Race relations remain quiet in Tahoe
To Pearl Logan, the common threads of community run far deeper than race.
Black History Month holds meaning to this South Lake Tahoe resident of 32 years, but it’s Women’s History Month in March that occupied much of her time Thursday. The designer and seamstress is developing designer gowns for an upcoming presentation at a Soroptimist function. She’s been a member of the club for 16 years.
Logan will wear a costume depicting Mbande Nzinga, a colorful queen of Ndongo and Matamba who was honored for her work resisting the Portuguese occupation of Angola.
One need only meander through Logan’s home to get a glimpse of her own colorful personality.
Mardi Gras masks collected for three decades adorn her living room wall in every shade and texture. They highlight rose-colored valances she made to match the sofas.
Logan said she loves to sew, a craft she learned at age 5 from her grandmother. She combined the trade with a drawing ability which surfaced three years prior. Logan still runs her grandmother’s old White sewing machine, the tool of choice for the family matriarch.
“My mother bought her an electric one, but she wouldn’t use it,” she said.
When the lights go out, Logan pulls it out.
Today, the widow is a mother of five and grandmother of five.
Through the years, she’s painted, decorated and sold homes in three different lines of work.
When Logan’s away from her machines these days, she visits her family and friends in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Many of her friends have formed a pseudo family, she insisted, providing an ear when the outspoken woman wants to make a point.
Her topic Thursday morning ranged from local racial relations to how black people are depicted in the media.
Logan came to Lake Tahoe with her husband, L.J., because the couple liked the outdoors. He enjoyed backpacking and she loved to fish.
She admits the South Shore holds no reputation for being a hotbed for black culture. She compares it to her days in San Francisco.
“Years ago, I used to be starved. I’d tell my husband I need to get out of here for culture. But things have changed since then. It’s more diverse,” Logan said.
She could only recall a handful of isolated incidents in which she or a family member has experienced discrimination.
When she ran Action Realty in Tahoe before selling the business in 1999, a few accounts pulled their business. She perceived the reason as racial.
Then, there was an incident at South Tahoe High School with her daughter, who came home crying. Her father talked to her, “but it still can be upsetting,” she said.
Poor racial relations affecting Logan have occurred outside Tahoe.
In 1958, she was turned down for cashier and wrapping job at a clothing store in the Bay Area.
“I was more upset with myself that it took so long to realize he didn’t want to hire me,” she said. “Before (the) civil rights (movement), I was too dark to get a job. Afterward, I was too light.”
But for the most part, discrimination has remained outside her personal space.
Logan recently bought a coffee-table book titled “The West,” and consequently wrote the publisher an angry letter when she read that black mountain man and explorer, Jim Beckwourth, received a one-line mention that labeled him a horse thief. The Sierra Nevada town was named after the pioneer.
Then, there is the big screen.
“Our movies are still not giving the exposure in portraying black people in everyday roles,” she said.
The news organizations haven’t done much better in Logan’s eyes. She’d like to see more equal treatment given to murder cases involving black people as victims and defendants. She compared the coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial with the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., where three young black girls died.
Still, Logan believes life’s too short to remain bitter over perceived injustices of the past. And she’s made a community for herself at Tahoe — in a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
According to the 2000 Census, the number of people who identified themselves as black or African-American at South Lake Tahoe dropped to 145. In 1990, that ethnic designation applied to 223 people in the minimal growth region.