The 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer

Activist Karen Duncanwood spoke of sheltering in a dilapidated house outside Jackson, Mississippi. As a 20-year-old San Francisco State freshman she volunteered to be a Freedom Rider the summer of 1964. In the Freedom House, she and a hand full of others put blankets over the windows so their silhouettes wouldn’t be a shotgun target.

She said, “The terror we experienced that summer was something out of a horror movie.”

Duncanwood recently shared her experiences in the crowded community room at the Robbie Waters Pocket Library, a program sponsored by the American Association of University Women.

She told of fire bombings, beatings, murder, and law enforcement officers who wore the uniform in daytime and the Ku Klux Klan sheet at night. She said she was shocked at local, state and even the FBI’s lack of support during that fateful time in our country. In the fall of 1963, a Birmingham, Alabama black church bombing had killed four little girls attending Sunday school, and more than sixty black churches and buildings were burned to the ground by the end of summer 1964.

Freedom Summer of ‘64 found civil rights activists, pushing for black voting rights and school de-segregation in the South. They set up tables across college campuses to recruit blacks and whites to volunteer to go to Mississippi. Although many counties had a predominately black population, few blacks voted because of segregation and American apartheid. Activists thought that if young people risked their lives, the powerful national press would follow so the nation could hear of the atrocities and take action.

The 1960s television news showed police knocking down people with powerful fire hoses, beating them with clubs, and blocking them from schools and voting centers. Strict segregation kept blacks from white businesses, white churches, and white schools.

Karen Duncanwood says she walked by a table set up by the Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) on her San Francisco college campus. She saw pictures of police barricades, physical assaults, black church burnings and other attacks on citizens whose actions Southern authorities described as “civil disobedience.” She said she thought it was appalling that people were killed in America for wanting to vote.

Against her parents’ wishes, she signed up for the project to go to Mississippi. She grew up in the small white community of Novato, California where her high school history teacher described happy slaves on the plantation, picking cotton, singing gospel songs and eating watermelon.

Karen was sent to an Ohio college for training in non-violent protest. Her initiation into the real world included training on how to fall on the ground, roll into a ball, and put her hands over her head and neck to protect herself from billy clubs.

Her trainer was Rita Schwerner who told the group that her husband was missing in Mississippi along with two other men among the first volunteers sent. Schwerner said they had been missing for 16 hours and were not expected to be found alive. The other two men, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, along with Mickey Schwerner were later found murdered.

Duncanwood was sent with the second volunteer group. She says the volunteers were greeted by groups of angry white people, yet welcomed by the black community. Karen and several others were taken to the small rural town of Canton, about 10 miles outside of Jackson. They were put in an unfurnished and shabby rural house called the Freedom House that served as dorm and office.

During the whole summer the telephone company refused to install a telephone so the volunteers set up a CB radio in the back room. Fearing attacks and wanting to secret their only means of communication, she says they crawled on their knees under windows to the radio so they could contact headquarters.

The first meeting the volunteers attended was in a black church. Only minutes into the meeting there was a loud pounding on the front door. The local sheriff and deputies had come to tell them they should leave. The sheriff spoke to the group, telling them that the blacks would beat up their men and violate the women. They were taken to the station, fingerprinted and numbered mug shots taken just as though they were criminals.

In other experiences Duncanwood says she and two other white girls attended the Canton Episcopalian Church one Sunday since she had been raised in the religion. Shortly after sitting down an usher tapped her on the shoulder and told them they were not welcome in the church. As they left the service a lineup of men showed brass knuckles.

Community whites who sympathized with the blacks were terriorized with threats. One white woman who owned a grocery store had it fire bombed because she sold the volunteers cold sodas.

Karen was assigned as a Freedom School teacher at a black church. She taught remedial skills required to vote and black history to instill courage and pride in the blacks.

At that time many blacks who tried to vote lost their farm shareholder jobs, were kicked off the land and left homeless. Fear ruled the land and some people disappeared and were later found dead. The Mississippi River was dredged years later and hundreds of body remains were found.

To vote, blacks had to pass strict voting registration exams which could require the registrant to write an essay explaining any paragraph pulled from the Mississippi State constitution. They were also charged a poll tax that would stop any poverty-stricken black from even wanting to vote.

