The Community Relations Conference of Southern California (CRCSC) was established in May 1947, at a meeting called by Dr. Genevieve Carter of the Los Angeles Welfare Planning Council. Dr Carter had been responsible for setting up what was known as the "Little Tokyo" Committee in 1942-3, in the Health Division of the Planning Council. At that time the section of Los Angeles which had been inhabited by Japanese citizens, before their internment, was being settled by a large influx of black population from the southern states--with resulting overcrowding and health problems. By the end of World War II, the Little Tokyo Committee had moved out of the Health Division, and become a central planning body renamed the Community Relations Committee. With newly assertive and growing black and Latino populations, in a city packed with those who had come to do defense work and showed no signs of returning to their home states, and thousands of Japanese residents freed from the camps, many Angelenos feared more of the kinds of disturbances experienced in the "Zoot Suit" riots of 1943.
Dr. Carter had nominal charge of the activist Community Relations Committee, which seemed likely to engage in political advocacy of a type not welcome in bodies funded by the Community Chest. As Dr. Carter said later, "The Community Relations Committee did not belong in the Welfare Council." She therefore eased it out, and into the community where it did belong and was needed. In March 1947, white students at a city high school held a public demonstration against the increasing enrollment of black students. In the aftermath of this incident, half a dozen different race relations groups discovered that they had all been working to mediate the school situation without coordination or knowledge of the others' activities. Two months later, when Dr. Carter called for a public meeting of all "intergroup" and race relations agencies in Los Angeles, fifty-three such organizations responded. Of these, eleven subsequently combined with the Community Relations Committee to form the CRCSC, an independent, non-governmental coalition. Initial members were the American Jewish Committee, the Congregational Conference of Southern California--Social Action Department, the American Jewish Congress, the Japanese American Citizens League, the Los Angeles Urban League, the NAACP, the Jewish Labor Committee, the Congress of American Indians, and the Pacific Coast Council on Intercultural Education.
Membership increased to 20 groups by the end of CRCSC's first year, and stood at over 90 at the height of the Conference's influence in the 1960s and 1970s. Anyone who got a letter from the Conference in those years found an impressive and long list of supporting agencies printed on the back of each sheet of letter head paper. As the first executive director put it, "If you want your voice and vote to count for social change, you've got to link it with like-minded organizations with the expertise to make it count in the right places." CRCSC got off to a slow start but a good one in 1949 when the American Missionary Association provided it with a year's free half-time services of a "race relations worker", to be shared with the Social Action Department of the Congregational Conference of Southern California. George Thomas, the black worker sent by the Missionary Society became CRCSC's full time paid executive director after a year, and stayed with the Conference until 1962.
The records of the Community Relations Conference--which lasted longer than any other such group in the nation--are not complete here, but they do include full minutes for the first ten annual meetings, with executive committee, board of directors and delegate assembly minutes covering the following 31 years. Correspondence files for successive executive directors of the Conference display the range of their influential acquaintance, and their skill and patience in advocacy and mediation. Correspondence with well known figures, particularly in liberal or left wing circles of the era, appears often--from Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to Carey McWilliams, both of whom addressed the Conference. Also found are references to energetic young members of the Conference, such as Kenneth Hahn, Tom Bradley, Edward R. Roybal, and Maxine Waters, who later would become political leaders. Materials in some fifty files reflect the work of the Conference's standing committees in such basic areas as fair housing and equality of opportunity in employment and education, and in other areas needing special attention, such as immigration legislation, equity in city planning, fair political practices, and the eradication of racism in law enforcement. Also collected here are publications of the Community Relations Educational Foundation (CREF), including its Guide to Civic Responsibility, its directories of Legal Resources, and of "Employment and Training Resources for Los Angeles and Vicinity", together with Community Intelligence Bulletins on ethnic and racial minorities in the area.
For six months after the first meeting, small committees worked on the proposed structure and functions of CRCSC, and on nominations for a slate of officers. From the beginning it was decided that member groups should retain their own autonomy, pursuing their own agendas as before, with CRCSC serving as coordinator and clearing house for action by the whole membership. The tone of the organization was well expressed by a labor union leader at the first annual meeting when he said that the group was dedicated to constructive, progressive, democratic action but would avoid the trap of seeing itself as " the sole bulwark between Fascism and civilization." CRCSC's methods were based on negotiation, persuasion and rational argument, with none of the publicity attendant on open confrontation, except in a few instances, as in its dealings with Chief William Parker of the Los Angeles Police Department. The Conference's strengths were in coordinated communication--internally through its various committees and monthly delegate assembly meetings, and externally through its long-lived newsletter "The Community Reporter" and a network of "listening posts" set up to gauge public attitudes in the Los Angeles area. It was able to act quickly when necessary because members of the Conference trusted CRCSC to represent their interests fully without the delay involved in arriving at formal agreements. The coalition also had secret weapons in its "Joint Staff" capabilities, using in concert for particular operations paid staffers from member agencies, and in its cadre of volunteer lawyers ready to draft model legislation, file "amicus curiae" briefs, or bring actions in any court at short notice.
When CRCSC began in 1947, Los Angeles had de facto housing segregation, and widespread legal segregation maintained by restrictive covenants governing the sale of real estate. It also therefore had de facto school segregation. There was open discrimination in employment, and much customary discrimination in hotels, restaurants, clubs, and even stores, such as Bullock's Wilshire. In 1950 CRCSC shamed Bullock's into lifting its ban barring black shoppers from its Tea Room. Most white Angelenos, if they thought about it at all, accepted the status quo in race relations. Then came "Brown v. Board of Education" in 1954, which changed the law, and increased both inter-racial tensions and public consciousness of racial issues. In 1963 the March on Birmingham and the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement, ushered in a new era. For CRCSC it was the 1965 Watts Riot, or "The Crisis of Los Angeles" as the coalition termed it, which brought real change, with a new level of concern in the region, and new hope of progress. But the role of the coalition meanwhile became problematic, as its executive Julian Keiser noted in a 1968 memorandum. "New constellations of Black and Brown groups, which are more militant than most CRCSC members, are at the forefront of the confrontation with present injustices", he wrote, adding that the Conference, being made up primarily of groups with white constituencies, would need in future to play a complex part in supporting and backing up the more militant groups.
CRCSC had spent twenty years educating and speaking for minority groups who were struggling for their rights. The goal now would be to work not for these groups but with them. Keiser understood, earlier than most, that the torch had passed. The Conference restructured itself, adapted to changing times, and found specific areas such as Los Angeles schools where it could do most good. But in 1982 the executive director of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Committee noted in a speech to CRCSC that the political situation in Los Angeles had entered a new phase, with momentum lost, more and more different groups claiming separate rights, arguments becoming diffuse, and support declining for effective school desegregation and affirmative action. Inside the coalition there were money problems, growing dissent, and unwillingness to allow the executive to speak for all, as it once had. After the retirement of Keiser in 1988, the Conference was unable to attract or afford a director of his stature, and it began to drift. The executive committee complained that while it grew old and tired, CRCSC was failing to enroll new, young members. Meanwhile, there were well-staffed agencies at all levels of government attempting to improve rights and opportunities for minority groups, and many vigorous ethnic and racial non-profit organizations working in the same field. At a last meeting of the board of directors in January 1991, members asked themselves if they any longer filled a need and concluded, bravely, that they did not. Resolving to go out with dignity and "a flourish rather than a whimper", they voted to dissolve the Conference on March 31, 1991, and to hold a last dinner to celebrate its achievements over 41 years.