The Fullerton Joint Union High School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously on June 16, to remove Louis E. Plummer’s name from the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton amid evidence that Plummer was a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. The community and school board were made aware of his past in an online petition started by Fullerton resident Jacqueline Logwood that gathered over 27,000 signatures.
The Board agenda item read as follows:
“The historical record indicates that Louis Plummer was associated with the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK is known to have engaged in acts of violence and terrorism against minority populations. Louis Plummer’s association was noted in a 1979 doctoral dissertation by Christopher Cocoltchos (UCLA) entitled The Invisible Government and the Viable Community: The Ku Klux Klan in Orange County, California During the 1920s. Cocoltchos wrote, “Plummer was . . . a leader in the Myers-led Klan.” (page 288).
A facility named for someone associated with the KKK is at odds with both Board Policy 0100 (a) Philosophy and Goals and Board Policy 0145: NONDISCRIMINATION (Educational Programs or Activities) “The Fullerton Joint Union High School District shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religious background, national origin or ancestry, ethnic group identification, marital or parental status, gender, sex, age, physical or mental disability, gender preference or sexual orientation, or the perception of one or more such characteristics, or economic status in the educational programs or activities which it operates for its students.”
Prior to Board discussion of the item, President Andy Montoya read the many public comments that had been submitted, the majority of which were in support of the name change.
Here are some excerpts from public comments in support of removing the name:
“Members of the KKK should not be honored in Orange County or anywhere else in the United States.”
“Vote against hatred and anti-blackness. Be on the right side of history.”
“Please consider removing the name Plummer from the Auditorium to emphasize that Black Lives Matter. We should not be honoring those who acted otherwise.”
“As a parent whose two children went to Sunset Lane elementary, Parks Jr. High, and Sunny Hills, I frequently went to Plummer Auditorium for recognition nights. It is long past due that students and parents of Fullerton should stop having to enter a building associated with hatred, and that the very events where we honor accomplishments of all the students in the district. I heartily endorse the move to rename the auditorium.”
“As a parent of a daughter who will be a senior at Fullerton High School, I am proud the school district is removing the name of a KKK member from the auditorium.”
“It is not fair for black students to have to see the name of a KKK member being praised at their school district.”
“The name reinforces white supremacy, given Plummer’s KKK ties. Doing nothing is not an option.”
“Having a public building named after a former KKK member is absolutely unacceptable and sends the wrong message to our students. At this moment we are watching racist monuments being removed in cities across America, and we should join them.”
“As a person of color, of Mexican and Salvadoran descent, it pains me to know the history of the naming of our spaces in our community and how they are directly tied to the racist organizations such as the KKK. It is important that we do better as a community to strike down racism and take a stand against it…Over 10,000 students in the district are Latino, Black, and Asian/Pacific Islander…As elected officials, I call on you to do the right thing and stand against racism and white supremacy. Your actions today will be remembered in history, and if I was in your position, I would want to ensure that I was on the right side of social justice.”
“We are in the midst of historic change around the world. Change that black voices have called for and protesters now demand. This is a meaningful step forward—a compassionate reconciliation that acknowledges our history and affirms black students and families of color.”
“I am a social worker born and raised in OC. Many of the clients I serve are suffering from racial inequality and racial biases held by those who hold power over them. Removing the name of a KKK member would serve to communicate care and concern. Please act quickly to remove the name of Plummer and any other relics representing the KKK. These images and names are harmful and traumatizing to our communities.”
“As a 50-year Fullerton resident, as a choir and theater student at FUHS, I performed in our beautiful theater many times. Likewise my two children have also performed frequently in this beloved space. As one who dearly loves this old theater, it is particularly painful to know that our crown jewel was named for someone affiliated with the KKK. Our community must stand for the respect and dignity of all people and that begins with who we honor and who we don’t. We must not associate ourselves with hatred and intolerance.”
Some public commenters opposed the name change, citing Louis E. Plummer’s many contributions to Fullerton’s educational system.
“The research into Louis Plummer’s life shows no indication of discrimination on his part,” wrote one commenter. “In fact, his life was filled with compassion for others, particularly the Mexican immigrants who labored in the area’s citrus industry. Mr. Plummer worked with others to set up schools for the children of immigrants and to teach their parents basic English in order to read grocery labels. Weekly, he and his wife would visit the labor camps and have a meal with the immigrants.”
This story is published on the Fullerton College’s Centennial website under the headline, “Servant of Mankind.”
Louis Plummer’s attitude and actions toward Mexican immigrants and their children was complex, but it should be noted that he presided over a school system that segregated its Mexican students. The definitive work on this topic is historian Gilbert Gonzalez’s book Labor and Community: Mexican Citrus Workers Villages in a Southern California County, 1900-1950.
