Lee-ving Out Crucial OC Civil Rights History on the Anaheim Walk of Stars
Legendary Olympian and longtime Orange County resident Sammy Lee was honored two days ago with a spot on the Anaheim Walk of Stars, and it was fascinating to see history in action in this day of Wikipedia, press releases, and the loss of institutional memory. The story in the Orange County Register mentioned his back-to-back gold medals in platform diving during the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, and that he served for years afterward as a coach. But it didn't even hint at Lee's involvement in one of the uglier moments in Orange County history.
In 1954, Lee--an Army vet, licensed doctor, two-time gold-medal winner and recent recipient of the Sullivan Award as the best amateur athlete in the United States--tried to buy a house in Garden Grove but was refused. Twice. All because he was Asian. Garbage Grove's racism was condemned worldwide for the obvious reasons, and even Ed Sullivan and then-veep Richard Nixon spoke publicly in favor of Lee, who eventually did buy a home (Click here for a Hearst Agency picture with the telling caption, "Sammy Lee and wife now welcomed to Garden Grove"). His struggle to buy a house was an important step in the battle to end housing segregation in Orange County that ultimately culminated in the Mulkey v. Reitman Supreme Court case.
Does the Register story mention Lee's inspiring tale? Nope, but in fairness to reporter Joshua Suddock, the official press release by the Anaheim Walk of Stars didn't bother to include the housing segregation incident. Even O.C. Archives worker Chris Jepsen, who knows better, also committed the historical slight in his post on Lee's award.
Sigh...I can make the obvious conclusion and say Lee's Garbage Grove incident doesn't mesh with the orange-crate school that dominates Orange County history, but some of ustedes will dismiss me as a whiny Mexican. So, let's punt to them: any reason why such civil rights history should go down the rabbit hole of naranja memory?