Now in our country 50 years later, citizens are still experiencing voter blocking by cutting off crowds who have stood in lines for hours to vote, asking for ID’s that are not possible for citizens to get, and changing voter rules even after people have voted by absentee ballots. Thousands of eligible people have been purged from voter rolls.

This last summer there was a 50-year reunion of the summer workers in Jackson where they renewed friendships and shared the amazing things that had been accomplished since 1964. Yet they agreed so much still needs to change.

Karen Duncanwood says, “It is my observation that Dixie South lives today in far right politics where politicians vote against any progressive legislation for the country’s majority such as the quality of national healthcare. Sadly there is still privilege for the few and insecurity for many in our country.”

Leigh Stephens is a CSUS retired professor of Journalism and author of Covering the Community.

JFK Summer of Service Program collects donations; Program raises awareness about community concerns

The summer program at Kennedy collected more than $500 worth of money and donations Saturday, July 13 at their car wash, bake sale and donation drop. All proceeds collected from the event will be donated to Sacramento charities to support local foster youth, animal shelters and homeless shelters.

In an interview with incoming freshman Amy Toy, who was looking to raise awareness of animal abuse, she said her group is currently taking food donations. “Right now we have two huge garbage bags full of food. We have more than enough. We have 200-225 pounds of food.” Toy said she has enjoyed working with her friends and meeting new people as a part of the program.

Mr. Plotts called Janae Wilkerson, who participated in the program last year and who came back to help special needs kids this year, “a key member in our group.”

Wilkerson said the program has given her some insight into the working of foster care and how unfortunately, many of the youth are kicked out of the system at age 18, left poor without anywhere to go. “We did the car wash and made flyers, donated money and clothes and now my friend Natalie is talking to the person where the foster care is (to find out where the best place to drop off the donations would be).”

Wilkerson and Toy said later in the school year, they will take a field trip to deliver the supplies.

Wilkerson said that as a mentor, she is teaching the incoming freshmen what to expect when they are in high school and the principals, she said, are expecting her to make sure their behavior is good when they enter high school. She said she has seen some of the students grow.

These students are a part of the Summer of Service Program, which is meant to engage Sacramento youth in meaningful activities. It is designed to help incoming freshmen acclimate to high school and get involved in their community by using their own actions and voice. Mr. Plotts said the program had about 95 to 100 students participate with an attendance rate of 85 to 90 percent.

Part of the program required the students to choose a topic or community issue they felt strongly about and then teachers helped develop the issue – “Why do you think this occurs? We have them flesh it all out,” Mr. Plotts said.

He said he had students come up with ideas of what the root causes of homelessness and problems with foster care are, for example, which followed up with raising awareness.

“Then how do we help (eg foster youth and problems with foster care) want to raise awareness to extend age to 21 for medical care. They did the car wash to raise money. It’s a two-tiered thing. Help the cause right now and help raise awareness so we don’t have the problem.”

Mr. Plotts said the program also helps students acclimate to high school as well as get them involved. They can find out about school and make friends before they even have their first day! “It’s a collective experience for kids,” he said.

The program culminated at CSUS for a 3-day leadership event as Kennedy freshmen joined other South Sacramento high school for team building exercises including a relay race, talent show and rope climbing. They also got to sleep over in the residence halls.

“It’s something for them to step in the spotlight and make them feel good … and it’s a lot of fun,” said Calvin Ly, one of the leaders of this event. “It’s all about positive reinforcement — the kids are going through a chaotic time but they have support from team members.”

The students also got to discuss what they all experienced with the SOS program and how certain values like – integrity and hard work can help you reach your goals.