In this book on Orange County citrus workers, Gonzalez wrote:
“Segregated schooling assumed a pedagogical norm that was to endure into the fifties and parallels in remarkable ways the segregation of African Americans across the United States…By the mid-1920s, the segregated schooling process in [Orange] county expanded, matured, and solidified, was manifested in fifteen exclusively Mexican schools, together enrolling nearly four thousand pupils. All the Mexican schools except one were located in citrus growing areas of the County…Distinctions between Mexican and Anglo schools included differences in their physical quality.”
In Fullerton, the two “Mexican Schools” were on the Bastanchury Ranch, and near Pomona Ave, in what was then called Campo Pomona, a Mexican labor camp. To read more about this history click HERE.
One public commenter referenced this history: “I have read a heartwarming story about Plummer’s desire to help migrant workers improve their lives and better assimilate into American society by sending a teacher to migrant worker camps to teach English and the basic survival skills necessary to succeed in American society. The reality was not so heartwarming. Fullerton maintained segregated Mexican schools and an Americanization department in the school system. Unfortunately, the requirement that Latino children need to be taught separately from white children persisted for many years after Plummer’s career.”
The author of the book The History of Fullerton Union High School: 1893-2011 opposed the name change, stating that she had “acquired a great deal of information about the first 50 years of the school from Louis Plummer’s excellent work A History of Fullerton Union High School and Fullerton Junior College: 1893-1943.”
She compared the decision to remove the Plummer name to the decision by the High School Board of Trustees in 1939 to paint over the “Pastoral California” mural on the side of Plummer Auditorium. The mural remained painted over until it was restored by a massive community effort in 1997.
This history, too, is more complex than meets the eye.
In a 1997 LA Times article about the mural’s restoration, Charles Hart, who was a student at the high school and remembers the mural before it was covered up, had this to say about why it was painted over:
“It was too Mexican, that’s why,” he said. “The School Board didn’t want to leave the impression that this town was anything else but Anglos. Too extreme for them, I guess.”
The decision of the 1939 school board to paint over the Pastoral California mural was likely a decision rooted in the pervasive racism of the time. The decision to restore the mural was rooted in the more inclusive social attitudes of the 1990s.
To read an essay I wrote about this aspect of the history of “Pastoral California” click HERE.
Other public commenters felt that the board should not erase or “sanitize” history by removing the name.
“Wiping out a man’s otherwise good name and good works for mere membership in an organization 100 years ago, however distasteful, is not going to make a meaningful change. Sanitizing history leaves us all poorer and replacing his name with someone else’s would only make it worse. All of this reminds me of the blacklisting in the McCarthy era,” wrote one commenter.
Other public commenters suggested that the Board should “slow down” and do more research on Plummer’s KKK ties before voting to change the name.
“I ask that the board doesn’t get caught up in the movement and brand a local leader who did a lot of good for our community as a member of the KKK without doing more research,” wrote one commenter.
The primary evidence of Plummer’s involvement in the Ku Klux Klan, as noted above, is the 1979 UCLA doctoral dissertation by Christopher Cocoltchos entitled The Invisible Government and the Viable Community: The Ku Klux Klan in Orange County, California During the 1920s.
Plummer is mentioned by name at least two times in this dissertation, stating that he was “a leader a leader in the Myers-led Klan.” Myers refers to the Reverend Leon Myers, who helped organize the KKK in Orange County in the early 1920s.
Elsewhere the dissertation states, “Councilman W.A. Moore, Judge French, and Superintendent of Schools Plummer joined the Klan in the latter part of 1923, and R.A. Mardsen entered in mid-1924. Civic leaders were especially eager to join. Seven of the eighteen councilmen who served on the council between 1918 and 1930 were Klansmen.”
To read my summary of this dissertation click HERE.
Cocoltchos’ primary source of Klan members is a list he obtained from the Library of Congress.
This Klan membership list was not just an incidental footnote to his dissertation, it was the backbone as a main part of the dissertation which is a demographic study of Klan members, listing their occupations, religious affiliations, ages, etc.
The Observer reached out to the Library of Congress (which is currently closed to the public due to COVID-19) to obtain a copy of this list, and received the following reply:
“As you may know, the Library of Congress Manuscript Division holds a small collection of Ku Klux Klan records relating to Anaheim, California, dating from 1924-1925. The collection was donated to the Library in 1954, and our records reflect that a membership list was part of the collection at that time. However, the collection, which is held in a single box, does not currently include a membership list. Our staff has conducted a careful and extensive search for this item during the past two years, but to date have been unable to locate the list. During the course of our search, we discovered that the division’s records indicate that the list was missing from the collection in 1982. While we continue to intermittently search for this item, the division revised the online record to reflect that the membership list is not currently part of the collection.
At present, the Library’s onsite facilities are closed to researchers and the public and most staff are assigned to telework. There has been no date yet announced for the return of Manuscript Division staff to onsite, but when we are allowed to return, I will be glad to renew the search for the membership list.
