Profiles in OC Pioneers Who Were Klan Members: Hoyt Corbit, Yorba Linda Pioneer, Fan of Richard Nixon
When Richard Nixon became president in 1968, the national media rushed to the Podunk city of Yorba Linda, the Dickster's birthplace and a town that had just incorporated a year earlier and was still largely citrus groves and rolling hills instead of the exclusive estates and gated communities that characterize it today. Most eventually ended up at the home of Hoyt Corbit, an old-timer, citrus farmer and former honorary mayor for whom present-day Corbit Place in the city is named. He had seen Yorba Linda grow from a place where the namesake Yorbas still lived to the burgeoning suburb into which it was transforming. He even remembered when Nixon was born, for chrissakes, since he worked for Dick's father, Frank, planting lemon trees.
The national media painted Corbit as the salt of the Earth. "Hoyt Corbit's face is strong and wise and kind," read one typical Life story from 1970, "and he is one of those who really hold this country together.
Corbit was also one of those who joined the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.
He was only a handful of Kluckers from Yorba Linda, a surprising development given that the heart of OC's northern Klan was next to it: Brea, La Habra, Fullerton, and Anaheim. Why Corbit would join is also strange, given the town had none of the temperance and decency battles that colored most OC White men's decision to join the Klan (besides, you know, that white supremacy thing) instead of, say, the Rotarians, the group that Corbit joined once the Klan became unfashionable. His KKK status didn't make it into any of the polite histories: not Corbit's oral history with Cal State Fullerton, not any of the tomes on Yorba Linda's past, and certainly not in any of the news stories about Nixon in which Corbit served as local color.
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Corbit loved Nixon, campaigning as early as the 1950s to get Dick's childhood home declared a national monument. Even toward the end of his life, Corbit stood by his sole claim to fame. "I don't believe Dick was intentionally involved in this illegal Watergate stuff," Corbit told the Los Angeles Times in 1979. At the time, Corbit and other loyalists were spearheading the Nixon Birthplace Foundation, which eventually turned into the organization that founded the Nixon Library. "What he did--he was a very loyal person--he tried to protect those people around him instead of telling them, "You've done wrong."
Since Corbit loved Nixon so, we'll end with his hero's thoughts on Mexicans, Mexicans Corbit employed to pick the oranges that made his life comfortable:
The Mexicans are a different cup of tea. They have a heritage. At the present time they steal, they're dishonest, but they do have some concept of family life. They don't live like a bunch of dogs, which the Negroes do live like.
Lucien Proud, La Habra mayor/school trustee
Albert Hetebrink, Fullerton rancher
Henry W. Head, Orange County godfather
Dr. Roy S. Horton and Marshall Keeler, Santa Ana Unified trustees
Sam Jernigan and Jesse Elliott, Orange County sheriffs
Herman Hiltscher, Fullerton bureacrat
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