In 1920, a new land track was opened in Our Town, called “Altadena Woodlands.” The area was bounded by Allen Avenue on the west, New York Drive on the south, and Altadena Drive on the north and east. Here’s the realtor’s classy brochure:

And here’s what it says on the inside:

Over the years, Our Town continued to struggle with tensions over race. I stumbled on a USC Masters Thesis written in 1941 by a man named James A. Crimi, entitled, “The Social Status of the Negro in Pasadena, California.” It is 145 pages long and contains some excellent research, with charts and graphs. Crimi interviewed 244 people in selected neighborhoods, church groups and school communities, and here are some of the quotes he published from a variety of White respondents:

  • “Negroes should definitely have their own social and educational functions. I have noticed in public places many times Negro girls are very haughty. Negro children in schools abuse their privileges and have a tendency to create disrespect for order among the other children. A bad influence on their growing minds.”
  • “Recent trouble about our Brookside Plunge [swimming pool near the Rose Bowl] convinces us that to give an inch to the Negro, they will demand a foot and expect a yard.”
  • “Negroes have a place in the world, and on an equal basis with Whites, but not on a social basis. They should be compelled to live apart from Whites.”
  • “I don’t think the Negroes should be given as many privileges as they get. I don’t think they should be allowed to mingle with the White people.”
  • “I think the Negroes would be happier and the Whites would respect them more if they were segregated.”
  • “It would certainly improve our beautiful Pasadena if Negroes were moved out altogether. If they must live here, arrange it so that they attend their own school and live in their own section.”
  • “Send them back to Africa.”
  • “Tolerance is the desired end, not race equality.
  • “Property rights make us favor injustice at all times.”
  • “I think it would be wiser for them to have their own district, their own schools, their own parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, theaters, etc.”

Altadena Baptist Church has always been an integral part of Our Town, and it has not been immune to the racial attitudes expressed above. As a typical White congregation, they felt threatened by the rapid neighborhood changes during the 1960s. In February 1965, a Deacon Board retreat was held on Mount Wilson. Imbedded in the minutes are these discussion notes:

  • “Negro population influx: Should we have mixed boy and girl classes? How many other churches are affected, and how are they handling this situation? It was agreed that we must minister to them, but should we go out of our way to encourage them to come to our church?”

During that same time, I was a young pastor in a very White community in the Boston area. While I was watching the news reports of the Civil Rights struggle, I was overwhelmed by images of police letting attack dogs loose on demonstrators, of Gov. George Wallace standing on the steps of the University of Alabama, of a quarter of a million people Marching on Washington, of Dr. King preaching “I have a dream,” of a bridge in Selma, of the 16th Street Baptist Church. I went through a sort of conversion, and I decided that, from then on, I wanted my life and ministry to count in the ongoing fight for justice.

A few years later, I received a letter from someone at ABC asking if I was open to being a candidate for pastor at the church. It included a typed prospectus on the church’s beliefs, history and current programs. It included the statement, “Between the 1960 census and the 1970 census, the Negro population of Altadena moved up from 4.5% to 27%.” This was expressed in an apologetic way, as a problem the church was having trouble facing. I saw it as an open door to what the Lord had been pushing me toward – leading a genuinely integrated multi-racial church. And I’ve been here for 45 years still working on the same goal, in partnership with a great family of faith.

A few weeks after we arrived in 1972, we found and bought our house, right across from Pasadena High School, on the White side of Our Town. When we moved in, we saw the young people arriving for the start of the school year. It was the first year of implementation of the court-ordered integration of Pasadena’s schools, and African-American students were bused across town to attend the school across from our house. They looked kind of uncomfortable, as if they knew they were not entirely welcome. The man who lived next door came over to introduce himself and to inform me of the rules of the neighborhood, the importance of keeping the lawn watered and manicured, etc. I’ll never forget his last rule — “Of course, we don’t sell to Blacks!” (Only he used a different word.)

So, now we’re part of the 2018 model of Our Town, and we still don’t have this right. “Practice makes perfect,” and we’ve been practicing, for over a century, how to express these same attitudes in smoother, more sophisticated ways. But people are still treated differently in Our Town depending on the color of their skin.

That’s why we’re having a Black History Celebration, and that’s why we’re dedicating the whole month to recommitting ourselves, as ABC, to holding up the highest standard of equal respect, dignity and opportunity for every individual in Our Town.

— Pastor George Van Alstine