1939 White Witness Defends Black Defendant “Regardless of…Race”

These are two signed letters from 1939 regarding a court case involving Oliver V. Hemphill. The first letter is sent to Mr. Clarence M. Head* (who, from the letter is apparently white) from Dennis V. Allen, President of the San Diego Race Relations Society. In the letter, Allen thanks Head for being a character witness for the accused. According to the letter, Hemphill is “charged with an unseemly crime of which grave doubts exist as to his guilt.” Allen describes Hemphill as “a member of the colored race,” and says “I therefore, wish to express to you my very deep appreciation for your bold stand for what you consider Justice, regardless of ones race.”

The second letter is quite a moving hand-written expression of gratitude to Mr. Clarence M. Head from “Mr. and Mrs. Oliver V. Hemphill.” In it he states, “I am writing you to thank you for what you have did for me. Words cannot express how grateful I am to you for your kind deed.”

*In 1924, Dennis V. Allen founded the San Diego Race Relations Society, a group that sought to end prejudice against racial, national, and religious groups. This group was instrumental in pushing for desegregation in public spaces, as well as in challenging the denial of jobs because of religion, race or color. Dennis V. Allen, the president of the Race Relations Society, also helped expand employment opportunities for San Diego’s Black community. Courtesy of San Diego History Center