Inspired by the experiences of Harlen Lambert and Daniel Michael Lynem, Jr., two men who represented opposite ends of the political spectrum, “Shouting from the Margins: Black Orange County, 1960-1979” opened last month at the Salz-Pollak Atrium Gallery in the Pollak Library at Cal State Fullerton. Running until March 27, the exhibit, made by the Studio for Southern California History, profiles over a dozen local leaders from the African American community who have made profound contributions to Orange County history, often facing obstacles and barriers in the process.
“We wanted to look at how people survive adversity so we could honor them and learn from them,” said Sharon Sekhon, co-creator of “Shouting from the Margins.” Sekhon is Director of the nonprofit Studio for Southern California History and former CSUF professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies. “We looked at the different ways these individuals used traditional avenues to power, like being elected to public office, and less traditional means, like creating a ‘Black is beautiful’ self-help group for young girls, which Adleane Hunter did with Essence 7.”
Sekhon drew inspiration from historian CLR James and his colleagues who were part of the Black power movement. They studied how Black men, women, and children created agency for themselves and their communities because these groups were denied access to opportunity in mainstream American society in the postwar period, according to Sekhon.
This exhibit emerged from Sekhon’s friendship with Harlen Lambert and Daniel Michael Lynem, Jr. According to Sekhon, both men were leaders in different political spheres of Orange County and have provided profound service to their communities. Harlen Lambert was the first Black officer hired in Santa Ana in late 1966, and Daniel Michael Lynem, Jr. was the former head of the Santa Ana chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and is now a pastor and mentor to young men in his church. Harlen and Daniel were natural enemies in the 1960s, but in 2019, they became friends. Sekhon followed how both of their histories were being gathered and didn’t like the lack of attention they were getting.
“I wanted to be sure both men understood how important their work was to contemporary generations. I thought about this political continuum of the 1960s that they shared and all the other people in between their two points on it. Then I thought about all the other people who had different points of view. If these two amazing leaders weren’t receiving their just dues in my opinion, what about all these other people?” Sekhon said.
Harlen and Daniel were always available to share their experience with Sekhon and the public; they came to many of her Honors courses and were very candid with the students about the hardships they dealt with. “Both men were instant friends and treated me like I had value. They taught me history every time I spent time with them. Most importantly, the arc of their relationship taught me about the true nature of forgiveness…Their hearts and minds were open to understanding and compassion. This model of reconciliation is one we must try to emulate to heal our divided nation,” Sekhon said.
Building from these two men, “Shouting From the Margins” includes more than a dozen interviews and profiles of other equally amazing individuals who contributed to Orange County’s history. Highlighted in the exhibit are Wyatt Frieson, Daniel Michael Lynem, Adleane Hunter, Brigman Owens, Walter Morris, Mustafa Khan, Janine Farquhar, Earl Pedford, Jerry Hunter, Jules Farquhar, Aidsand Wright-Riggins, Zoe Pedford, Jim DeBose, Kathy Ayeh, Jim Hatchett, Charlene Riggins, Harlen Lambert, and Maurice Howard. The exhibit includes a well-researched timeline of Orange County history with a focus on 1960 to 1979, and CSUF. Sekhon and her co-creators’ research process was influenced by the French Annales School, which employs an immersive approach to studying a subject from as many angles as possible. They gathered information and did research related to Sekhon’s topic using every database they had access to.
“As our research showed, Orange County did not even track people of color in government until the 1960s, so we had to get at this history using different tools,” said Ariella Horwitz, a co-creator of “Shouting from the Margins,” and Lecturer in American Studies at CSUF. “For this project, we would ask for referrals from our interviewees and we began to do newspaper sweeps of the time period. We looked at extant published sources on this topic and we found amazing material on CSUF’s school newspaper, The Daily Titan. As we did our research, we highlighted materials that needed to be included in the exhibit.”
Historians study change over time and place; as a result, the co-creators of this exhibit put all their data into tables that could be searched and sorted chronologically. This helped show change over time, and it also helped track changes in language and policy. Whenever they found anecdotes from an interview or stories in the newspapers that were outrageous or unbelievable, they made a note that it should be included in the final exhibit. Sharon Sekhon had her collaborators make their top lists and used them when putting together the exhibition. “There are so many items we did not include in the exhibit; it was a real challenge to edit them down,” Horwitz said. “While our exhibit could not discuss how World War II or Mendez vs. Westminster (1947) directly affected Orange County because of physical space, we wanted to be sure researchers interested in learning more could find lines of inquiry in our original searches.”
Joe Zavala, another co-creator of “Shouting From the Margins,” who just graduated in 2020 with his Bachelor of History from CSUF, helped Sekhon with her interviews. He said, “These were people in such a close-knit community at the time, not just Orange County, but CSUF as a whole, as well…I’ve lived in Orange County my entire life and had no idea of these stories surrounding it.” He said that all his research team’s work was source driven. For the exhibit, they used imagery from the time period when possible.
Sekhon said she and her co-creators chose to include oranges and an orange grove on their exhibit timeline as visual metaphors, representing not just the name of the county but also the loss of Bracero labor in 1963. This was a precursor to many of the issues facing Black and Brown Americans in Orange County. Sekhon said, “There was no longer a cheap labor pool for employers to pull from. After 1963, OC’s agrarian footprint was diminished substantially and the issues with labor are intertwined with issues of discrimination. This happens all over Southern California and while many consider the post-war economy part of the 1950s prosperity, there is no doubt that a huge portion of that wealth comes from cheap Bracero labor.”
Even though this was a difficult exhibit to put together during COVID-19, it was also incredibly rewarding for the researchers. “I learned that complacency is a problem in history and there are assumptions that this history has already been documented and relayed. It has not. I learned that some commonsense questions about where we live are difficult to answer because we aren’t trained to ask those questions,” Sekhon said. “I saw the signs of history but did not have the tools to figure out the answers to my questions, much less verbalize my inquiries. Asking commonsense questions about where we live is how we express a critical love of place.”
“Shouting from the Margins: Black Orange County, 1960 – 1979” is co-authored by Sharon Sekhon, Ariella Horwitz, Joe Zavala, Victoria Koos, Edith Verduzco, Tiffany Bowman, and Brenda Valencia. The co-authors extend a special thank you to Trish Campbell for her help. This exhibit is based off research that is archived at https://www.lahistoryarchive.org/resources/SHOUTING/index.html. The Studio for Southern California History, which curated the exhibit, is a nonprofit dedicated to critically chronicling and sharing the region’s social history to foster a sense of place. “The exhibit represents a fraction of the information we have gathered,” Joe Zavala said. “There are so many facts, events, and people that are still yet to be discovered and discussed. We really encourage people to go check out our website and go look at the other stories that are related to this topic as well.”
On Friday, February 25, Wyatt Frieson will be honored with the CSUF Honors Program’s Distinguished Leadership Award, with a light reception following the ceremony in the Honors Program Center. The event will take place at 5pm in the Salz-Pollak Atrium of the CSUF Library.