California’s Civil Rights Pioneers

In this week's newsletter, we take a look at California's unsung civil rights pioneers including Floyd C. Covington, Delilah L. Beasley, and Bayard Rustin. 

los angeles civil rights leader floyd c covington, 1942
Los Angeles civil rights leader Floyd C. Covington, 1942.

Alta contributor Catherine Womack didn’t necessarily set out to uncover a painful personal history when she dug through civil rights activist Floyd C. Covington’s archives at the University of Southern California’s Doheny Library. But in “L.A.’s Forgotten Civil Rights Champion,” Womack discovered the very real emotional toll experienced by one of the movement’s unsung leaders.

Alta readers were moved by the profile. In a letter to the editor, Catherine Pyke of Larkspur, California, appreciated how Womack’s article offered “insights into the life and challenges of an unsung civil rights hero, and shines needed light on the advancements for African Americans that Covington made possible through his mentally exhaustive work.”

Covington is one of several nearly forgotten California civil rights pioneers who’ve found their way into present-day headlines. For example, Oakland Tribune columnist Delilah L. Beasley, who authored Negro Trail Blazers of California in 1919, is the subject of a recent New York Times California Today newsletter. Beasley’s work centered around celebrating African American pioneers, but as one herself, Beasley is all-too-often forgotten.

And last week, Governor Gavin Newsom posthumously pardoned civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, a Californian and one of the principal organizers of the 1963 March on Washington. Rustin’s crime? He was arrested in Pasadena in 1953 on a “morals charge” when police discovered him having sex with another man. Rustin, who died in 1987, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Which other West Coast civil rights pioneers aren’t as well-known as they should be? Let us know at and you might see your suggestion in a future newsletter.

Beth Spotswood is Alta's digital editor, events manager, and a contributing writer.
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