Julian D. Fisher was born in Denver, Colorado on August 9, 1896, but he grew up on Lucky Baldwin’s Rancho Santa Anita. He came to Monrovia in about 1909 and remained a Monrovia resident for nearly 70 years until he died in 1976. Julian was so revered as a citizen that the Monrovia City Council closed its meeting in his memory the week of December 23, 1976 and flags at public buildings were flown at half-staff.
His father, John Isaac Wesley Fisher -- a Black man and former slave from St. Louis who was freed at the age of eight -- was the head blacksmith and farrier for Baldwin. He was among the best in the US and a prominent breeder and trainer there.
He later became a foreman on the ranch, which was on the property that is now Santa Anita Race Track and the Los Angeles County Arboretum. Baldwin marveled at John Fisher’s horse care abilities and trusted him. Baldwin was so impressed with Mr. Fisher that he sent him to North Carolina to bring back families used to working in the fields; some would become blacksmiths.
One of the Baldwin apprentices was his son Julian. Julian had diphtheria and the move to California from Denver with his mother, Annie Brumfield Fisher, in 1900 was thought to be therapeutic. Julian was almost 5 years old , small and frail. At first Julian seemed destined to become a jockey, but as his health improved he outgrew that and became an exercise rider instead. He was quite a good rider and Lucky Baldwin gave him a pony. Julian and his pony won 1st prize in the Rose Parade three years in a row. In 1915, Julian was the first Negro man to graduate from Monrovia’s high school, which was located on Ivy Avenue. He joined the Army during WWI and served with the 18th Company, 169th Depot Brigade at Fort Bliss, TX. In 1917 he was honorably discharged. He then played semi-professional baseball in Gallup, NM and supplemented his income by working in a coal mine.
When he came to Monrovia, Mr. Fisher was employed by a mercantile company that supplied food and clothing for the Santa Fe Railroad. “If we’d stop at a place to eat that refused to serve me because of racial prejudice, he (J.G. Maxwell, his employer and the owner of the mercantile business) would just walk out,” Mr. Fisher said during a newspaper interview. For 12 years he worked at Union Rock Company. Later he worked as a chauffeur and travelled often. Mrs. Morrison, owner of what became Westminster Gardens in Duarte, CA hired Julian as her driver. Julian operated his own business and held various jobs, including his favorite as a reserve law enforcement officer for the City of Monrovia.
While in Gallup, NM he met Gladys Hall, the young woman he married. Their offspring became Monrovia’s largest Black family. They had 12 children and lived in Monrovia on the east side of California Avenue just south of Walnut. Their names and birthdates are: Robert-1919, Jack and VivianJanuary and November of 1921, Jule - 1923, Paul-1924, Betty -1926, Arlene-1928, William-1929, Alfred-1931, Alice-1932, Sylvester-1934 and Edward-1939. Their seven boys all served in the United States military. Robert and Edward served in the Army, Jack in the Army Air Corp, Paul, Alfred and Sylvester in the Navy, and William in the Coast Guard. Their four girls, like their brothers, were educated in Monrovia schools. Vivian worked for Monrovia Unified School District for 40 years. Betty Fisher Gadbury was Head of Nursing at Santa Teresita Hospital and volunteered as the nurse for Huntington Elementary School when it was segregated and not funded for health services. Robert was one of the first Black workers in the Monrovia Post Office. He got the job applying through the federal system, because the local manager refused to hire minorities. Gladys was a remarkable woman who kept the family focused, educated and anchored in the Christian tradition.
After the children had grown to adulthood, their marriage ended and Julian married Althea, Julius Parker’s maternal aunt. Julian was a highly skilled employee in his own right as a Special Reserve Officer for the Monrovia Police Department for over 20 tears, a position he began in 1942. He was hired to police the Black community and had no authority to stop, search or arrest anyone other than Blacks and Hispanics. Yet, he wore the badge and uniform with pride. His intervention helped his community and inspired others to serve in their country’s military, as he and his sons did, and to be active in the community. He was a member of Monrovia’s Second Baptist Church and the American Legion. He supported the Boys Scouts and YMCA and served on the Family Service’s and Red Cross Monrovia Chapter’s boards. He was active in the Monrovia Day Association for many years and served on the Bicentennial Commission. In 1971, his granddaughter, Barbara, was the first African American named Monrovia Day Queen.
While many others in the Black community held menial jobs as domestics and janitors, members of this family have held non-traditional positions that inspired other young minorities. They have and still are dedicated volunteers and workers, civil servants and community leaders (e.g., Betty Thomas-a MAP leader and nurse trainer) who fight for social change in Monrovia, a cleaner environment and better healthcare for all people.
The Fisher family story is legendary. Many of the descendants have held leadership positions in the community and many still do. During the early 1950s, when segregation plagued Monrovia and our nation, not only did Julian Fisher earn his SGT. stripes with the Police Department in 1954 but Fisher family members held “respectable” jobs at the local post office, nursing positions in area hospitals, and were classified employees in the Monrovia Unified School District (Huntington Elementary and Clifton Middle schools). In 1981, Julian Fisher Park located on California and Chestnut Avenues was named and dedicated to this Monrovian’s memory. On August 2, 2014 several generations of the Fisher family attended the unveiling of new playground equipment there. One of seven Monrovia parks, it is named after Monrovia’s first African-American police officer.