Exhibits open at Sac State galleries

Caption: “Livelyhood” by Noemi is one of the works in “Transparancy.”   “Transparency,” a free exhibit of photos made by first-time photography students in Nicaragua and formerly abused women in India, runs Feb. 12-March 16 in Sacramento State’s Library Gallery Annex, on campus, 6000 J St. The two groups are using photography to capture their environment in honest and sensitive ways. Curated by Ethan Flanagan, the exhibit includes a reception at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16. Gallery hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, contact 278-4189

Caption: “Livelyhood” by Noemi is one of the works in “Transparancy.” “Transparency,” a free exhibit of photos made by first-time photography students in Nicaragua and formerly abused women in India, runs Feb. 12-March 16 in Sacramento State’s Library Gallery Annex, on campus, 6000 J St. The two groups are using photography to capture their environment in honest and sensitive ways. Curated by Ethan Flanagan, the exhibit includes a reception at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16. Gallery hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, contact 278-4189

“Three Sisters Bound to the Elements” is the first of two free exhibits kicking off the Spring semester in Sacramento State’s Library galleries.
The exhibit by Chinese-born sisters Hong, Bo and Ling Zhang displays works based on the three elements of water, earth and wood,  and their interconnectiveness. It runs Feb. 1-May 24 in the University Library Gallery. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
The Zhangs’ works show how the elements are bound together – wood grows in the earth, the earth absorbs the water, and wood needs  water to grow. As they are bound together, so are the sisters’ individual works bound together in one exhibition that includes charcoal drawings, watercolors on rice paper, and ink and pencil.
Hong Zhang is a Sacramento State alumna, receiving her master of fine arts degree in 2002 and her bachelor’s from the Central Academy  of Fine Arts in Beijing.
Hong’s twin sister, Bo Zhang, received her bachelor of fine arts degree in printmaking from Beijing Central Academy of Fine Arts.  She then attended Georgia State University in 2004. In addition to her artwork, Bo Zhang works as an art consultant for the Beijing office of Soho Myriad, an art consulting service.
Eldest daughter Ling Zhang witnessed the Chinese Cultural Revolution and received her master of fine arts from Beijing Central  Institute of Nationalities in 1988. She came to the United States, and decided to stay, in the late 1980s to share her works at the invitation of Signet Fine Art, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Illinois governor.
All three artists have exhibited works around the world.
A reception will be held 4-5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1, and will include a talk by the artists. Hong Zhang also will give a talk, “Middle  Kingdom Meets Middle America,” at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 7, in the gallery.
The second exhibit, “Transparency,” runs Feb. 12-March 16 in the University Gallery Annex. A reception will be held at 6:30 p.m.  Saturday, Feb. 16 in the gallery.
Curated by Ethan Flanagan, the exhibit is a collection of photographs taken by first-time photography students in the Nicaraguan  fishing village of Padre Ramos, and by young women in India who were formerly forced into lives of abuse and sex slavery.
“The Padre Ramos children use donated cameras to capture images of their environment in honest, intimate and sensitive ways,” Flanagan  says.
For the Indian women, photography is part of their rehabilitation. “They’ve learned to use photography to communicate without words  and see their lives and themselves from a new perspective,” Flanagan says.
For more information on the galleries, visit or call (916) 278-4189. For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.

Know your neighbor: Land Park resident invites everyone to learn more about “proud Americans”

“Proud Americans: Growing Up As Children of Immigrants.”

Land Park resident Judie Fertig Panneton was born the child of immigrants. Her mother was from Poland and her father was from Holland. Both her parents were also Holocaust survivors.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, all Panneton wanted was to be like all the other American kids and fit in.

“When I was a kid I didn’t want to be a child of immigrants; I didn’t want to have parents that were Holocaust survivors,” she says. “It was very painful to watch my father have a number on his arm and to know there was horror behind it.”

Now years later, Panneton has realized she is proud of the fact she is a child of immigrants, thanks in part to the research she conducted while writing her new book, “Proud Americans: Growing Up as Children of Immigrants.”

Touching Stories
Panneton decided to write “Proud Americans” as she had always felt different and wondered if there were other children of immigrants who felt the same way. Through her journalism background and curiosity, she decided to start interviewing other children of immigrants to see if they had the same feelings.

Over seven years, Panneton interviewed about 50 people for her book, many of which are from Sacramento. For example, she interviewed Board of Supervisors District 2 Representative Jimmie Yee, who in his story talks about how poor his family was growing up. And Tony Xiong, one of 10 children of Laotian immigrants, grew up in a poor Sacramento neighborhood, battled hunger, violence and the lure of gangs who is now training to be a police officer.

