Ralph Poole: 1935-2013
Activist remembered for his devotion to family, ‘quiet diplomacy’ and being a ‘warrior for justice’
By André Coleman 06/20/2013
R emembered as a person committed to his family, social justice and helping others, activist and former Kings Villages Tenants Association President Ralph Poole died early Sunday morning at Alhambra Medical Center, two days after suffering a major heart attack.
The Little Rock, Ark. native is survived by eight of 10 children, 32 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren.
“My dad was an educator and a mentor,” Poole’s daughter, Dyana, told the Pasadena Weekly. “He had love for people and he was just a family man. He helped anyone who needed help endlessly and tirelessly. He always said, ‘Once you start something, you must complete it.’”
Poole was instrumental in starting the Black Males Forum and the Northwest Commission, according to NAACP Pasadena Branch President Gary Moody.
“He was the last of the civil action pioneers from the ’70s,” said Moody, who was also an original founder of the Black Males Forum, a group of concerned men who met each week at the Jackie Robinson Center to discuss issues facing the community.
“Ralph Poole was never afraid to step up and fight. He was an activist and an advocate. He was the first person to show up at City Hall or the Board of Education if necessary,” Moody said.
In 1990, Poole helped start the Kings Villages Tenants Association after residents there began alleging apartment managers tried to push out African-American residents from the 313-unit HUD-subsidized complex on the corner of North Fair Oaks Avenue and Washington Boulevard. At the same time, some tenants also claimed that the management company was actively purging African Americans from the rental waiting list in favor of non-English-speaking Latinos, which management allegedly believed were less likely to complain about the living conditions there. According to the tenant association’s claims, managers of the complex harassed tenant leaders, spied on them, illegally entered their apartments and evicted them without cause.
The claims of discrimination led the city to file a federal racial discrimination lawsuit against Thomas Pottmeyer & Co., owners of the complex. According to an article in the Pasadena Weekly, Special Master Jack Gertsen, a retired judge, tossed the case out of court after one hearing in 1996, which included a testimony from a handful of witnesses: a Latina who was illiterate in her own language and signed her sworn statements on the case with an X; youth counselor and former acting Police Chief Bruce Philpott, who worked with kids at Kings Villages; and then-Pasadena ACLU head and former private investigator Jim Lomako, who was working for the city’s contract civil rights attorney, Dale Gronemeier.
Up to this point, the city had already spent $3 million for nearly five years worth of legal fees. Oddly enough, during all of this, neither Poole nor any other black “victims” were ever called to testify.
Gronemeier filed a motion to have the judge removed from the case, which was ultimately settled for $850,000 before that motion could be heard.
“Ralph Poole was active in this community for justice and equity for many years,” said Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard. “I think Ralph Poole was focused on issues of priority and pursued them in a determined way, always courteous and well informed, but nevertheless determined to get a favorable outcome.”
Bogaard said the City Council would adjourn its meeting Monday in Poole’s honor.
In 2007, Poole was selected to serve on the Developer Selection Committee (DSC), which was working on finding a builder for the controversial Heritage Square affordable housing project. The group voted to award exclusive negotiating rights to local developer Danny Bakewell, but the city balked on the group’s decision and cited the report of a private investigator, who claimed that Bakewell may have had members of the DSC over to his home during the project’s review process. Poole later told the Weekly that he was never interviewed by private investigator Mike Gowing.
“We’re all apprentices of his. He is all of our mentors,” said local attorney Philip Koebel. “I went to see him on Sunday. He couldn’t really talk because he had the tape across his mouth for the tube. I talked to him, and I was confident he was going to make it through the night, but I was overconfident.”
Poole made headlines in 1987 when he — along with members of the Board of City Directors (now known as the City Council) Rick Cole, Jess Hughston and William Thomson — called for the mass resignation of all appointees serving on the city’s municipal boards and commissions in order to bring attention to bias against Northwest Pasadena residents. Of the 250 commission seats available, only 14 were occupied by African Americans.
“Here I am a poor guy and used to think, ‘How can I have anything to offer them?” Poole told the Los Angeles Times at the time. “Now I realize being in the community, the things I have to say have a great deal of validity.”
Poole was a fixture at the Jackie Robinson Center and was at the community facility just about every day, helping out any way he could, according to JRC Director Jarvis Emerson.
“His presence will definitely be missed.” Emerson told the Weekly. “He was a true cornerstone, and not just to the JRC, but to the Northwest Pasadena community as a whole. He was truly an adviser. He would definitely keep me on the straight and narrow.”
“There wasn’t very much that happened in Northwest Pasadena that didn’t first go through Mr. Poole,” said Jim Morris, a Pasadena developer and executive director of Men Educating Men About Health (MEMAH). “Community issues such as gangs, family, housing, development, policing … you name it; Mr. Poole had a hand in it.”
Poole also mentored past NAACP Presidents Joe Brown and John Kennedy, who was recently elected to the District 3 seat of the Pasadena City Council. Poole was last seen at a public event during the swearing-in ceremony for Kennedy at the Pasadena Central Library.
Poole, Kennedy said, was “a warrior for justice,” and that “he certainly was a friend of people who needed help the most. He always gave of his time and talent to help others.”
“Mr. Poole certainly was one of the people you could not remain angry with,” Brown said. “He believed in what he believed in, which was fairness and equality, because he had been in the area for so long. He brought issues to the forefront and kept them there. He was a person who knew what he was talking about. He was not a saber rattler, because he knew it would not last very long. His method was quiet diplomacy.”