Hazel’s Story

Her bravery changed the city, but she’s forgotten

By R.E. Graswich
March 2024

There must be something we can do for Hazel Jackson. Her bravery brought a reckoning that inspires today.

She forced Land Park gentry to confront their indifference to racism. She shamed local business leaders for their ownership of a sports facility that refused to serve Black people.

Hazel Jackson made a difference. Thanks to her, part of the city’s recreational and sporting life untethered itself from an anchor of institutional bigotry.

She didn’t make racism disappear, but she made it tougher for respectable citizens to support racist policies or pretend those policies didn’t exist.

In January, I wrote about the ugly history of Land Park Plunge and Riverside Baths, a recreational facility enjoyed by generations from 1909 to 1955.

The plunge and baths were a gathering place, a swimming pool filled with “artesian” waters. The facility sponsored swim teams and swim meets. There were dressing areas and picnic grounds.

Delightful on summer days, the pool stayed open almost to midnight. But there was a catch. No Black people were admitted morning, noon or night.

Hazel Jackson ended that. She was 14, a student at California Junior High School. She lived at 2754 Second Ave. in Curtis Park with her grandmother Hattie Jackson.

On May 23, 1952, Hazel’s class visited Land Park Plunge for a picnic. Other students were welcomed, but not Hazel. She was Black. Pool staff said she couldn’t enter.

When Hattie Jackson heard what happened, she contacted Nathaniel Colley, the only Black lawyer in town. Three years out of Yale Law School, Colley was building a reputation as a warrior against discrimination.

Colley filed a $10,000 damage suit against Land Park Plunge on behalf of the Jacksons. The case was settled for $250 plus attorney’s fees.

The agreement applied only to Hazel. Presumably other Black people would still be turned away. But decades of unchallenged racism were over at Land Park Plunge.

In an era of emerging civil rights, the pool became an embarrassment among enlightened Land Park families. It closed in 1955. Congregation B’nai Israel stands there today.

Years passed and Colley gained fame for his legal skill and courtroom eloquence. He was honored by presidents and Supreme Court justices.

Colley was a sportsman who owned a stable of racehorses in Elk Grove, Priscilla Belle Farms. He was chairman of the California Horse Racing Board. He died from brain cancer at his ranch in 1992, age 74. His legacy endures with a high school named for him.

Hazel Jackson wasn’t so fortunate. When I researched this story, I hoped Hazel might still be alive, maybe a great-grandmother, still in town. That’s not what I found.

Hazel advanced from Cal Junior High to McClatchy High School. After her 1956 graduation, the trail grows cold.

I followed leads down winding roads, mostly to nowhere. There were many Hazel Jacksons born in California around 1938. There’s a marriage in Reno in 1958. Our Hazel? Doubtful.

I tracked Hazel to Philadelphia and a three-story, red brick row house. The address is 2129 Christian St., near Graduate Hospital in Center City. She worked as a key punch operator. The row house is where Hazel Jackson died Aug. 2, 1969.

On the bright yellow death certificate, the medical examiner typed, “Ingested overdose of multiple drugs while temporarily mentally ill.” Cause of death was suicide. She was 31.

Authorities turned to Hazel’s pastor, the Rev. Cecil Dubois Gallup of Holy Trinity Baptist Church, for background.
The pastor said Hazel lived alone four blocks from church. She was single, no family. She was buried at Mount Zion Cemetery in Collingdale, Pennsylvania. Today Mount Zion has no record of Hazel Jackson.

Like she never existed.

But Hazel Jackson did exist. Sacramento owes her. She did something incredibly brave at age 14, stood up to a half century of racism at a popular sports and recreation facility.

If the city can’t find a way to honor her memory, it’s up to the rest of us.

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

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