Madera County Historical Society
Robert Warner had his hands full as principal of Madera High School in the 1970s when racial tensions underscored the community’s diversity.
In 1974, Madera was forced to face a racial dilemma that started strangely enough at the Madera High School swimming pool.
It began when a male student pushed a female student into the water and then ran off campus. He was apprehended by Vice Principal Perry Harper and Learning Director Barry Crow. The student, who sustained a few bumps and bruises in the confrontation filed a complaint with the district attorney, and Harper and Crow were hauled into court. After a five-day jury trial, both educators were found not guilty of the misdemeanor battery charge. The September 1 verdict, however, did not end the controversy.
On September 17, approximately 70 student demonstrators calling for “students’ rights” and “better administrators” paraded in the quad behind the Madera High School administration building while Crow looked on. Once again, tires on Harper’s car were slashed.
Immediately after the demonstration, most of the participating students boycotted classes, demanding that Harper and Crow be fired. The next night, the growing unrest found its way into the Madera Unified boardroom, when the Padres Unidos de Madera (United Parents of Madera) made an appearance and engaged in a heated exchange with some members of the board.
“Can I be assured that if my kids go back, they won’t be beaten up by these guys (Harper and Crow)?” asked one parent.
“We want our kids to grow up to be good and useful,” said another, “but how can we when there is one set of rules for them and another for the teachers?”
The next day, some of the students went back to class, but the uneasy truce dissolved as the day went on. Parents joined students in picketing in front of the high school. Soon other students were leaving classes, and with the encouragement of two Fresno organizers, approximately 100 students left the campus to gather in the afternoon in Courthouse Park.
The Fresnans said they were members of a Mexican-American student group at Fresno State University.
“We are here to help our brothers,” one of them said. “Whenever there are members of La Raza in trouble, others will rally to help.”
Realizing that the community faced a volatile situation, a summit meeting of sorts was held on Friday, Sept. 20. Attending the conference were Joe Frausto, protest leader and President of Padres Unidos de Madera; CRLA attorneys and their investigator; representatives of La Raza and MECHA from Fresno; John Negritti of the State Department of Education; Madera Unified Superintendent Duane Furman; Madera High School Principal Bob Warner; Harper and Crow; and school board members Rick Jensen and Jerry Barden.
The protestors insisted on two things: the firing of Harper and Crow and total amnesty for all protesting students. The board rejected both demands, and at the end of the day, everyone was back to square one.
In the face of this impasse, the student walkout at Madera High continued into its eighth day, and when the school board met on September 24, more than 200 people packed the boardroom to discuss the grievances of Mexican-American parents. They were led by Mrs. Delia Rocha, spokeswoman for Padres Unidos de Madera. Once again the group demanded the removal of Vice Principal Harper and Learning Dean Crow and amnesty for all students who were participating in the boycott.
Board President Kenneth Gill put off a public discussion of the matter because it was not on the agenda. He did, however, allow an executive session after the meeting adjourned. Representatives of the parent group and State Education Department observers were invited to attend the closed session.
School district officials said that as many as 100 Mexican-American students were maintaining the boycott while more than 800 continued to attend classes. Board members Jensen and Barden traveled to Sacramento the next day to discuss the tense situation with a State deputy superintendent of public instruction.
Meanwhile that night Madera High School held a Parent Council meeting in which 250 parents attended. Contrary to the opinions expressed by supporters of the boycott at the school board meeting the previous night, the Parent Council took the discussion in a different direction.
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(To be continued).