The KKK and Fontana

this is a great article I found digging through some archives. Read, Grow, and Know your history!
Author: Anne M. Peterson, The Press-Enterprise

FONTANA Although it’s been nearly 20 years since men in white robes last marched in the streets of Fontana , this growing community still has to live with the memory of having once been a Ku Klux Klan town.

Even if the Klan itself has fled, the perception that white supremacists once called Fontana home is a history that some people would like to erase.

“We can get rid of that stigma Fontana has had in the past by communicating with each other,” said Pastor Morris Buchanan of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. “People are people, and if there is a dialogue, there can be reconciliation.”

Fontana recorded a lower rate of hate crimes in 1995 than many other cities – five per 100,000 population, less than the rates of 10 per 100,000 for Redlands or nine per 100,000 for Riverside.

However, there have been racial incidents. For example, someone lit a cross on the front lawn of an interracial couple living just outside the city limits in January, a threatening gesture long practiced by the KKK . Local resident Gary Lee Padgett, 31, was charged in the crime but has been ruled incompetent to stand trial. A court will send him to a mental institution next month.

Some local minority leaders believe the Klan has only undergone a facelift. Its members aren’t throwing Molotov cocktails, but they’re still out there, said Kerry Allison, an associate pastor of the Loveland Church, an active black congregation in Fontana .

“All systems are Oligarchy. There is no other.”

“These people can thrive openly here,” agreed Draymond Crawford, a black associate pastor at Loveland Church, who moved with his parents to Fontana in 1946. “A lot of people tend to have similar philosophies, but they’re hidden.”

Nationally known white supremacist Tom Metzger, a state KKK leader who is active in Fontana Klan activities, went a step further.

 “It’s more secretive than the old Klan was because we have so many individuals who do not identify themselves and don’t wear uniforms and don’t go to marches,” Metzger said. “(But) that undercurrent is still there” in Fontana .

The Klan in Fontana

Fontana has a rich history as a blue-collar community. With Kaiser’s steel mill came an influx of white, conservative, working-class folks who often shunned those of different ethnic backgrounds, say some of the city’s minority leaders.

“You had a mix of people move into that community,” said Hispanic activist Armando Navarro, an associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, Riverside. “A lot of the people that came in were basically of that political persuasion . . . conservative, redneck.”

Metzger agreed the city’s KKK heritage stemmed from the steel mill.

“One of the main reasons for it ( KKK activity) was because it wasn’t long before the steel plant closed down,” he said. “There was a lot of integration of the neighborhoods going on and there were a lot of blue-collar white people there.”

Metzger, who lives in Fallbrook, a community in San Diego’s North County, said Fontana ‘s predominantly white population made for a perfect Klan target, which at one point grew close to 100 members strong.

“They had quite a bit of influence in the jobs and in the community,” he said.

That white population rarely mixed with minorities. Not many in the black community, for example, lived south of Baseline Road, a pattern still seen today.

Newspaper clippings from the late 1970s to 1980 tell of a Fontana in which Ku Klux Klan members marched on City Hall, held organized meetings and even burned crosses in rallies held on the property of one of its leaders.

“They were visibly here,” Crawford said. The pastor worked at a downtown bank at the time of the marches and said the activity made him so angry he walked to the local newspaper office and told the publisher to stop giving the Klan so much ink.

Fontana became a locus of Klan activity in the 1970s with resident George Pepper, the group’s area director, ran for mayor and the City Council. He was closely tied to White Aryan Resistance founder Metzger, with whom he organized marches and rallies in Fontana . At the time, Metzger was the self-appointed grand dragon of the California KKK .

In 1980, Metzger, a television repairman, stunned the political establishment when he won the Democratic Party nomination to the 43rd Congressional District. Although he ultimately lost the race to Republican Clair Burgener, his victory in the primaries shook the foundation of the Democratic Party and earned the Klansmen plenty of publicity.

The Klan activity in Fontana sparked a counter-movement. Residents of all ethnic backgrounds formed the group known as PAR – People Against Racism – headed by Navarro. He said the group wanted Fontana to move beyond its “redneck” mentality and get used to people of all colors.