“You interview these people and they just become part of you sometimes,” Panneton says about her experience. “I was very touched by a lot of the stories. And I learned from all of them – that was a great part of it too … Not only do I hear these special stories and memories, but I get to learn about history and people’s lives and how they made a go of it.”

Panneton said although many of her book’s subjects come from Sacramento, it wasn’t done on purpose – it just happens that Sacramento is that diverse. In fact, she makes reference to the fact that Sacramento was named the most diverse city in the United States by Time magazine in 2002, and for that reason she asked Mayor Kevin Johnson to write an introduction for her book.

(From left) Author Judie Fertig Panneton poses with “Proud Americans” subject Dorothy Mitsu Takeuchi during a past book signing event. Photo courtesy Judie Panneton.

Spreading the Word
Through her project, Panneton said she has learned that some of the most proud Americans are children of immigrants, and their families really appreciate what America brings to their family.

“I also take away that being a child of immigrants is actually an honor. You just don’t realize it sometimes,” she adds. “There are some people who certainly have embraced it from the moment they were born in the family they’ve been in, but there are others that don’t realize how great it is until they’re older.”

Panneton hopes to spread this message across to others. For instance, she has done talks at California State University, Sacramento and colleges on the East Coast about her book, and has made the book available to some CSUS and high school educators to use in their curriculum.

She may develop “Proud Americans” into a play. As she sees many of these stories as looking through the window of someone’s home, she believes her book would format itself well to theater. “I’m not moving on from this book because it lives in my heart and my soul and I’d still like to build upon it,” she said.

In July, Panneton was part of a presentation of citizenship certificates to 14 new children of immigrants at the Old Schoolhouse in Old Sacramento. “My message to them was you go to school and you’re going to want to fit in with your friends and that’s all good, but remember your parents sacrificed a lot to come to this country, so be proud of them, too,” she says.

To continue spreading the word on what she’s learned, Panneton will be conducting three presentations through the Sacramento Public Library in October – Pocket Greenhaven Library on Oct. 10 from 6:30-8 p.m.; South Natomas Library on Oct. 17 from 7-7:30 p.m.; and Arden Dimick Library on Oct. 20 from 2-3:30 p.m.

For the library events, Panneton plans to have read four to five stories from “Proud Americans” and open up a discussion with attendees. She also hopes to have some of the people from her book attend the library events so attendees can meet them.

“I hope people come to the events at the library because it’s always a great opportunity to form a little community in a room and have really special time spent together sharing ideas and memories,” she says. “I would love to see everybody come out and join together as a community and talk about this great country of ours.”

FeNAM pays tribute to composer

SACRAMENTO – This year’s Festival of New American Music at Sacramento State begins with a Nov. 4 tribute to composer Arthur Jarvinen, who died Oct. 2. Jarvinen was to have been this year’s keynote speaker. Rand Steiger, professor of music at UC San Diego and a close friend of Jarvinen, will talk about Jarvinen’s life and work at noon in Capistrano Hall’s Music Recital Hall.

Later that day, at the 8 p.m. Gala Performance, one of Jarvinen’s works will be performed by violinist Andrew Tholl of TempWerks. Other performers that night include Earplay and Chris Froh, performing music by Yu-Hui Chang, Melissa Hui, Pablo Ortiz and Hans Thomalla. A full program of Jarvinen’s music will be performed by TempWerks at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5. Both concerts are in the Music Recital Hall.

The festival, popularly known as FeNAM, runs Nov. 4-14, offering a series of free concerts, most of them on the Sacramento State campus. Other performers include the Ahn Trio, cellist Zoe Keating, clarinetist Jean Kopperud and the University’s own Jazz Ensemble, Jazz Singers and the Sacramento State Festival Ensemble.

New American music is loosely defined as any music written after 1980 by a composer of American citizenship. After that, the format is pretty open.

“The music can be written in any style,” Co-director Keith Bohm said. “Is there really just an American form of music? I would have to say ‘not really.’”

Festival Director Stephen Blumberg said he and Bohm have a good arrangement working together throughout the year. When it’s festival time, Bohm tends to look after the performers, while Blumberg shepherds the composers.

