Oral Histories

Interview of Rita Walters

Member of the Los Angeles City Council from 1991 to 2001.
Black Politicians of Los Angeles
Politics and Government
African American History
Biographical Note:
Member of the Los Angeles City Council from 1991 to 2001.
Greene, Sean
Walters, Rita
Persons Present:
Walters and Greene.
Place Conducted:
Walters' home in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Sean Greene, doctoral candidate, University of Pennsylvania.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Walters was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a number of corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
8.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This series includes interviews with African Americans who were involved in Los Angeles politics from the 1940s to the present day. In addition to African American politicians, it includes individuals who could speak to the political history and influence of the black community in Los Angeles. The series was funded by a UCLA in L.A. Community Partnerships grant and was a joint effort between the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research and the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA.
Walters' family—Growing up in Kansas City, Kansas—Walters' parents' careers—Family's political and community involvement—Childhood friends—Early education—Remembering favorite teachers and subjects—Attitudes towards gender and education—More on family's political involvement, Walters'community growing up—Father's union case that went to the U.S. Supreme Course—Racial segregation and discrimination while growing up in Missouri—Mother's employment during WWII—Family's conversion to Seventh Day Adventism—Working as a typist and transcriber—Attending colleges in Missouri and Alabama—Living briefly in Detroit, Michigan—Encountering racism and finding work back in Kansas City, Missouri—More on local discrimination , segregation, and Brown vs. Board of Education—Getting a job as clerk-typist for the Los Angeles County Probation Department—First coming to California for a church conference—Deciding to move to Los Angeles—Finding a community in East Los Angeles—Marrying Wilbur Walters and starting a family—Moving to Orange County—Walters' three children—Comparing Los Angeles and Placentia, California.
Visiting Nicodemus, Kansas, an all-black town, while growing up—Learning about black history—Joe Louis coming to Kansas—More on Walters' move to Los Angeles in 1955—Involvement in local church, black community, family network—Awareness of the color line in Los Angeles—Meeting her husband through an uncle--Walters' wedding and husband—Encountering discrimination in looking for homes—Living in Placentia, California—Not being concerned about past racial violence in Placentia—Raising children—Son's (David's) childhood health issues—Walters's advocacy for her son's education access—Working with Marnesba Tackett—Mass meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King in Wrigley Field—Taking over as chair of United Civil Rights Council's education committee.
Moving from Orange County to Miracle Mile area—Balancing David's needs with Walters's two other children—Serving on the local Parent Teacher Association (PTA) education committee—Publicly criticizing the principal—Confronting discrimination and other challenges in her children's education—Working with the school board to change policy—More on Marnesba Tackett and getting involved with the United Civil Rights Council and the NAACP—Addressing hiring practices, curriculum content, and other issues on the Council's education committee—Appointed to commission by State Superintendent of Schools to examine minority treatment in textbooks—Black and other minority teachers' advocacy—School board membership and politics—Demonstrations and protests concerning desegregation and other school issues—State Superintendent Max Rafferty and history textbooks—Asian and Latino involvement in school desegregation—NAACP's internal politics.
Struggles around desegregation—NAACP and ACLU involvement in the Crawford case—South L.A. community sentiment about civil rights activism—Personal experiences with segregation in buses and trains—Sharing childcare duties amongst activists—Presenting for the United Civil Rights Council (UCRC) at Augustus Hawkins' congressional hearing before the Watts Riots—First hearing about the 1965 civil unrest—UCRC and other organizations' community relations work following the unrest—Debates over leadership and integration at NAACP meeting at Crescent Heights and Airdrome—The United Slaves Organization, Women For:, and other groups in the aftermath of Watts—Augustus Hawkins, Mervyn Dymally, Rev. James Jones, and electing black officials—Laurel Martin and conservative opposition to integration—Testifying against the Green/Harmer bill in Sacramento—Involvement in political campaigns such as Jim Jones's, Julian Nava's, and Robert Doctor's—Perspective on desegregation debates and her own children—Working on proposition campaigns—Experiences with racism during campaign work—Completing her undergraduate degree through the University Without Walls consortium—Balancing family, education, work, and activism—Working for the school district's Office of Urban Affairs—Running for the school board in the 1970s—Black and Latino children on half-day school sessions—Continuing opposition to integration from conservatives—Teaching literacy and ESL to varying populations at different schools—Traveling to China and Japan in 1977 and later to Korea—Teaching in Watts—Proposition M, the San Diego Plan, and district lines.
