Milestone for black woman captured

We set the fireworks off on July 4, celebrating a “unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.” The second sentence is the one quoted most often.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote it, and likely had copy-editing assistance from Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. That was an excellent group of writers.

The irony behind the creation of this beautiful document was that two of the three had owned slaves.

Franklin would later in life become an outspoken abolitionist. During Jefferson’s lifetime, he would have the names of 600 slaves listed in inventory.

Late 20th century DNA testing indicates a male in the Jefferson line fathered a child with slave Sally Hemings, who was half-sister of the third president’s late wife. Some Jefferson descendants dispute these findings, but his last inventory counted 187 slaves, and among the few he freed were the children of Hemings.

The failure of the Founding Fathers to directly address the evils of slavery would be resolved 85 years later in the bloody Civil War. On some issues, the nation’s founders were ordinary politicians, compromising for votes.

It would take 189 years for the soaring language to ring true for Dora Baines, documented in the then-Telegram-Tribune on Feb. 10, 1965, by staff writer Bill King.

“Fears lifted, Negro woman registers”

“The right to vote — a common place thing to most Americans and ignored by many — has become a reality for a 54-year-old Negro woman living in San Luis Obispo.

“Wednesday, Dora Baines walked into the county courthouse and into the clerk’s office to register to vote.

“No one was standing in the doorway blocking her entrance.

“There were no shouts of protests or name-calling.

“There were no lines of jeering whites along the walk, held back by helmeted policemen.

“It was quiet — a normal afternoon at the clerk’s office. Mrs. Baines simply walked in, announced her intentions, signed an affidavit and walked out. It took less than five minutes.

“This simple, short ceremony was a remarkable thing to Mrs. Baines, who has been denied the right to vote for more than 35 years in Mississippi under threat of reprisal.

“She was openly amazed at the simplicity of registering — no tests to take, no difficult questions to answer and, most of all, with no fear of having her house burned or suffering bodily harm.

“For 53 years, Mrs. Baines lived in Mississippi, in a small town near Natchez, in the deep, deep south, she said. ‘A poor area.’

“… Then things started changing. Racial strife was spreading as Negros began demanding their rights and started voter registration drives.

People were killed and the Ku Klux Klan burned homes, she said.

“ ‘I never tried to vote or register. I was afraid of trouble.’

“With the situation in Mississippi growing more dangerous, she decided to leave about a year ago when she heard that her brother was dying of leukemia in Compton, where her son was living. She moved to Compton, bringing her invalid mother with her.

“Her brother died last May and the following September, she decided to move to San Luis Obispo and work. Since then she has been doing domestic housework when she can find it while still caring for her invalid mother.

“ ‘I make $1.50 an hour here,’ she said proudly, ‘and people here are as sweet as they can be.’

“Registering to vote was a big moment in her life, and the same may soon be possible for her mother, Rose, who is 81 and has never registered or voted.”

In other front-page news, Dan De Vaul has not been the only landlord to run afoul of county planners. In Nipomo, more than 200 residents signed a petition to deny expansion of a farm labor camp.