20190707-bc-UncleLarry

When business is slow Larry Richardson can sometimes be found hanging out with his longtime friend Marc D'Angelo under a mulberry tree at his shop. Do folks really call him Uncle Larry? They most certainly do.

Reader: I was born and raised in Bakersfield. I am 77 years old. In his article, Steven Mayer ("Some tried to burn him out, but 'Uncle' Larry still in Oildale 50 years on," July 12) stated that 50 years ago there was a sign telling colored people to leave Oildale by sundown.

Fifty years ago I would have been 27. I never, ever saw any such sign ... never! I call this utter BS! This may have been the case back in the 1920s, '30s or even the '40s, but not 1969. I think Mayer has his dates mixed up.

— D.D. Hinds 

Price: I have been hearing about this alleged sign and its threatening and racist message for many years now — and from so many people who seem likely to have been in a position to know that it's hard to fathom that it's fiction.

I've heard it described as both a stand-alone sign and as graffiti spray-painted on the back of another sign, perhaps a billboard. I can't imagine, though, that Oildale business owners or local authorities would have abided such a message for long. Perhaps the sign was taken down or covered up only to later reappear.

I have not seen photographic evidence of the sign's existence, however, and I have not heard authoritative testimony from anyone adamantly recalling having seen it. There has been some consistency in descriptions of the supposed wording, though, for what that's worth.

Do any readers out there have a photo of this alleged sign? Does anyone recall, with absolute certainty, having seen it? Yes, we have documented instances of racist activity in Oildale — and elsewhere in Kern County — over the years, but no concrete evidence that I'm aware of that this sign in particular ever truly existed. Unless you've been holding onto that evidence. If so, please share.

I should note here that Uncle Larry told Mayer that he distinctly remembers having seen the sign.

Reader: If this story by Steven Mayer isn't the most racist article I've seen. We all know Kern River Paint & Body Shop owner Larry Richardson doesn't go by "Uncle" Larry and we all know that "uncle" is a reference to Uncle Tom. Titling your article that way and placing an importance on the word "Uncle" only shows the true agenda of this garbage writing. You should remove the article and issue an apology!

— Ac89

Price: Yes, award-winning storyteller Steven Mayer found a likable and resilient African American gentleman who has been operating a business in Oildale for half a century and, tapping into a previously undetected vein of virulent racism, decided to cast Richardson as a hollow, servile Uncle Tom by inventing this nickname for him.

This revelation will come as a big surprise to many, including Tonya Longbrake, who told Mayer she has been calling Richardson "Uncle Larry" since she was 5. Also, to Richardson himself, who, through his daughter, conveyed his appreciation to Mayer. Oh, and to anyone who has ever read any other article written by Steven Mayer.

Thanks for today's "did you read that one guy's comment?" comment.

Reader: Great article on Uncle Larry, Steve. I've been by there so many times and never knew the backstory. Considering the circumstances, I have some business for him. I'm going to go see him.

— Matt Jett

Price: I am guilty, in this week's Sound Off, of what we in the newspaper business call burying the lede. Here it is: Mayer reports having received more positive online comments, more Facebook shares and more direct appreciation for his Larry Richardson story than for anything he has written this year, and perhaps over the past several years. 

Leading off with those two negative comments, I admit, paints a misleading portrait of the reaction to Steve's story, which was overwhelmingly positive.

It's nice to read about the ordinary people among us who have a smidgen of the hero gene.

Reader: I'm a great fan of Steven Mayer's. I'd like to send a nice check to that wonderful man I've fallen madly in love with, Larry Richardson.

— Anon

•••

Reader: Robert, you did a great job on the Steve Ramirez story ("Accommodations for 3.5 million, please, hold the fries," July 7). I met him a couple of years ago while volunteering for Scarlett Sabin, who runs the local Ronald McDonald House. He is just one of those people you meet and then don’t forget.

We chatted about our early California Spanish heritage and I was secretly hoping we were related! With all the families at the Los Angeles Pueblo, it’s possible we are. We decided we could call ourselves “cousins.”

Another topic: Stephen Lynch did a stellar write-up about the David Marcus service ("Family, friends, supporters remember Centennial superfan David Marcus," July 7). He captured the tone and spirit of the celebration of life and that’s a hard thing to do in print — and yet he did it.

I love the new newspaper format. I wasn’t a fan of the tabloid fold.

— Susan Peninger

Price: It was nice to see you, Susan, and to finally meet Steve Ramirez face-to-face at Thursday's dedication of the newly expanded and renovated Bakersfield Ronald McDonald House at Memorial Hospital. Ramirez has been a global trustee for the international charity for 15 years, the last five as chairman. 

I agree with you about Stephen Lynch's story on the ever-ebullient David Marcus. More proof that good sportswriters are good writers first.

•••

Reader: The new Californian’s format is not very user-friendly to senior e-Edition readers. In order to read the edges we have to reduce the size of the page because the page advancer is in the way. I am 80 years old and my bifocals have gotten stronger but the print still seems to be getting smaller.

— Phil Welch

Price: Director of Production Anthony Ashley informs me that if you double-tap the story at the bottom of the page it will open up in a new window that makes the type a lot easier to read.

Our type size has not changed, Anthony adds. But I don't doubt that it may seem like it has.