One of the highlights of this year’s FeNAM is the appearance of the Ahn Trio at 8 p.m., Nov. 8, in the Music Recital Hall.

“They’re definitely the hot group right now,” Bohm said. “Not only in the music world, but in fashion – they’re on Glamour magazine – and they’re going beyond just the music and art part of it.”

Blumberg adds that the harpsichord offerings are unique. “For new music, the harpsichord is not an instrument people think about,” he said.

This year Sacramento State alumna Faythe Vollrath will give a harpsichord recital in Capistrano Hall Room 151 at 3 p.m., Nov. 13, followed at 8 by a performance by harpsichordist Jory Vinikour.

“We have kind of a mini harpsichord festival within the larger festival,” Blumberg said.

Sac State to host state senate forums Oct. 21, Oct. 27

Sacramento State will sponsor two state senatorial forums this month that will enable voters to compare the candidates’ respective positions on the issues and to make more informed choices on Nov 2.

On Thursday, Oct. 21, incumbent Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, will square off against Republican Marcel Weiland and Libertarian Steve Torno to represent Senate District 6. The forum, scheduled for 6-7:30 p.m., will be held in the University Union Ballroom and moderated by the League of Women Voters of Sacramento County.

The Senate District 1 forum will be Wednesday, Oct 27, at 6:30-7:15 p.m., in the University Union Ballroom.
Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Sacramento, and Rancho Cordova Democratic Mayor Ken Cooley have agreed to attend. Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, and former Republican Assemblywoman and current member of board of equalization, Barbara Alby have been invited. The event will be moderated by Professor Val Smith of the Communications Studies Department.

The District 1 forum will be transmitted via live video streaming, courtesy of Sac State’s Academic Technology and Creative Services in tandem with Information Resources and Technology. The program will also be posted on the University’s news page. Live-streaming is important because this sprawling senate district encompasses 12 counties.

Comprehensive coverage is consistent with the CSU system’s public-service mandate that political forums and debates be presented on campuses during an election cycle. It also dovetails with Destination 2010, President Alexander Gonzalez’s goal of strengthening the bond between campus and community.

The Guy A. West Memorial Bridge: Sacramento’s own ‘Golden Gate Bridge’

Just about everyone in Sacramento is familiar with the orange/gold-colored suspension bridge that gracefully spans across the American River, near Sacramento State University. But not everyone knows the name of this structure or why it received this name.
The Guy A. West Memorial Bridge spans the American River between Sacramento State University and the Campus Commons college community development. / Photo courtesy Sacramento State University

The Guy A. West Memorial Bridge spans the American River between Sacramento State University and the Campus Commons college community development. / Photo courtesy Sacramento State University

Built in 1966 to link the campus with the then-new, Campus Commons college-community development, the 1,144-foot-long, 16-foot-wide pedestrian bridge is officially known as the Guy A. West Memorial Bridge.

The name of the bridge, which was built at a cost of $636,000 and was recognized as the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the United States, was selected in honor of the founding president of Sacramento State College, as the university was then known.

Born Guy Ashley West in Pine Bluff, Ark., West grew up in New Mexico, where he later graduated from New Mexico Western College.

He continued his education at the University of Colorado, where he received his master’s degree, followed


by the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his doctorate’s degree in educational psychology.

Although attempts to create a four-year college in Sacramento date back to the 1920s, it was not until the summer of 1947 that, through the efforts of California Sen. Earl Desmond, the state Legislature approved the establishment of such a school in the capital city.

In July 1947, shortly after Gov. Earl Warren approved the future creation of the university by signing SB 1221, West was appointed as Sacramento State’s first president. West’s position, however, was labeled as acting president until he was officially named the college’s president in July 1949.

West had previously served for 14 years as a faculty member and administrator at Chico State College – now California State University, Chico.

Under West’s leadership, Sacramento State began with the absence of a campus of its own, as the school officially opened in rented structures at Sacramento Junior College – today’s Sacramento City College – on Sept. 22, 1947.

The school held its first graduation on June 3, 1948, when one student graduated at a ceremony held on the junior college’s campus.

