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A Looking Glass into Black History in Orange County: Past & Present, Pride & Parades

By Melanie Romero

 
OC Black History Parade in 2020, image courtesy of LMAC Founder Sarah Rafael Garcia

Article after article, statistic after statistic, many claim that Orange County, despite its complicated history, has reached new lengths in community diversity…with one exception: the Black population. According to the latest U.S. Census data, the Black population percentage has never escalated over 2.5%, meaning that Black people, statistics-wise, account for very little of Orange County’s diverse communities. However, statistics don’t consider the long testament of Black existence that has left its mark on Orange County’s extended history, more importantly within Santa Ana. To begin, the existence of a Black community within the walls of Orange County goes back to the affectionate nickname (“Little Texas”) given to an ever-growing population of Black Americans who migrated from Texas, most in search of an inclusive hub where “people could dream, worship, and socialize together.” The migration started in the 1920s as Black families began to hear of open work opportunities in California and dreamed of a better community far away from the Jim Crow laws that existed to segregate in the South. Black families began to flourish in Santa Ana with this new migration, deeming it a Black hub for culture, religion, and business. To further highlight what the Black community offered to a growing Orange County, in 1980, 44 years to today, the late Helen M. Shipp, a Santa Ana resident and fellow humanitarian, believed in spotlighting the Black community’s traditions during Black History Month to fuel and add to the county’s inclusivity found in her neighborhood.


BH Shipp, youngest son of Helen M. Shipp, image courtesy of Sarah Rafael Garcia

The same year, Shipp pioneered the O.C. Black History Parade and Cultural Faire, now in its 44th year on February 1, 2024, to unify community members of all backgrounds to preserve Black history, traditions, and excellence, in Orange County. Shipp’s once local tradition during Black History Month is now a long-awaited, full-fledged parade that sees both Black and non-Black residents and non-residents of Orange County commend the ongoing existence of “a community in the community.” Although Shipp is no longer with us, her children carry on her legacy by planning, organizing, leading, and controlling the parade every year.

To begin, the existence of a Black community within the walls of Orange County goes back to the affectionate nickname (“Little Texas”) ...

Within the circle of the O.C. Black History Parade and Cultural Faire, the 100 Black Men of Orange County deserve equal recognition for their achievements to hold in regard African American men stemming from public and business sectors to invest their time to mentor youth and represent the serving community. Not to mention, the organization also sponsors The Passport to the Future Program, a project “designed to guide young African American make participants in developing a crystallized definition of adulthood.” Numerous corporations, such as Disney, Trader Joe’s, Edison, and AHF, support the mission of the 100 Black Men of Orange County. Lastly, not to mention, the organization focuses on four pillars: education, mentoring, economic development, and health & wellness in the hopes of guiding African American men to be all-around participants in the transformative world they belong to.


Santa Ana was the city in which Helen M. Shipp began the roots of the O.C. Black History Parade and Cultural Faire. Crear Studio, a Santa Ana-located “free interdisciplinary art + comunidad + gallery hosted by local BIPOC artists, curators, & art educators,” featured a multimedia installation of the trajectory of the parade; the installation traces the parade from its inauguration in 1980, off Raitt Street to Main Street in Santa Ana, to its present-day hub in Anaheim, a move made in 2012. The exhibition is robust with artifacts, from the Shipp family’s photo archive to newspaper clippings and audio and video news coverage of its full-day itinerary over the years. For more information on the parade’s archival exhibition from 2022, this webpage breaks down its cultural significance: https://www.libromobile.com/ocblackhistory


There is no doubt that the Black community has left a deep impact on Orange County, and it is extremely gratifying to hear that Orange County has commemorated the history and traditions of this community into the county’s very fabric. Due to Shipp’s legacy, Santa Ana’s City Council unveiled its first ceremonial street name sign topper in 2023: Helen M. Shipp Way! Her ceremonial street name sign topper is honored through Willits Street from Fairview to Bristol Street. Also, because of the success of the O.C. Black History Parade and Cultural Faire, the Orange County Heritage Council’s Juneteenth Festival “takes part in an educating, empowering, and entertaining day that celebrates freedom.” The holiday commemorates the ending of slavery and is celebrated nationally, and the festival in Orange County is one of many national events that bring together community through arts, history, and culture.


The Black citizens of Orange County have offered insight into the ever-growing community in Santa Ana. Harlen “Lamb” Lambert, the first black cop in Santa Ana and one of the first black cops in the county itself, now a poet, writer, and former K9 trainer, authored a book, titled Badge of Color, about the tribulations he faced at the hands of his colleagues and residents during his stint as a cop. Although Lambert’s time in the police form was shadowed by the heavy hand of racism, his distinction of being Santa Ana’s first black policeman led to another official honor in 1970: Officer of the Year at the Santa Ana Police Department for a heroic act. His legacy to the city of Santa Ana and to Orange County itself is one of perseverance: he survived the brunt of racism during his time as a cop, but managed to make a name for himself that prevented him from being silent any longer. Lambert’s Badge of Color is truly one of many Black books that dive into the inflammatory history of a racist Orange County. A Different Shade of Orange: Voices of Orange County, California, Black Pioneers, written by Robert A. Johnson and Charlene M. Riggins in 1969, also dives into the racist reputation of the county, lingering on the “mixed bag” of racial relations within the area. These books, although testimonies of a massively different period shadowed by racial segregation, still ruminate on the racism that exists today in Orange County; yet, the tables have turned in highlighting the positive impact that the county’s Black community has to offer. If it weren’t for the Lone Star State’s migrants to California and Helen M. Shipp, the county would have quelled the highly impactful mark its Black community has brought to the table and continued to flourish over the years onto the modern day (and beyond).


Helen M. Shipp’s generational parade now exists as a physical and cultural incarnation of a community that has made a name for itself and has disproven statistics. A population percentage is just a number. It is truly the community that controls the success of Black power, excellence, and impact. And, the Black community within the walls of Orange County has set its roots and is here to stay.

 

Melanie Romero is a trilingual writer born and raised in Orange, CA. It was during childhood weekend trips to Randy’s $1-a-book stall at the OC Market Place that she discovered a passion for reading and, eventually, writing. Today, she serves as Editor at Lil’ Libros and has written two children’s books, Amor de colores and J is for Janucá under the publisher. In her free time, she can be found indulging in challah and getting lost among the shelves of independent bookstores.

 

Starting February 2023, #OffThePage is featuring Melanie Romero as our monthly columnist. Our Arts & Culture column was initially founded by local journalist Gabriel San Román in May 2020. Since then we have collaboratively featured over 25 stories and paid nearly 10 contributors from our community. Pitch Melanie a story or email us for more information!

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