The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America

The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America

The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America

The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America

Excerpt

It started on the very day that the freshman assemblyman arrived in Sacramento to join the California legislature in early January 1965. Still exhilarated from his upset victory, Willie Brown was confident that as the first African American from San Francisco elected to the legislature, he could make a difference. Eager to prove himself, he had almost immediately made a mistake. There was one critical rule in Sacramento, and it was simple: Don't mess with Big Daddy! Big Daddy was the 300-pound speaker of the Assembly, Jesse Unruh. The press called him a "political boss" and claimed he pulled more strings than the governor, Edmund G. "Pat" Brown. In fact, the governor and the speaker mostly worked together. Over the previous six years, they had passed a remarkable package of legislation that had given the state strong civil rights laws; redesigned education, transportation, and water systems; and financed ambitious urban and poverty programs. The governor took most of the credit, though Jesse Unruh, through his ruthless control of the legislature, had done much of the heavy lifting. He did not mind being notorious, although he disliked the Big Daddy label, which had come from Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. What he disliked even more were legislators who did not know their place. He was not going to like Willie Brown.

The Willie Brown–Jesse Unruh contest is one of the best-loved stories of recent California politics. A feud that turned ultimately into a succession story, it began that first day of the 1965 session when Brown refused to support Unruh's reelection to the speakership because Unruh had campaigned for Brown's primary election opponent. Unruh promptly retaliated, and over the next several years the Assembly understood that the very junior Brown and the very pow-

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