Isaac Epperson

Isaac Epperson (known later by family and friends as ‘Doll Baby’) was born in 1899 in Texarkana, Texas to a family with 5 children. At 16, he traveled to California by train with his siblings and father. His father died en route, but the children were afraid to tell the conductor. When it was discovered, the children were put off the train in Arizona and left with a Black mortician. Eventually they were picked up by their older brother who had come to California before them. He lived for a while with a brother in Oroville. Isaac moved to Southern California,

where he met Leanna, who had traveled from Oklahoma to Los Angeles with her sister. They married and bought a home in Venice, California. In 1934 they decided to purchase land in Monrovia, where it would be better for Leanna’s health. They bought a large plot of land and built a home. On this land they raised chickens, ducks and pigeons, grew a vegetable garden and had fruit trees. Isaac worked as butler and chauffeur before moving to Monrovia. Upon moving to Monrovia Isaac began to do janitorial work, sometimes hiring others to help him who needed short term work. Leanna worked as a domestic – the most common job open to Black women at the time. Once they began living in Monrovia, they found racial practices to be a challenge they had to work around, which they did. There was a significant amount of segregation that Black families experienced – in employment, in where they could live, and where they could shop, and an absence of Black teachers in schools. Still, there was a stable and relatively affluent Black community, made up of citizens who owned nice homes with well groomed yards and jobs for men and women at factories such as Day and Night, Goodyear and McDonnell Douglas. Isaac and Leanna joined Second Baptist Church and Isaac worked closely with the long time pastor, George Bailey. Isaac was a very spiritual man, but also put his faith and his church relationships to work on behalf of his community. When parents were contacted when a Black child had gotten into trouble, Mr. Epperson and Reverend Bailey were the ones called upon by the parents to come counsel the family. In 1949, a lawyer from the Pasadena NAACP, Mr. Johnson, came to speak to the community about the need for change. The Monrovia Branch of the NAACP was formed and Isaac took the lead – serving on and off as President for the next 20 years. Under Isaac’s leadership, the Monrovia NAACP lead the integration of Monrovia’s swimming pool, uptown stores and restaurants. The NAACP was responsible for local Black women eventually acquiring jobs in retail stores, banks, the school district, the telephone company and the gas company. Isaac was key to making this happen by calling on influential individuals and using his powerful oratorical skills to convince leaders of the need for change. When he spoke, people listened. Isaac, several adults and children had gone to the swimming pool to swim on a day that Black citizens were not allowed to swim. After a few attempts and his pointing out to the City Council that Black taxpayers of Monrovia should be able to swim any day of the week, the swimming pool restriction was removed. He also found Black stockowners of the telephone company and had them get the phone company to give equal consideration to qualified Black job applicants. As President of the NAACP, he insisted the School District hire Black teachers and clerical staff. In short, he used his ability to build solid relationships and his ‘warrior-like’ determination to create concrete change in the lives of many. One of the lives he had a profound impact on was Bob Bartlett’s, whom Isaac Epperson mentored. Bob Bartlett was President of the Junior NAACP and eventually Monrovia’s first Black Mayor. Isaac Epperson’s skills and willingness to play a leadership role in the Monrovia Black community has had a direct and an indirect influence on both the local Black community and on the city of Monrovia that is still felt today.