong, a Republican, had become increasingly conservative over the years, and Thompson-Glickman thought he was out of step with the black community. In 1977, when seven months pregnant, she ran against him.
The campaign included harsh words about her white husband. "Many times I sat on my back porch and cried," she said. But she beat Wilfong by a 3-to-1 vote and still has a seat on the board.
Thompson-Glickman recalled that "many people were very surprised a black woman was mayor of Pasadena. And then, a black woman who can speak, or as people used to say, 'Oh, you read that so well, you spoke so well.' "