Organizers of a Saturday evening event in Palm Springs that was part reunion, part rally for a group of Section 14 survivors and descendants said they hope what’s happening here can be used as a model in other American communities where conversations around reparations are taking place.
Areva Martin, a civil rights attorney now acting as lead counsel for the Section 14 group, pointed to the traumatic events that occurred in Tulsa, Okla. in 1921, and the case of the Bruce family roughly 100 miles away in Manhattan Beach, as two of innumerable incidents similar to what happened in Palm Springs 60 years ago.
Following a 1959 federal act that allowed tribes to enter into 99-year leases, minority families who had homes on a one-square-mile area of leased tribal land in the heart of Downtown Palm Springs were evicted from their homes, often without notice, fleeing to other parts of the city or leaving the city entirely. The result, recall former residents, was that “a tightknit, racially diverse community in Section 14 was scattered.”
Homes were torn down and debris piles were burned by the city fire department, allowing white business owners to build resorts and other businesses on the land. The events were described by one state official in the 1960s as a “a city-engineered Holocaust.”
“This has happened to countless families across this country,” Martin said as a crowd of roughly 200 listened intently at Frances Stevens Park. “Thousands have had their very existence threatened for no reason other than the color of their skin. We stand in solidarity with the families in Palm Springs who are seeking reparative justice for thousands across the country.”
What may be different in Palm Springs than many other communities where discussions of restorative justice for racialized trauma are taking place is that city officials agree something must be done. Last year, Palm Springs elected and appointed officials issued a formal apology and voted to remove the statue of the mayor at the time from in front of City Hall. They also asked staff to explore reparations for surviving members of families who were kicked out.
Mayor Pro Tem Grace Garner and Ron deHarte, chair of the city’s Human Rights Commission, both attended Saturday’s event, as did many Section 14 survivors who were seeing each other in person for the first time in decades. DeHarte, who is running for the District 3 City Council seat in November against business owner Joy Brown Meredith, led the commission as it passed the apology up to Garner and her colleagues on the City Council.
“We don’t need or deserve thanks,” Said Garner, who is up for reelection against Scott Nevins in District 1, where many Black residents of Section 14 relocated. “An apology is just the beginning. We need to do everything we can do to support this community.”
Garner and the other speakers did not directly address the fact that the Section 14 group has taken legal action against the city and in early August asked for what could amount to hundreds of millions in compensation, including direct cash payments to those who once lived on Section 14.
After the event, Martin said attorneys and their staff are working steadfastly to quantify the harm that was done to those who lived in Section 14. “When people see the numbers, they need to know these are not nebulous,” she said. “They were not pulled out of the sky.”
Kavon Ward, CEO and founder of the organization Where Is My Land, emphasized during the event that the efforts in Palm Springs and elsewhere her organization helps Black families secure restitution for stolen land are not motivated by money. Rather, she said, it’s about long overdue justice.
“We are not seeking revenge,” she told the audience. “We are seeking justice. And we will not stop until justice is served.”