With West at its helm, Sacramento’s long-awaited, four-year college steadily advanced in its early years, as it continued to share a campus with the junior college, which had been established in 1916.

Dr. Guy A. West sits at his desk at Sacramento State College in 1958. / Photo courtesy of California State University, Sacramento Archives

Dr. Guy A. West sits at his desk at Sacramento State College in 1958. / Photo courtesy of California State University, Sacramento Archives

 After more than five years in its first location, Sacramento State relocated to its present site – a primitive version of today’s much more developed campus.

In celebration of the school’s first non-shared campus, a 150-car parade, which included a convertible with West and Warren as its passengers and a sign with the wording, “Go East with West,” made its way from downtown Sacramento to the then-new campus.

By the time the new campus opened in 1953, Sacramento State had grown from its initial 235 students to about 2,400 students. And with a 289-acre campus, the school had plenty more room for growth.

During West’s 18 years of leadership, Sacramento State expanded to include nearly 10,000 students.

As president, West encouraged students to utilize the college educational experience to help change the world.

In welcoming a then-record group of about 1,400 new students to the campus in 1957, West used Thomas Jefferson as a role model example in a speech, in which he encouraged students to strive for excellence.

Telling the incoming students that the world needed more people like Jefferson, West said, “(Jefferson was) a gentleman of 32, who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a case, break a horse, dance a minuet and play the violin.”

And West was far from a man who only spoke words, but showed no action. To the contrary, he led by example, as is indicative of his college degrees, as well as the fact that during his life he was also a student of German, French and Latin, was nearly fluent in Spanish and studied psychology to assist him with his volunteer counseling.

West also served as president of the Western College Association, was a member of the commission on accreditation for teacher education of the state board of education and co-authored the book, “Twentieth Century American Education,” an evaluation of school trends at the time.

By the time West announced his retirement at the age of 66 on Feb. 26, 1965 before faculty members in the school’s Little Theater, he had spent 42 years as an educator.

As a show of appreciation, Sacramento State’s faculty and alumni associations and advisory board held a recognition dinner for West at the Hotel El Dorado – today’s Radisson Hotel at 500 Leisure Lane – on June 7, 1965.

The Guy A. West Memorial Bridge is shown under construction in this 1966 photograph. / Photo courtesy of California State University, Sacramento Archives

The Guy A. West Memorial Bridge is shown under construction in this 1966 photograph. / Photo courtesy of California State University, Sacramento Archives

But many people felt that West, for what he meant to Sacramento State’s development, was deserving of much more than a simple farewell dinner.

Because of this fact, it was determined that his name would be memorialized through the name of the nearby bridge, which with its 87-foot-tall twin towers and golden color resembles the Golden Gate Bridge, albeit a much smaller version.

The bridge, which extends across the river with about 600 feet of steel, was designed by the Spink Engineering Co. of Sacramento and was constructed by the longtime Sacramento business, A. Teichert and Son, Inc.

A special dedication of the bridge was held on Thursday, April 6, 1967 and was attended by West and his wife, Bernice, and representatives of the college, local government, the state Legislature, the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce and Campus Commons.

As part of the ceremony, which began at 12:30 p.m. and was aired on three local television stations, ownership of the bridge was transferred to the city of Sacramento.

Although West left Sacramento after his retirement to reside in Dallas, where he passed away at the age of 85 on July 12, 1983, his spirit never left the campus, which he so dearly loved.

Following West’s death, Austin Gerber, who served as Sacramento State’s interim president from April 1983 to July 1984, said, “The impact of the decisions (West) made are reflective today – near two decades after his retirement – in the excellence of the institution he helped bring into being. California State University, Sacramento stands as a monument to his vision and hopes.”

Despite making this statement 27 years ago, Gerber’s words, as many would agree, could have been just as truthfully spoken today as they were in 1983.

Even in the humble ways of West, who never liked the idea of his photograph hanging in the lobby of the administration building, with some decoding, he acknowledged a job well done at Sacramento State.

In speaking to about 350 faculty members in 1965, he uttered his now-famous, humorous words regarding his time at Sacramento State, saying, “I came, I saw, I was conquered.”

