Arthur Valentine—1892-1967

Pablo CapraBy Pablo Capra      July 10, 2020

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In Topanga’s past, there is an eerily familiar story of a police attack on an African American man on Memorial Day that happened exactly 100 years before the death of George Floyd. The man was Arthur Valentine, and the attack similarly left a tear in the social fabric that altered the course of race relations. Arthur Valentine (1892-1967) was born in Des Moines, IA, and lived in downtown LA off Central Ave. According to his granddaughter, Jataun Valentine, a Venice community leader whose face you may know from a mural on Lincoln Blvd. near Rose Ave., Arthur Valentine worked as the chauffeur for a Topanga family. On May 30, 1920, when Memorial Day was celebrated, Valentine, his wife Charlotte, children Arthur Jr. and Gwendolyn, and friend, Horace Walker, tried to go swimming at Topanga Beach in front of Cooper’s Camp. They were immediately hassled by proprietor Miller Cooper and Deputy Sheriff Archie Cooper. Five-year-old Gwendolyn was pushed aside, which may have been the breaking point for Valentine. The Cooper brothers claimed that Valentine had refused to pay the fee to use their property and had defended his right to be below the mean tide line by pulling a gun. Archie disarmed him, fought him one-on-one while the others were held at gunpoint, and arrested him. Valentine claimed that the fight was racially motivated and they had pistol-whipped him. Years later, the African American newspaper, The California Eagle, wrote that he’d been shot in the leg. Jataun remembers that he did have a bad leg, and that he wore a monocle to correct an injured eye. She had heard his injuries were the result of a fight, but he never talked about his problems. Instead, she thinks he dealt with misfortune by striving harder for success. He went on to grow a side business making Black cosmetics, and then became a real estate agent. The Cooper brothers were born in a small town called Danby, near Ithaca, NY. Miller Cooper, the older brother, was usually mild-mannered enough to stay out of the news. Besides managing Cooper’s Camp, he developed the land behind it into the Topango Ranch. He lived there with his wife Mary M., daughters Edna, Sarah, and Mary Laurania, and father-in-law Henry Monroe, who ran the Topanga Store.
Arthur Valentine—1892-1967
Muralist's by is Vergara who completed the mural in January 2020.
Jataun and Pablo Capra. Photographer is San Ade.
Archie Cooper was hot-headed, reckless, and stubborn. Before moving to Topanga Beach, he’d been a motorcycle cop in South Pasadena. A three-year report showed that, since he’d been hired, there were fewer warnings given and double the number of fines and arrests. Cooper had been in at least six speeding accidents, miraculously escaping each time with minor injuries.

A second deputy sheriff, Canadian Frank DeWar, also got involved in the beach fight, either because he was living there, too, or just happened to be visiting for the holiday. This tough guy was a veteran of two wars, and would go on to become Los Angeles’s ultimate noir cop, in charge of the city’s anti-gangster squad.

Miller’s father-in-law Henry Monroe held a gun at the beach fight, but his participation was considered insignificant.

Were these men racists? It seems so. In court, their attorney Samuel S. Hahn, who ominously went by “S. S.,” tried to justify their actions by saying that “he would not care to be close to any colored person” either. More race-baiting comments were made by their second attorney, John L. Richardson.

During this time, Los Angeles was experiencing a Ku Klux Klan resurgence. In Santa Monica Canyon, “the greatest Ku Klux Klan initiation ever held in the West” took place on March 29, 1922. Cars lined the beach for more than a mile, as 300 Klansmen inducted 800 new members, with 200 others in attendance.

Weeks later, an incident called “The Inglewood Raid” led to the outing of many Klansmen who were Los Angeles officials, including Sheriff William Traeger, the boss of Archie and DeWar. Traeger was especially close to DeWar, promoting him to Undersheriff, honoring him with a diamond-studded badge, and treating him as his successor. However, just as Traeger was about to leave office, DeWar died in a plane crash.
Kneen's Kamp, nearby, advertised with the initials KKK Los Angeles times 1919-07-09
Police Chief Louis Oaks was also outed as a Klansman. Responding to accusations that the KKK was undermining the morale of the police force, his department outrageously stated that, while 50 percent of its officers were indeed KKK members, it saw “no reason why the policemen cannot join the organization if they so wish, provided they perform their duties.”

The Valentine case ended, after nearly three years of strategic delays in Los Angeles Superior Court, when charges against the Cooper brothers and DeWar were dismissed because of “insufficient evidence.”

The California Eagle published its assessment of what the case had meant to the African American community 25 years later.

“…[W]hile a satisfactory victory was not won, at least Negroes of this community served notice on that element seeking to establish a Jim-Crow policy on the ocean beaches, that they would fight to the last ditch to protect and preserve their citizenship rights.”
—“On the Sidewalk,” The California Eagle, January 2, 1947

The embarrassment of these events led to a decrease in the KKK and its eventual outlawing in California.

African Americans decided that they needed their own beach and established their presence at Bay Street Beach in Santa Monica, where they had historically felt safe because it was near a Black church. Bay Street Beach became an important gathering place for decades and is also known for producing the first recorded California surfer of color, Nick Gabaldon.
Bay Street Beach was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.
***
This is an excerpt from Pablo Capra’s book Topanga Beach: A History, 1820s-1920s, now available from Topanga Homegrown, The Reel Inn, and Capra’s website (brasstackspress.com). Pablo Capra is a board member of the Topanga Historical Society. (topangahistoricalsociety.org)

For The Record


In my article,"Arthur Valentine—1892-1967,”(The Canyon Chronicle, July 10, 2020), I observed that "Kneen’s Kamp advertised with the initials KKK by inserting the word 'Komfort' into its name." However, I have no evidence that this was a reference to the Ku Klux Klan, or that the Kneens were supporters of that group.—Pablo Capra
Pablo Capra

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