•••

Reader: (Regarding the supposition that the older neighborhood south of 24th Street should rightly be called "downtown" rather than "Westchester," as the newer, postwar tract north of 24th was officially designated:) Being of a pioneer family and working for my father's Flickinger's Farm and Garden store on 18th and O, we had a lot of relatives — the Brocks and the Colms — and friends who lived in what we all called Westchester ("Where We Live: Westchester residents know it's only theirs for a generation," June 30).

Westchester, Bob, was west of Chester and downtown and largely south of 24th, and an appropriate term as there was nothing but empty fields, grass and swamp north of 24th Street and to the west of about F or so. Though you say it was developed by Elmer Houchin, I recall them living on Oleander south of Brundage Lane, as I grew up with their kids. Also a lot of those "Westchester" homes were older than Elmer Houchin, especially along 18th and 19th, where we had property. Granted, many homes north and west up to 24th were newer but many were also older and lived in by pioneer families and relatives. We said they lived in Westchester, Bob.

Elmer may have been able to officially term his development Westchester, but most of those who live south of 24th call their area Westchester and they call the area north of 24th New Westchester.

— Dr. E. Willis Flickinger

Price: I have never heard of the designation New Westchester. Is that really a thing?

At least four of my current or recent colleagues live in the Jastro Park area of downtown. One of them, News Editor Teddy Feinberg, was playfully miffed that I had essentially excluded him from the Westchester neighborhood he assumed he lived in.

Hey Teddy, Dr. Flickinger is on your side.

We may have to take this to mediation, though.

•••

Reader: My copy of the July 6 paper had a page labeled "Faith & Eye Street" but the content consisted of one page (B4) of Faith, with no Eye Street. To me, Eye Street is an essential part of the weekend TBC. Or am I missing something?

— Ann J.

Price: We're still getting accustomed to how we're going to package section fronts for our weekday broadsheet pages. That's an issue we haven't had to deal with for the past decade because we've been a Monday through Friday tabloid and broadsheet Saturday and Sunday only. We'll continue to publish comics, puzzles and advice seven days a week, but other feature content — Eye Street — only on Thursday, Friday and Sunday. My feeling is that that Saturday section front should say only Faith. In any case, we'll all get used to this, I promise.

•••

Reader: OK, Robert, the grammar Nazi in me can't take it anymore. I've been reading your paper for decades, and in the past few years it has been increasingly driving me crazy. Now, I'm not one to send an email every time I discover an error, but it seems like a much more common occurrence now.

In his Tuesday column, Herb Benham writes that he "learned more in 20 minutes THEN I have in every science course I had ever taken ..." Arghh. It's surprising enough that a professional writer like Herb would make such a mistake, but unbelievable that an editor missed it. Just the day before, a letter writer said that something "exasperates the problem." Please tell me you have an opening for editor! I'm becoming very exasperated!

— Layne Logan

Price: Herb has been slipping for years. Let's try to be kind. Yes, an editor should have caught it. That particular error exasperates me, too. 

Sadly, we do not have an opening for grammar Nazi. That role belongs to Larry Dunn. I merely benched him this week because the best he could come up with was a complaint about an extraneous comma.

The Californian’s Robert Price answers your questions and takes your complaints about our news coverage in this weekly feedback forum. Questions may be edited for space and clarity. To offer your input by phone, call 661-395-7649 and leave your comments in a voicemail message or email us at soundoff@bakersfield.com. Include your name and phone number; they won’t be published.

(3) comments

99 Cent Comedian

I've lived in Oildale all of my life of 62 years and I don't recall "the sign." My father lived in Oildale since 1935 and he didn't remember "the sign" either. One would think if as was reported earlier, The Bakersfield Californian, had fought against the Ku Klux Klan there would be a photograph of the sign.

yorkies2014

I guess we all remember it differently…my aunt lived in a little house in Oildale with a big white enamel cast iron tub with feet....we lived in the Peace and Freedom tract and had a pink tub, sink, and loo…..with painted cement floors….when we were little kids coming from the Eastside in the old Morris Minor with my mom on a trek to see her sister...a car full of 6'ers on a journey to visit Ruth a 08'er....on entering that bridge over the river.... was that hand made sign…. it came and went and reappeared at times....is was disturbing….we were kids and only new it was hateful…..and always placed at a spot that someone would have to find a place to park and then walk back to the bridge to remove it….kind of like well placed graffiti is nowdays..it would be naïve to think that most folks were not white North of the River until recent times...wasn't West High one of the last high-schools to integrate?...... From the Californian……… In 1975, the U.S. government said BCSD was purposely busing students to keep white and black schools separate, a violation of the Civil Rights Act. The ensuing legal battle lasted nearly a decade until in 1984, the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in and sued the district for having “racially imbalanced schools” and to reduce segregation. At issue were four predominately minority campuses — Fremont, McKinley, Mount Vernon and Owens schools. In 1983-84, each campus was less than 8 percent white despite a districtwide white population of 45 percent. That year, the Justice Department and BCSD settled on a “decree” saying the district should create a busing program to attract students to one of eight district schools. And the four minority schools became magnet schools.

GGoodrich

I saw the sign for the first time in 1960. My parents and I were going into Oildale to visit my Great Aunt, Carrie Whittaker. It was a white sign with black paint. It was stand alone, not scribbled on another sign. It was just before you crossed the river. I’m pretty sure it was there through at least 1963. I remember hearing about it being removed but, I don’t know what year that was.

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