Running for the school board—Core campaign supporters and friends over the years—Community advocacy for black representation on the school board in the 1970s and the start of recurring community conventions—Arnett Hartsfield, Yvonne Burke, and other black candidates at that time—Having support from groups such as Neighbors Unlimited and Parents For:--Running and losing her first two campaigns—Get out the vote efforts in South L.A.—Teaching and substitute teaching between campaigns—Deciding to run in 1979 after the passage of Proposition M—Winning the primary against Josie Bain, and letting Father Lewis Bohler remain in the interim position left by Diane Watson—Campaign finances over the years—Gaining support from labor groups and ministers—Debates around busing after Walters' election, issues of overcrowding and lack of resources—School board composition.
Attending Oakwood College and workign to support her sister's and her own education—Having multicultural (Jewish, Asian, Latino) support for her successful 1979 run for school board—Walters' relationship with churches—Kathleen Brown, Warren Furutani, Tony Trias, and school board politics around desegregation issues—The U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down Proposition 1 and the mandatory desegregation programs in Los Angeles afterwards—Desegregation and resulting overcrowding in schools—Community Advisory Councils attached to schools, compared to PTAs—Billy Don Jackson and proposing the C-average initiative in the 1980s—Advocating for the Ten Schools Project and full-time school nurses and counselors—Harry Handler's "Children Can No Longer Wait" document—Leticia Quezada and debates around bilingual education—Finding allies in Women For, Parents For for integration and equity issues—Participating in the 1969 teachers strike and the formation of the United Teachers of Los Angeles—School board reaction to the teachers' strike for raises in the late 1980s—Political repercussions to Walters' opposition to the settlement—Gilbert Lindsay, Julian Dixon, and running for City Council.
Deciding to run for City Council—School board struggles with teachers' union demand, salary issues, and balancing the budget after Proposition 13—Extensive and continuing impact of property taxes cap on schools—Receiving encouragement from Marnesba Tackett to run for City Council—Walters' strained relationship with teachers' unions over issues of integration, equity, teacher assignments, overcrowding, and resource distribution—Personal financial struggle as a school board member—Planning her city council campaign with Julian Dixon, moving to the 9th District—Suing after Election Divisions Office rejected her filing papers due to residency requirements—Raising money for lawyers and winning the case—Campaign runoff against Bob Gay and others—Seeking petition signatures, endorsements, and money—Major campaign issues, such as cleaning up downtown—After taking office, organizing weekend cleanups, planting trees, coordinating meetings, advocating basic community services, etc.—The 9th District's population and environment in the early 1990s—Tensions between African Americans and Latinos and between South L.A. and downtown—Addressing complaints about homelessness and debates around toilets.
First learning about the Rodney King incident—Calling the police department about concerns with the DARE program and police in schools directly after the incident—Expressing opposition to the police department at a campaign luncheon—Policing and police brutality becoming a campaign priority—Reports issued in the aftermath of the incident and the civil unrest of 1992—Learning about the decision on April 29, 1992—Experiencing and watching the civil unrest unfold—Surveying and addressing the aftermath as a newly elected councilwoman—Community coalescing to clean up--Mayor's establishment of Rebuild L.A.—Problems with Rebuild L.A., Vons Markets, Richard Riordan's Federal Empowerment Zones, and wasteful spending—Conflict with Richard Riordan—The Community Coalition, fighting liquor stores and motels—Testifying before the Planning and Land Use Committee and Commission regarding liquor stores—Working with Mark Ridley Thomas—Advocating for community policing—Proposing an ordinance to prohibit the sale of individual bullets—Lack of banks and problems with payday-advance establishments—Impact of the earthquake after the uprising—Balancing the demands of downtown constituents and those in poorer areas of the district—Ongoing work with the National Association of Latino Elected Officials and the Community Coalition.
Leaving office in 2001—Richard Riordan's initiative for term limits—Views on term limits—Becoming ill at the end of her term—Ex-husband's illness and eventual passing—Walters' training at the City of Los Angeles Library to be a docent—Mayor's appointment of Walters to the Library Commission—Structure of the City of Los Angeles library system—Workings of the Library Commission—Walters' children's adult lives and occupations—Relationships carried over since holding office with Mark Ridley Thomas, Karen Bass, Herb Wesson—Supporting Tom La Bonge, Barack Obama, Karen Bass—Views on Karen Bass—Views on challenges facing elected officials,—Supporting Barack Obama's candidacy—Walters' past and ongoing commitment to diversity and equity—Building a park in the 9th District named after Gus Hawkins—Taking classes and volunteering through UCLA's Center on Aging—Serving on the board of a charter school—Obama's presidential campaign.