From These Roots: A Journey from Poverty in 1930s Philadelphia to Civil Rights Legacy in 1960s Los Angeles

The story below has been shared with Family Pictures USA by Bill Doggette about the path his parents took to resist the unjust practices of a pre-Civil Rights era America in southern California.


“It is often said in ancestral black family circles, that ‘God does not bring us this far to leave us.'”– Frances Clarke Doggett

Bill Doggett stands with his arm around his mother, Frances Clarke Doggett
Filmmaker Bill Doggett with mother Frances Clarke Doggett

Such would be a saying of my mother, Frances Brown, born a century ago on June 18th, 1918 in South Philadelphia. Poverty forced her father- Randolph Brown to move to a brownstone in the late 1920s to North Philadelphia (2051 West York Street).

Frances Clarke Doggett

The youngest of 9 children, born into an impoverished North Philadelphia family, my mother was the last living niece of Mary Frances Clarke. She was one of the few African American women c. 1875-1890 who attended the Reconstruction era educational program, Freedman’s Hospital Training College for Nurses & graduate in the Class of 1900.

A graduate of Temple University – College of Education in the Class of 1940, my mother’s travels and teaching in the segregated schools of the Eastern Shore of Maryland in 1940-44 are stories of oral history which would fill a diary about the importance of the 1954 Brown v. Education Supreme Court decision.

My mother Frances was a distinguished champion for the importance of education for young people. She served as a Reading Specialist for more than 4 decades. Additionally, she was a Social Justice advocate & champion of youth of color engaging in the Performing Arts.

My mother was a proud Historian and Genealogist inspired by Alex Haley’s Roots. She was the last living granddaughter of ex-slave, Abbie and Henry Clarke.  

Portrait of Abigail Clarke

Abigail “Abbie” Clarke, (my great grandmother) of the Hardaway Plantation near Richmond, Viginia went on to be one of the founders of the first Black church in Richmond. Built after the Civil War burning of Richmond in 1865 – Sixth Mt. Zion Baptist Church was pastored by the charismatic former slave pastor, John Jasper.

  Both my mother Frances Clarke and my father, John Nelson Doggett Jr (also born in 1918) – were born into working class African American families and found their way out of poverty. They accomplished this through faith and hard work. Their prevailing belief in the values that all peoples of all races have dignity and a contribution to make inspired their work.

My parents migrated to San Francisco before relocating again down in Southern California. At the close of World War II, they helped African Americans who had moved from the South to work in the War Effort Bay Area shipyards. Southern California in 1950 was where they both left their mark in Social Justice before it was popular.

“Moving to Los Angeles in 1954, Reverend Doggett became pastor of Los Angeles’ historic Black Methodist Church, Hamilton Methodist Church, 1954-1965.”

During this time, Reverend Doggett was also treasurer for the Western Christian Leadership Conference, the West Coast division of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which was under the leadership of a young Martin Luther King, Jr.

The dawn of the early Civil Rights movement in Los Angeles was greatly benefited by the leadership of my parents. Reverend John N. Doggett Jr and Frances Clarke Doggett, whose centennial birthdays are in 2018.

During early years of the Movement (1960-62), my father was responsible for the fundraising in Southern California and throughout California for The Freedom Riders. He was also the was the chairman for the historic first Freedom Rallies (1961-62) held in Los Angeles to raise awareness and funds for SCLC and other facets of the Movement.

The original submission by Bill Doggett has been edited for clarity, but this version maintains the structure and content of his submission.

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