As Pasadena Icons Ride Forward into American History: Embracing Values – Education, Equity, Opportunity via Change
Pasadena, CA – Pasadena, California has been a stopping point for the well to-do and elite class coming West to bask in the sun and escape the harsh winter months back East. In 1890, to pay homage to this great winter sunshine where ﬂowers bloomed year-round, the idea of pageantry was born and it soon took form as a tournament of roses. These newcomers to California wanted to show-off their mild winter weather to the places they had left.
Since its inception around 1873 – 1874 and when it was incorporated in 1886, Pasadena has been home to African Americans. They came to Pasadena in pursuit of aspirational fulﬁllment and capital opportunity. They came to enjoy the feel of choice; to live the American Dream – to experience freedom, liberty, justice – opportunity!
As we fast forward to 2018, the Rose Bowl Ques (Zeta Tau Chapter) helped Celebrate Black History Month with the Altadena Pasadena community close-up and personal. On Saturday February 17, 2018, Gerald Freeny, an Altadena resident rode into Pasadena and Tournament of Roses Parade history. After 129 years, he has become the First African American to be named President of the Tournament of Roses.
In so doing Freeny became part of Pasadena and American History just as Kristina Smith did in 1985 when she became the ﬁrst African American to wear the tiara as “Queen of the Rose Bowl Parade” – no small nor insigniﬁcant feat for either. Freeney and Smith were happily received along the parade route; we honor them and their achievements.
They rode into Pasadena history just as sure as the African American laborers, businessmen and women, educators, entrepreneurs, domestics, explorers, clergy and recently freed slaves had done back in the 1800s. Each in their own right have entered the annals of Tournament and Pasadena history.
For Freeny, it was not easy nor without challenge getting to be the ﬁrst African American to be named President of the world renowned 129-year-old iconic Tournament of Roses. To get there, there was a choice to be made – to follow the path of natural fruition and wait or not.
In 1993 – with the help of friends in Pasadena, namely Joe Hopkins, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley Journal, Danny Bakewell, Sr., Executive Publisher, L.A. Sentinel and Jimmy Morris, Developer, and others, Rick Cole (Mayor of the City, 1992-1994) and Chris Holden (former City Councilman, now State Assemblyman), Hopkins, Bakewell and Morris set out to change the trajectory of the executive leadership of the Tournament of Roses parade. “We wanted it to reﬂect the diversity of the community,” said Hopkins.
But why did it take so long? And, what change would be necessary for Freeny to rise to the level of Chief Executive Ofﬁcer of the Tournament? The journey to become President of the Tournament of Roses started, ironically in 1988, when Freeny became a volunteer in the Tournament of Roses organization.
To ascend to the presidency and preside over the Rose Bowl Parade and all formalities never before has been bestowed upon an African American. And, without deliberate action and structural change, getting to be the highest-ranking executive ofﬁcer of the Tournament of Roses organization might have been fruitless.
A story in the February 1, 2018 issue of the Pasadena Weekly, written by Justin Chapman, said “at-large members were added to the Executive Committee as a compromise following protests in 1992-93 led by local developer Jim Morris and newspaper publishers Joe Hopkins and Danny Bakewell, who is also a developer.”
Even with the negotiated changes mentioned in the article, Hopkins, Bakewell and Morris still questioned how an African American could ever reach the presidency of the Tournament of Roses. Chapman’s article stated that they chose a path of direct action: “They blocked trafﬁc with vehicles on South Orange Grove Boulevard in front of Tournament House in fall 1993 to protest the organization’s lack of diversity.”
So, what was the change sought by Hopkins, Bakewell and Morris that made it possible for Freeny to eventually position himself to preside over the 130th Rose Parade and the 105th Rose Bowl Game on January 1, 2019? How did these men make the case to justify the stance they took? Hopkins told the story of how he, Danny Bakewell and Jimmy Morris met. He described the meeting as more of a chance meet-up that day in Pasadena.
That meet-up was the beginning of action that was taken to call attention to the perception in the African American community that – because of the foundational structure of the Tournament of Roses organization and attitudes of incumbents toward change, the likelihood of an African American becoming President was nil. Thus, the perception of the Rose Bowl parade and its trappings by many was that Blacks would almost never have the opportunity to serve in a leadership role producing or participating in the iconic parade or its afﬁliated events and activities seen around the world New Year’s Day.
Danny Bakewell, Sr., Executive Publisher of the L.A. Sentinel and member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., described the Tournament of Roses Executive leadership as having been, “an All-Male All-White policy making body for almost 100 years.” Their policies for ascension to the Executive Committee, he said, “were old and outdated, and, based upon the criteria (used in the selection process), there was no change in site.”
He added, “This organization controls hundreds of millions of dollars on an annual basis and in order for African Americans, Women and people of color to have the opportunity to participate in this process, we must be seated at the table.”
Bakewell indicated that for an institution like the Tournament to change, they had to be pushed. “We wanted to make sure they understood the urgency of the matter and that we were demanding changes be made immediately.”
The actions they took during that time period were a demonstration of just how serious they were. What lessons are to be learned from the actions taken on that fateful day in 1993? How long might it have taken had these men NOT escalated their efforts?
Bakewell stated, “We were prepared to stop the parade. We had several 90-year-old women (Ruby McKnight of the NAACP was one of them) who were prepared along with 100’s of other supporters of many races willing to go to jail that day. Had the Tournament not been willing to change, they would have had to address this issue right there on TV corner in the glare of light and explain to the world the need to keep the ‘old white boys’ club intact for the sake of tradition.”
Hopkins, Bakewell and Morris’ actions were born out of a conviction that change had to come to Pasadena and its image that is projected around the world each January. Bakewell said, “One can only ask the question ‘had it not been for our efforts in demanding change would Gerald have had the opportunity to rise within the ranks to this historic moment?’”
“Over the years,” Bakewell mused, “Gerald has proven to be qualiﬁed to be the President, but would his skills and leadership really have been given the opportunity to shine if not for the efforts of myself, Jimmy Morris, Joe Hopkins, Rev. William Turner, Rev. Stan Lewis, former Pasadena Mayor Rick Cole and so many others who stood with us to demand that Black People have the opportunity to be in leadership? It has been a long time coming, but I am glad we have arrived. Now let’s see how long it will take for another African American to have the opportunity.”
In a personal salute to Gerald Freeny and his family, Bakewell added, “January 1 will be a demonstration of what is possible when African Americans are given an opportunity to really participate in the process. I am proud of the fact Gerald Freeny will be the ﬁrst African American President in the Tournament’s History; he is a family man; a real leader and he has earned the right to lead this organization.”
There are those who would say, Blacks have come a long way and there is nothing else for them to do to feel whole. To that thought, Hopkins asserted the value of quality education. “Education! Education,” Hopkins said, “is the great equalizer.” Above all else, “like a rising tide, education lifts you up.”
These men and women sought to change the status quo; they did and in doing something, the picture that will be seen around the world New Year’s Day, 2019 will be different. Be proud Mr. Freeny! (A more in-depth version of this piece will be published in the Zeta Tau Chapter History Book to be released soon.)