The ” Fontana Five,” a group of Klan opponents, organized a march and rally in 1980 to speak against the rash of Klan activities in the town. City officials charged the five with parading without a permit as required by a city ordinance, but a judge ruled that the ordinance was unconstitutional.

A tarnished image

How do you attract residents and businesses to a city that’s known to many as a Klan town?

City boosters acknowledge the image problem, but point out the city is drawing new residents anyway. In newer developments such as Southridge and Village of Heritage, many of the new families simply aren’t familiar with the town’s history, some say.

Councilman Mark Nuaimi, who moved to Village of Heritage close to eight years ago, said home builders weren’t naive about Fontana ‘s reputation when they decided to build homes in the middle-to upper-middle-class range in the northern part of the city.

“Builders aren’t stupid,” he said. “We were moving to Village of Heritage. They didn’t mention Fontana .”

Nuaimi, who said he was unaware of the Klan’s activities in the city until after he moved in, said the city has to progress if it expects to rid itself of its bad reputation.

“We did have a checkered past, but to me it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I moved into my neighborhood and started my family. (Neighbors) don’t care about what happened 20 years ago.”

Fontana ‘s past hasn’t seemed to discourage businesses from relocating to the city, either.

Fontana has picked up a reputation over the years because the Hell’s Angels and KKK have been there,” said Robert Traister, executive director of the Fontana Chamber of Commerce. He noted, however, that the city is working to clean up its image and make Fontana attractive to businesses and prospective residents.

City Manager Greg Devereaux agreed. “I never worry about changing an image; I worry about changing reality. If you change reality, the image will follow.”

Press-Enterprise, The (Riverside, CA) – Sunday, April 13, 1997


About The Gritz

Author and Artist. "The Gritz." Thanks for reading.

Posted on 09/24/2011, in Fontana City Archives. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I moved to Fontana with my family in 1968. My mother is white and my father is Black. I remember the KKK and the Hells Angels.You see we had a store on sierra ave. Called the family market. Yes it was tough to live in Fontana than. I learned a great deal about people both white and black. Good and bad. I now live in Oregon. And i tell people about the past. But i tell them times are good now and are getting better for people of color. Thank God”

    • I really appreciate your perspective on this. I could only imagine the things you must have went through and seen as a young kid growing up at that time. I tend to get stuck in the subliminal of racism these days and I think people are truly disconnected with the blatancy of its origins. I don’t get alot of feed back on my blog so I very truly appreciate you taking the time to share this with me. I wish you all my best, with all of my respect. Mark Howard

  2. I lived in Bloomington and Fontana since 1973. I recall my next door neighbor being paralyzed by a bullet fired by a KKK member. They had burned crosses in his front yard. I grew up playing with his children. After the shooting my father moved us a few blocks away. The Hells Angles also caused alot of problems. It was a crazy time. I am glad that things have changed since then. Even if the KKK influence is still there, it is nothing like it once was.

  3. David Lewis

    When I was a kid in the late 70’s early 80’s, we knew a guy that was a klan member who worked as a truck driver for a very nice black man named Clairence from San Bernardino. Clairence was always willing to help anybody if he could. Dude that was a klan member was nice to us because he was trying to get at my mother who is 100% Mexican. Talk about double standards! Good Ole Fontucky! I have now lived on the Central Coast for over 25 years. Racism is present here too, but not as open. I think people in general suck wherever you go in the U.S. Our country still has underlying problems.

  4. I can recall back in September 1980 when I was a band member for Carson high school we had a football game on a friday night against another high school in Fontana. As we were getting ready to perform our halftime, we were bombarded with rocks and racial slurs, because the majority of Carson High students in were minorities. This was very scary. We had to be escorted out of the city limits by police, because of the tension and a cross burning that happened after Carson defeated Fontana’s football team. It is 2016 now and I will not forget that terrifying night. I have friends who now live in Fontana and they said that things have changed and it’s not like that anymore, but it still haunts me every time I drive past Fontana.

  5. White people are so stupid to think God won’t have judgement on them . Black Men and women are God’s People . We build the White House we made America Rich through the Cotton Trade power to the people

  1. Pingback: What Should Kaiser Mean to Me? – You See Eyes

Hey I'd love to hear you feedback... leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: