COD Talks: Guest speaker shares about local African American roots



Photo courtesy of The Chaparral. Jarvis Crawford spoke to students in the Pollock Theatre for Black History Month on Feb. 23.

College of the Desert celebrated the importance of Black History Month this year with the help of the COD Talks program. On Wednesday, Feb. 23, Palm Springs Black History Committee President, Jarvis Crawford spoke to students, staff and faculty sharing stories of the contributions of local African-Americans to the black community in the Coachella Valley.

Crawford began his presentation by sharing his family’s personal story, telling of how his parents’ families moved from the South to the Coachella Valley in the 1940s and the 1950s. At the time, the South had not been welcoming towards black people – or people of color as a whole – and as such, they decided to come to California. Many of his family members got their start by doing physical labor and working as field workers. Crawford himself grew up in the Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs area before graduating high school and attending a historically black university. Following his graduation from university, he returned to the Coachella Valley and decided to give back to the community that he had grown up in.

Subsequently, Crawford began to speak about the founding of Black History Month. The celebration started thanks to Carter G. Woodson, who created the precursor to the event, ‘Negro History Week’ in February of 1926. Later, the Black United Students and Black educators of Kent State University decided to expand upon this idea by including the entire month, beginning on Feb. 1, 1970. Since the year 1976, every U.S. president has designated February as Black History Month.

Crawford reiterated the importance of Black History Month, as the timeline of black history has many holes, pointing out, “We know all about slavery and how badly African-Americans were treated during that time, and we know about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But there’s a lot of history between those periods, and afterward, that we still weren’t given in our history books.”

Crawford then went on to speak about the contributions of largely unknown African-American historical figures; such as Garrett Morgan, the inventor of the stoplight, and George Crum, the creator of potato chips. Crawford emphasized that despite how commonplace their inventions were, little to no people were aware that they were created by African-American inventors. Furthermore, the significance of these contributions as well as others was rarely called attention to in history books, and as such, there has been much African-American history that will never be heard by later generations.

“We’re very limited in the history of what African-Americans have contributed to our society,” Crawford stated. “We hear a little bit more history, but it’s because of the media. How many of us knew that three African-American women helped push what was going on at NASA before Hidden Figures?”

The history of African-Americans and their shaping of today’s world can be seen as early as the 1920s in the Coachella Valley. Crawford began by speaking about John Nobles, who was one of the first African-Americans in the Coachella Valley. After arriving, Nobles came into acquaintance with Dr. Reynaldo Carreon, who was the first doctor in the valley at the time. Carreon then gave him and his wife Miranda his ranch. This happened at a time when the sale of land to blacks was prohibited by land deed restrictions. Nobles later developed the ranch into a neighborhood for both families of color as well as white families during the Dust Bowl years. The neighborhood remained populated with many homes, stores and churches until the year 1988, in which an expansion of what was then the Indio Fashion Mall was approved.

The city soon began efforts to purchase the homes in the John Nobles Ranch. This plan was met by strong opposition from the landowners, and a lawsuit was filed against the city with the help of the local NAACP. In 1993, a settlement with the city was reached that provided replacement housing for homeowners and relocation benefits for renters. “These folks went to the city and said, ‘you know what, that was done wrong,'” Crawford explained. “And they were able to get something back for their community.”

Later, Crawford unfolded the story of Lawrence Crossley, who was well-established as a businessman in the Coachella Valley at the time Nobles acquired his ranch. Crossley was Born in Mississippi in 1899, arrived in Palm Springs in the mid-1920s and became the chauffeur and handyman of retired Colorado rancher and Hollywood mogul Prescott Stevens. Stevens began a partnership with Crossley, and the latter took on the responsibility of managing and profiting from his mentor’s local investments. These investments included the development of the El Mirador Hotel. Crossley’s involvement was such that he even designed the hotel’s golf course.

Despite being handicapped at the outset by discriminatory housing restrictions in Palm Springs, Crossley was able to put away his earnings into a significant portfolio, eventually encompassing a restaurant, a laundromat, a tea and cosmetics company, and a housing development that was primarily marketed towards African-Americans. Crossley also became the manager of the Whitewater Mutual Water Company, hiring family members to supervise opening and closing of the floodgates in Whitewater Canyon north of town.

Crawford finished his CODTalks sessions by speaking directly to students about the vital role they will play in shaping our future and creating history.”College students are the ones who pushed through these important changes on campus. College students supported the Freedom Rides, and college students helping Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks,” Crawford stated. “When people say, ‘Oh, they’re just kids’- no. You guys are the future.”

COD Talks is a monthly program at College of the Desert that is modeled after the TED Talks series. Every month, COD invites an exceptional person from the campus or surrounding community to share their story. These guest speakers are all experts in their given fields. COD strives to provide a wide range of topics to appeal to the diverse interests of students and faculty. For more information, contact the Office of Student Life at 760-862-1389.

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