Hazel, Remembered

Brief, sad life of bike rides, ice cream, rejection

By R.E. Graswich
July 2024

Hazel Jackson isn’t coming home.

The young woman who shamed community leaders and brought down Land Park’s “whites only” public swimming pool is buried in a mass grave in Pennsylvania.

Hazel is mixed with eight or 10 other people who died without friends, family or money in 1969.

A representative from Mt. Zion Memorial, the cemetery near Philadelphia International Airport where Hazel is buried, tells me:

“She’s in a public grave with other people who unfortunately couldn’t afford internment. There’s no stone or marker or names. It’s sad. We don’t do that anymore, but that’s how it was in the 1960s.”

I’ve been piecing together Hazel’s life, starting in January when Inside Sacramento first told the story of the 14-year-old girl whose bravery prompted closure of Land Park Plunge, the city’s fanciest water sports center for nearly 50 years.

With a mountainous slide, fountain, changing rooms and picnic grounds, Land Park Plunge was a posh refuge on summer days. Investors in the Riverside Boulevard center were prosperous, prominent residents.

The pool had another feature Sacramento must never forget. It proudly turned away Black, Asian and Hispanic guests. The pool bragged about “restricted” admissions in newspaper ads.

That’s why Hazel deserves a hero’s honor today. She was a Black teenager who didn’t accept “restricted” policies.

She wanted to swim at Land Park Plunge, just like her white friends. With help from her grandmother, Hattie Jackson, Hazel sued the pool’s owners in 1952. She won the right to swim.

Grandmother Hattie knew a good lawyer. Her daughter Jerlean was married to Nathaniel Colley, the city’s first African American attorney. Hazel’s mother, Sadie Bell Jackson, was Jerlean’s sister.

Rather than accommodate young Hazel, the pool closed in 1955. The ownership, led by Sam Gordon of Sam’s Hofbrau, sold the property to Congregation B’nai Israel.

“They would rather go out of business than integrate their swimming pool,” Colley observed then.

David Carboni, 86, remembers Hazel. They rode bicycles to Land Park and Gunther’s Ice Cream on Franklin Boulevard. One day they rode to Land Park Plunge.

Carboni paid $1.50 for two admissions. The attendant pushed back 75 cents and said Hazel couldn’t enter.

“Hazel took off on the bike and I chased after her,” Carboni says. “She was crying and all that. I said I was sorry. I didn’t know they would be like that.”

He remembers, “She was kind of a loner. Very smart. She helped me with spelling. A lean, tall girl. Loved sports. She kind of had her own way and disposition. Very likable. I never saw her with any guy. We didn’t date or anything. Just excellent friends.”

David and Hazel were neighbors on Second Avenue in Curtis Park. She had problems at home. Discord with parents Sadie Bell and Selious Jackson pushed young Hazel into Grandmother Hattie’s arms.

“Her folks disowned her,” Carboni says. “It was more her father, not her mother. He was rough. There was nothing you could do about it back then.”

David and Hazel planned to walk together at the 1956 McClatchy High School graduation. Hazel didn’t show up. “Nobody knew what happened to her,” Carboni says. “She didn’t go to the all-night dance. Nobody ever saw her again.”

Hazel skipped graduation. Three years later, she married a man named Jerry Miller in Reno. From there, records fade.
The final certainty is her death certificate. She committed suicide by drug overdose in Philadelphia on Aug. 2, 1969. She was 31.

The Colley-Jackson family waited decades to learn this. When Hazel left town after high school, she stopped communicating with her family.

“Now we finally know what happened to her,” a cousin tells me.

David Carboni worked four decades as a gardener and plumber at Sacramento State University. He never forgot Hazel Jackson.

“I just miss the girl,” he says. “I wish she were still around. If you find where she’s buried, I would be willing to pay to have her removed and brought home.”

I found her. But Hazel’s not coming home.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at regraswich@icloud.com. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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