Julie Thomas, special collections and manuscripts librarian at Sacramento State’s Special Collections and University Archives, said that having such a grand memorial to West is very fitting.

“Guy West was kind of like the gold standard of college presidents,” Thomas said. “He started the college and he was able to finagle getting faculty and space. He was a mover and a shaker. He got us into this location and he set the bar high for all future presidents at Sac State. I don’t know if Sac State would be what it is today without Guy West as its first president. So, I think (the bridge) is a fitting tribute to him.”

Students move in to Sac State on Aug. 27

Special to Valley Community Newspapers

There will be considerable anticipation along with a few tearful goodbyes when Sacramento State’s newest students embark on their college journey at 8 a.m. Friday, Aug. 27 during the University’s annual Move-In Day.

About 1,600 students, 1,100 of them freshmen, will move from home into Sacramento State’s residence halls, aided by more than 250 volunteers. Students, parents and volunteers will be climbing up stairs and winding their way through hallways carrying all sort of items – from clothing to computers and binders to big-screen TVs.

The other 500 students will move in throughout the weekend, primarily taking up residence at American River Courtyard, the suite-style residence hall that opened last fall for students over 21 years of age or sophomore on up.

“This is the day we all look forward to,” said Housing and Residential Life Director Michael Speros. “It’s really rewarding to help our first-year residents get started on a new and exciting chapter of their lives.”

Sacramento resident Ed Rivera discusses his lifelong passion for art

Land Park resident Ed Rivera has had a lifelong love of art.
Land Park resident Ed Rivera has had a lifelong love of art.

At the lower right hand corner of a large mural that covers the majority of the exterior wall at the front of Sacramento State University’s Lassen Hall is the signature of artist, Ed Rivera. And although this work is his best known local art piece, it represents only a part of the story of this Sacramento artist.

Rivera, who is a Sacramento resident and a former Sacramento Police Department officer, has certainly drawn much attention for his mural on this university building, which houses the office of the university registrar, the academic advising and career center, a testing center and other services.

After all, the artwork was painted on the building as the resolution to a controversy, which received much widespread media coverage, including coverage in Mexico.

As the story goes, during a six-month period in 1970, Rivera, who is a native Sacramentan of Mexican descent, had painted a previous mural on panels that were placed on the front, exterior wall of the same building, which then housed the school’s library.

In a discussion with Valley Community Newspapers, Rivera, 67, recounted his memories of a dreadful time back in 1976, when he found out that the mural, which had been presented as a gift, had been removed from the building.

Ed Rivera Photo 02

Ed Rivera (top) interacts with a local poet during his time working on his original mural at Sacramento State University.

“Somebody came by and said, ‘Ed, you know your mural is not up there any more,’” recalled Rivera, who was a student at Sacramento State during the 1960s. “I said, ‘You’re kidding.’ I went down there (to the Sacramento State building) and it was stark white. They tore the panels down and called that a ‘beautification (project).’ We immediately went (to the school) and said, ‘Hey, you can’t do this. We gave this to the community and the state college as a figure of solidarity, peace and culture. What did you do here?’ And then the movement started with Joe Serna, (Rivera and others) and the community rose up and said, ‘You can’t do that.’”

Fate of ‘La Cultura’

The mural, which was named ‘La Cultura’ (‘The Culture’) and had been created as a tribute to Mexican culture, had taken months of negotiations and fundraising and the support of the Chicano community to become a reality.

But in just six years, the artwork was removed and disposed of, except for pieces of the mural, which Rivera said had been cut up and given a new life at the school.

“They made shelves out of (parts of) the panels,” Rivera said. “I saw my artwork on shelving in different parts of the college.”

The protest movement relating to the removal and destruction of the mural led to a September 1976 letter of apology from then-Sacramento State President James Bond.

Two months later, Henry Lopez, executive director of the Sacramento Chicano community organization, Concilio, wrote a letter to Bond demanding that the university finance a new mural, repay the $800 used in community donations that paid for the old mural, produce a public apology from the school and submit a written statement about the university’s policy regarding the mural.

Responding to Lopez’s letter on Feb. 9, 1977, Bond once again apologized for the removal of the mural and extended an offer to have a new mural paid for by the university.

