The 1948 Democratic National Convention in Long Beach That Almost Was

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The 1948 Democratic National Convention in Long Beach That Almost Was

The California Democratic Party convention of November 15-17, 2019, was held at the Long Beach Convention Center, but did you know it was in the running to host the 1948 Democratic National convention? There was just one thing that stood in the way…

1948 Democratic National Convention

            The headline in the October 9, 1947 Long Beach Independent was hard to miss: “Demos Eye L.B. for National Conclave.” James Roosevelt, chairman of the state democratic committee, was impressed by Long Beach’s Municipal Auditorium, stating “I don’t know of any finer facilities anywhere in the country.” He said he would support an application by Long Beach to become the national convention site when such a bid was submitted at the meeting of the National Democratic Committee in Washington later that month. He urged the city to send David Olmsted, secretary-manager of the Long Beach Convention Bureau, to Washington to personally present the city’s application.  Approximately 7000 persons, including 2000 delegates, would attend the convention. It would be a major coup for Long Beach to host the national event.

            Following the Long Beach Independent article, Los Angeles Sentinel publisher, Leon H. Washington Jr. reached out to James Roosevelt opposing Long Beach as the site for the 1948 Democratic National Convention. His telegram outlined the discriminatory policy in Long Beach hotels and restaurants, stating that black delegates to the convention would be subjected to these restrictions.

Leon H. Washington, Jr.

            Washington’s action followed a check by the Sentinel on the treatment of blacks by Long Beach police as well as the policy of Long Beach hotels and restaurants in regard to service for African Americans. Leopold Wilder, executive secretary of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce and David Olmstead of the Long Beach Convention Bureau were questioned, as well as local black residents. Wilder stated he did not know that arrangements were being made, if any, to accommodate African American delegates. He also admitted, when asked about the policy of local hotels and restaurants on serving blacks, “at present it’s discriminatory.” (Los Angeles Sentinel 10/16/1947). Long Beach African Americans who were questioned told Washington they did not know of any hotels that admitted blacks, that there were no black hotels, and that only a few rooming houses were available to colored visitors.

            To further support his point, Washington pointed out that the previous year the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) had decided not to hold their convention in Long Beach because they could not get any guarantees that there would be no discrimination against African American delegates in Long Beach hotels and restaurants.

           “Negro voters are sick and tired of promises for the by and by, and absolutely no consideration in the here and now,” Washington said. “Instead of being told ‘Vote for us and we’ll pass legislation against discrimination,’ we want to see the political parties make non-discrimination a condition which must be guaranteed by any city bidding for the national convention.” (Los Angeles Sentinel 10/23/1947).

            In response to Washington’s telegram, James Roosevelt questioned Clyde Doyle who once represented the Long Beach district (Jan. 1945-Jan. 1947) in the U.S. House of Representatives. Roosevelt was assured by Doyle there would be no discrimination against blacks on the part of Long Beach hotels and restaurants.

            Leon Washington later had this to say about Doyle when Doyle was again running for Congress following his defeat in 1947: “Clyde Doyle who loves to hear himself touted as a liberal, but who joined with the Klan-minded residents of Compton and Long Beach in an effort to keep Negroes out of war housing in that area is not one to vote for.” (Los Angeles Sentinel 10/28/1948). Despite Washington’s sentiments, Doyle was reelected to Congress and served continuously from January 3, 1949, until his death on March 14, 1963.

            Long Beach did not get selected to host the 1948 Democratic National Convention. Was it because of the Sentinel’s concerns or was it the reason given by David Olmstead? Olmstead told the Press Telegram (11/26/1947) that Long Beach needed at least another 800 or 1000 hotel rooms to host such a large contingent.  Philadelphia was later chosen as the site.

            It would take another decade before Long Beach and other California African Americans were allowed in all hotels and motels, stores, and restaurants thanks to the 1959 Unruh Civil Rights Act state law which prohibited the refusal of service to anyone in the public place because of race, creed or color.

This is just one of the topics discussed in my forthcoming book: A History of African Americans in Long Beach.