Just as compassionate people today fight against inequality and the lack of opportunity, at a time when restrictions were placed on African Americans purchasing land in many U.S. locations, including El Cerrito, enlightened “straw men” acted as fronts for minority purchases. This is how Dr. Russel and Melva Harrison, one of El Cerrito’s first African American residents, obtained their home.
Since that time residents who are African American have loved El Cerrito, joining other dedicated ‘El Cerritoans’ in significantly striving for the development and betterment of this community. On Saturday, August 26 an El Cerrito Centennial Celebration honored those contributions.
In addition to civic engagement, African American residents have contributed to business, education, government, and numerous projects designed to further the general welfare of our community.
Jean Mitchell opened the first African American beauty salon, employing and training others in the industry. Emmett McCuistion taught at Portola Junior High School. Dr. and Mrs. Samuel Weeks’ children were the first to integrate Mira Vista Elementary School. Judge Charles Edward Wilson and Lucy Wilson assisted the City of El Cerrito in establishing the City’s Human Relations Commission, and motivated the City and the Commission to recognize Dr. Martin Luther Kings Jr.’s birthday. Today El Cerrito has one of the most significant MLK yearly celebrations in the country.
Saturday’s celebration was crowned with keynote speaker, Regina Mason, who described her journey to discover one of her ancestors, William Grimes, a runaway slave who had made significant strides as an author. Recording artist Da Michanic also performed.
The Centennial Event was sponsored by: The City of El Cerrito, NAACP, St Peter CME Church, Law office of Mister Phillips and One Hitter Entertainment sponsored the event.
El Cerrito Mayor Janet Abelson and El Cerrito Council member Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto graced the Centennial event with their presence.
For more information on this Event and the history it celebrated, see: THE RICHMOND STANDARD: El Cerrito centennial celebration honors African American legends