Rivera said that Bond recommended that the mural be painted inside the building to protect it from the outside elements. But after visiting the building’s interior, Rivera rejected this recommendation.

Arrangements were eventually made for Rivera to repaint the mural in a different style on the front of the building. But this time, the mural was painted directly onto the wall.


Ed Rivera Photo 03

Ed Rivera’s mural on the exterior, front wall of Lassen Hall at Sacramento State University includes this image of the Aztec ruler, Montezuma.

The Rebirth of ’La Cultura’ 

On Oct. 30, 1978, a dedication ceremony at the building, which had been converted into the Student Services Center, was held in honor of the completed mural. The event, which celebrated “The Rebirth of the La Cultura,” included speakers, music, poetry and folk dancing.

The 96-foot-wide by 24-foot-tall mural, which depicts the Mexican community’s American Indian-Spanish heritage, features major symbols of the Mexican culture, including an image of the Aztec ruler, Montezuma, an eagle with a serpent in its beak, the Aztec calendar and an ear of corn.

The mural, which is painted with permanent, water-based acrylics, also includes a pair of frogs moving forward, which Rivera said represents the constantly moving forward and never looking back progression of the Mexican people.

A concise description of the mural is located just inside Lassen Hall.

In 1999, Rivera returned to the campus to provide a touch-up paint job to the then-fading mural and to place a protective finish over the work.

Protected art

Unlike the building’s original mural, today’s mural is protected, Rivera explained.

“That (current) mural, they cannot take it down for 50 years after I die,” Rivera said. “If they’re going to take it down, they have to notify the next of kin, which would be my son (John, who was named after Rivera’s favorite author, John Steinbeck). So, it’s there for a long time.”

Rivera added that even 50 years after his passing, negotiations could be made to preserve the mural and have it touched-up with some fresh paint by an assigned artist.

The Sacramento State mural is but one of Rivera’s murals that have appeared on public buildings.

Rivera also painted murals for the Washington Neighborhood Center at 400 16th St. and the Legal Aid Society at 920 9th St. in Sacramento and Boalt Hall at the University of California, Berkeley. Unfortunately for Rivera, not all of his murals exist today.

Diverting from the story of his murals, Rivera said that his love for art began at a very young age, as he watched his father, who was a pastry chef, decorate a cake with the image of an eagle.

Fascinated how his father could create something so artistic with his hands, Rivera gained an instant appreciation for art.

This appreciation led to Rivera’s study of art at Sacramento High School under the direction of art instructor, John Moore.

After attending Sacramento City College and Sacramento State, Rivera attended the prestigious San Francisco Art Institute for three years. And while at the art institute, he studied under renowned artists such as Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bishoff, Nathan Oliveira, James Weeks, Julius Hytofsky and Frank Lobdell.

Although he eventually became a police officer, serving in this position from 1967 to 1996, Rivera never lost his love for art.

To the contrary, this love grew, as Rivera continued to create art and gain recognition in the art world throughout his time with the police department.

Prolific artist

This painting is one of the many original works of Land Park artist, Ed Rivera.

This painting is one of the many original works of Land Park artist, Ed Rivera.

During his time as an artist, Rivera has created hundreds of paintings and although he has painted such art images as local architecture, landscapes and sailing scenes, the majority of his work features pre-Columbian, Aztec and Mayan images.

Explaining his deep connection to this form of art, Rivera said, “I really feel I’m part pre-Columbian, Aztec, Mayan culture.”

Additionally, Rivera, who participates in occasional art shows, but said that he otherwise advertises by “word of mouth” only, refers to himself as a “tool of what the Hispanic community is about.”

“I’m just a tool,” Rivera said. “I just happen to have the talent as a painter. I’m fortunate I can do this. I enjoy painting. It’s my life.”

Rivera, who credits his mentor, artist Benny Barrios, for showing him not just how to paint, but showing him the life of an artist and what it takes to be an artist, said that he is among a select group of artists.

“There are a few of us (artists), we just don’t live art, we breathe art,” Rivera said. “Everything is art. We don’t see things the way other people see them. We see things in an art view. We see things way, way differently. For me, art is like breathing. You have to breathe. You have to do art.”

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