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Parade rejects entry on desegregation

Panel for Huntington Beach's Fourth of July event dismisses historic ruling as a subject.

June 19, 2007|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

The Orange County lawsuit that desegregated California schools was deemed of such historic significance that a postage stamp commemorating it will be released in September. But organizers of the Fourth of July parade in Huntington Beach -- the largest in the western United States -- denied an entry celebrating the 60-year-old ruling, saying it lacks "entertainment value."

Filmmaker Sandra Robbie, who produced an Emmy-winning documentary about the lawsuit and proposed the parade entry, vowed to fight the decision, which she called baffling.

"I could not understand how a celebration about freedom in America could overlook this landmark case," she said.

The case, Mendez vs. Westminster School District, ended segregation in California schools in 1947 and set the stage for the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that outlawed school segregation nationwide seven years later. In the Mendez case, Latinos and whites were sent to separate schools.

Robbie recently wrapped up a nationwide "Magical History Tour" in a restored 1967 Volkswagen bus that taught students and visitors about the decision. The trip was capped by a spot in June in the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City, where Gov. Elliot Spitzer and the grand marshal, pop singer Ricky Martin, visited the bus.

So when Robbie returned home to Santa Ana last week, she was disheartened to learn that Huntington Beach parade organizers had denied her entry in the 103rd annual parade, which draws 250,000 people to the city. This year's theme is "Huntington Beach Salutes the American Spirit."

Connie Young, a spokeswoman for the parade's organizers, said a committee of City Council appointees reviewed parade applicants. Approximately 300 entries, from marching bands to patriotic displays to dignitaries, will participate. Fewer than 20 applications were turned down.

"It didn't have enough entertainment value, that's what the parade committee looks for," Young said.

Robbie sent letters Monday to committee members and to council members, urging them to reconsider.

Sylvia Mendez was 8 when she and her brothers were turned away from a white school, which spurred her father and others to file the groundbreaking lawsuit. Now 71 and living in Fullerton, Mendez, a retired nurse, said educating people about the ruling is vital, particularly in light of the dropout crisis in minority communities.

"By integrating the schools, my gosh, I was able to live the American dream," said Mendez.

"It's so important that everyone knows about it. I want children to know that people fought for them to stay in school."

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