If you are not already aware, a membership list of the Anaheim Ku Klux Klan is in the custody of the Anaheim Heritage Center Public Library.
Jeffrey M. Flannery
Head, Reference & Reader Services
Library of Congress
So it appears that three years after Cocoltchos published his dissertation in 1979, the membership list, which was part of the original collection, disappeared.
As to the membership list in the Anaheim Heritage Center, I did take the time to see that list for myself over a year ago and Plummer’s name does not appear on it. However, to my recollection, there was a page missing from the alphabetical list, a page that included those with the last name “P.”
I remember being told, while viewing the list, that I was not to take photos of it, or to share it on the Internet, I suspect because many of the names on it were from prominent Orange County families.
You may recall that former OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano ran a column a while back called “Profiles in OC Pioneers Who Were Klan Members” based on that list. Tragically, when OC Weekly folded, they seem to have expunged those articles from their website.
During Board discussion of the name change, Trustee Joanne Fawley, who placed the item on the agenda, said that she not only read Cocoltchos’ dissertation, but she was able to actually contact him. He is now a retired history professor. “I thought it was important since we are leaning on that as part of our decision making to hear from him,” Fawley said.
“I believe that the research and analysis from my dissertation speaks amply for me,” Cocoltchos said. Regarding the Plummer name change, Fawley said, “No one’s denying the history that took place with the establishment of Fullerton High School and the establishment of Fullerton College. It’s part of the district’s history…I believe it’s time to turn the page to a new era in history.”
Trustee Chester Jeng said that he had spoken with Superintendent Scambray to see if the district has other buildings or facilities named after individuals.
“Currently we don’t except for Plummer,” Jeng said. “So even if it’s not the KKK aspect of it, it is the current trend that we don’t name district facilities after people. I do believe that his name should be removed. As an immigrant of color, it is very offensive to me to walk into a building that is named after a person associated with the KKK.”
Board President Andy Montoya read a statement he had prepared on the topic:
“Louis E. Plummer was the City’s superintendent of schools in Fullerton. He brought the concept and spirit of Fullerton College, which was the first junior college in California. I attended FJC. Fullerton College currently and historically has offered a Louis E. Plummer memorial grant, which is a scholarship for disadvantaged students. I have been told that Louis Plummer was an advocate for education and students. The one thing we are focusing on is his involvement, his association with and his belonging to a group called the KKK. Some say that we are rushing into a decision to take the name of Plummer off the auditorium. This issue is not a new issue. We had this on our agenda between 2 to 3 years ago and chose not to remove the name. During this COVID pandemic, I have been home a lot and have had a lot of time on my hands. I have spent numerous days researching this issue and doing a lot of soul-searching. Some might say that we are being reactionary to the events around us—the rallies, the protests, the petitions. Yes we are, yes I am. I feel that after having watched that horrible video of the murder of George Floyd, and watched thousands of people protesting here in the United States and around the world, even in our hometown. We have seen peaceful protests in downtown Fullerton, La Habra, and surrounding cities. We even saw a rally to remove the name of Plummer involving hundreds of attendees on June 6. Most of the top 10 books on Amazon are with racial issues. I believe after these events, after hearing passionate people speak about their accounts, being reminded of my own personal experience of racism, I feel that we all have new eyes, a larger heart, and more understanding. The name and association of Plummer and the KKK has to go. I’m not trying to erase history. I do not want to erase Plummer’s name, nor do I want to discount the things that he did. But I do not want one of our buildings named after a person who joined the group, participated, and was a member of the KKK.”
Trustee Marilyn Buchi said that she was conflicted about removing the name, but it was speaking with her younger family members that moved her to support the name change.
“I talked to my sons, my daughter, my grandchildren…Plummer certainly did a lot in his 20 years as a superintendent to benefit children and the district, and the college. But my 15-year old granddaughter said, ‘You know it’s the KKK that ruins it. She said with that name, with the KKK, his name can’t be on the building,’” Buchi said.
Trustee Lauren Klatzker said, “I think that it is never too late to confront our past, whether it’s our personal past or community past, and to look and reflect at the decisions made, and then to make changes moving forward to make us and our community better.”
After public comments and discussion, the Board voted unanimously to remove the Plummer name from the auditorium. A new name will be decided at a future time.
In response to the news, Jacqueline Logwood, who began the petition to remove the name, said, “When the Fullerton School Board unanimously voted to rename the Louis E. Plummer Auditorium, I felt a great sense of accomplishment, and I am overwhelmed by the amount of support the petition garnered in such a short period of time. Moreover, I am extremely grateful to everyone who signed the petition and shared their respective viewpoints. Overall, I am very thankful that the board rejected the status quo of an imperfect past and paved the way for a more inclusive and hopeful future.”