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12AD.3.4 Group photograph of members of the California Fair Employment Relations Commission

Members of the California Fair Employment Relations Commission surround Assemblyman William Byron Rumford at his desk. Rumford’s work to achieve equity in the workplace would inform his work on fair housing legislation.
California. State Fair Employment Practice Commission.

California State Fair Employment Practice Commission.Group photograph of members of the California Fair Employment Relations Commission; Dellums (Cottrell Laurence) Papers, MS014__B13_F01_163; African American Museum & Library at Oakland

In 1959, a coalition of religious, community, civil rights, and labor groups exerted popular pressure on legislators, forcing California to pass legislation that outlawed discriminatory employment practices. Assemblyman William Byron Rumford, the first African American legislator to be elected from Berkeley, led the effort to create this change. Rumford lived in a South Berkeley neighborhood that had been redlined, and he had seen firsthand the effect of discriminatory housing practices. With the success of the California Fair Employment Relations Commission he found himself in a unique position of power to do something about housing discrimination.

Why might a coalition of so many different groups be required in an attempt to pass laws that outlawed discrimination in the workplace? How might discrimination in the workplace be different than discrimination in housing? What obstacles do you think legislators like William Byron Rumford would need to have overcome in order to change the discriminatory behavior practiced by so many Californians?

This source is meant to help students understand the way that legislative measures reversed discriminatory practices in California. This source can engage students in discussions around building coalitions and the process by which legislation is introduced, vetoed, or eventually signed into law. The way that segregated, redlined living conditions might inform the legislative decisions of lawmakers should be examined. William Byron Rumford’s history of personal experiences with segregation and professional discrimination can also be a central consideration when asking students to evaluate the process of changing redlining policies.