Month 1: Rafaela Landeros Rey
The woman who desegregated education
By Toni Momberger
Rafaela Landeros Rey was bossy, funny and always had homemade tortillas coming off the stove, and desegregation in schools began with her.
As the PTA president of Bryn Mawr Elementary School she started the fight to integrate with the white children at Mission Elementary.
Rey was born here in 1910, one year before Bryn Mawr Elementary was built as a place to put the Mexicans, who people feared carried diseases like tuberculosis.
She had attended Bryn Mawr as a girl, but as the mother of four daughters she became an activist. She was able to show how the Mexican children were treated and educated differently from other students.
The curriculum taught Mexican youth that girls should learn to make clothes and cook; boys to work with tools and in packinghouses.
The Mexican students were not taught math and reading. They were trained for manual labor. Rey herself worked as a mechanic at Norton Air Force Base for 17 years and as an orange packer for Bryn Mawr Food Growers for 30 years.
In 1942 Rey encouraged a woman she knew to be a segregation opponent to run as a write-in candidate after a man on the school board left in response to Rey's activism. The woman won, and her addition to the board led to the end of segregation in Redlands schools.
Bryn Mawr Elementary closed in August, 1944, and most of the students were sent to Mission Elementary, where Rey served as the president of their PTA.
She then lent support to end the segregation of Mexicans during the Lopez v. Seccombe case in San Bernardino. After those successes she was asked to help fight segregation in a Los Angeles district, and Redlands historian Tom Atchley said that that victory led to desegregating schools statewide.
Bigger than that, Rafaela’s successful fights in Redlands and San Bernardino were noted as examples when Brown v. Board of Education went to court.
Rey died in 1999 at age 88.