My father was an Episcopalian missionary in Davis, California, before the church appointed him associate rector at Santa Barbara’s Trinity Episcopal Church in 1961. It was quite a change to move from a small, rural college town to one of the prettiest cities in the world. Palm trees grew in front of the church. Olive trees grew on Olive Street, figs on Fig Avenue. In Davis, Dad started out holding services in the local movie theater before the Episcopal Church purchased a house we were able to convert into a parish church. Parishioners from the campus theater department turned its windows into colorful stained-glass replicas with only glue and tissue paper.
What a contrast to the imposing Trinity Church, one of the oldest Episcopal churches in the state. In the English Gothic style, it is built of local sandstone and designed by Philip Hubert Frohman, the same architect for the Washington National Cathedral. It all seemed near perfect to me and my brother and sister, especially when my parents were able to buy a house in the Samarkand, a neighborhood of charming houses and underground utilities.
I loved Santa Barbara on first sight, and I love it still today, but I soon discovered that not all of Santa Barbara was as pretty as it first appeared. In the 1960 election, John F. Kennedy received only 43 percent of the vote in S.B. County running against Richard Nixon, who many Californians already knew could be a nasty piece of work. The conservatives in Santa Barbara weren’t just of the blue-haired aristocrat variety. There was also an entrenched hotbed of wing-nut conspiracy theorists and, as it turned out, racists. Hope Ranch still had a racial restrictive clause in its covenant, and the ultra-conservative John Birch Society, a totalitarian right-wing political advocacy group, opened The American Opinion Book Store on East Canon Perdido Street in the center of Santa Barbara, half a block from the main post office.
Thomas Storke, owner and editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press and himself a conservative aristocrat, won the Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Writing in 1962 for his exposé of the Birchers. He denounced the semi-secret society’s wild accusations against President Dwight Eisenhower, whom they called a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” as well as Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, CIA director Allen Dulles, other political and educational leaders, “and even ministers of the Gospel.”
Into this politically charged environment came the Everton family.
My father had attended Union Theological Seminary, near Columbia University in New York City, when the faculty included Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, early critics of Hitler and Nazism and two of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. Their strong social and ethical ideals influenced many, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Clyde W. Everton, my father.
Dad’s time at Union provided the foundation that gave him the courage to become the religious leader he was. Every Sunday, his sermons at Trinity were essays on the major personal, social, political, and scientific issues of the day. He wanted to provide a religiously grounded perspective to what everyone was talking and thinking about. I think it made him refine and reflect on his own faith.
My father lived what he preached. He joined FAIR (Fellowship to Advance Intergroup Relations), representing Santa Barbara at their national conference in St. Louis. He spoke on racial injustice at Santa Barbara City College, where the daily paper quoted him as saying, “People are human beings regardless of color of skin. This is a problem that concerns all of us.” Today this might sound like pretty bland stuff, but in the ’60s, when racial segregation was a reality across the country, when civil rights activists were being beaten and killed in the South, it sounded to many in Santa Barbara as radical, communist speech.
When, in 1963, the California legislature passed the Rumford Fair Housing Act, a law intended to stop racial discrimination in the selling or renting property to “colored” people, my father publicly supported it. A year later, however, the California Real Estate Association sponsored Proposition 14 to re-legalize racial discrimination in housing. The John Birch Society and the California Republican Assembly endorsed the proposition. My father preached against it, saying racial justice was one of Jesus’s core messages and that racial bigotry was un-Christian.
Evidently not everyone agreed. When Dad and Roy Wilkins, the executive secretary of the NAACP, spoke at Santa Barbara Junior High on civil rights, the News-Press printed a photo of the two men together. Soon an anonymous letter arrived at our house with the clipping, on which was written: “You must be proud of your Negroid brethrens showing off their civilization and bestialities.”
That same year the church offered our family a lovely house that had been donated by a generous parishioner. It was only three blocks from Trinity and near our schools and the center of town. The only problem came when my parents had to put our Samarkand house on the market and they began looking for a Realtor who was not supporting Prop. 14. This decision upset quite a few people in town who were shocked that my family would insert their morality into their daily lives. Some parishioners thought my father was too political. One Realtor asked him directly, “Do you mean to say that you would sell to a Negro?” He told her he would sell to anyone who could meet the financial terms. That’s when rumors began to circulate, even around the church community: “Did you know that the Evertons will sell only to Negroes?” “Did you know that the Evertons turned down a perfectly good offer from a white family?” It was getting crazy.
Finally, the Advisory Committee on Human Relations asked the Santa Barbara Board of Realtors to have their members cease and desist from misrepresenting the facts. Gladyce O. Kriger, a local Realtor, sent a letter to the editor, writing that she hoped the Board of Realtors would ignore the request from the Advisory Committee and instead have the tax assessor investigate “the churches and their paid preachers exhorting their parishioners to vote as they dictate. We, the taxpayers, are paying extra so that the Churches may be tax free, but this should stop when they begin to advocate political policy. Perhaps too, Mr. Everton’s flock had better give some thought to this man’s policy of discrimination when he passes the collection plate around.”
Happily, people came to my father’s defense, including Barbara Kelly, wife of Frank K. Kelly, vice president of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, located in Santa Barbara. She replied a shepherd’s responsibility is to guide and rescue their flock from straying into error and self-destruction. “Miss Kriger should discover the emptiness of threats against church’s pocketbook, for nothing can separate the church and its members from the love of Christ. The same is true about efforts to get a church’s tax exemption taken away because of ‘political issues.’ As a fact, however, ‘politics’ is in the finest sense means the work of citizens in governing themselves; clergymen must assist their people in performing this work in truth, in honor and with due consideration for the rights of others. Because Proposition 14 would ‘restore’ no rights but those of pre-Rumford Act, unreasonable discrimination, and because every citizen needs equality under the law, a ‘NO’ vote is the only moral answer in the debate.”
For us children, it wasn’t easy to see our father attacked. My brother, Jon; my sister, Pat; and I were not as forgiving as our parents. We felt the pressure he was under and wanted to defend him. My parents, trying to protect us from the ugliness, forbade us from answering the phone, which often spewed spite and hate. But we loved to get to the phone first. The callers were speaking our language — taunts straight out of grade school. They were mostly from unsophisticated people. But we all knew the callers weren’t the ones who had initiated the lies and innuendos. Of course, a few phone calls were genuinely scary, very real threats, and we knew to hang up without saying a word.
Luckily for my father, Rev. James Pike was the Episcopal bishop of California. He was controversial, supporting civil rights, fair housing, women’s rights, birth control, abortion, the rights of homosexuals, and civil liberties, and he was against McCarthyism, censorship, and, eventually, the war in Vietnam (as was my father). Pike was also critical of the theology in the church, advocating for “less beliefs, more belief.” He thought the doctrine of the Trinity to be “excess baggage.” Bishop Pike admired and supported the work my father was doing.
But even so, it wasn’t easy going against popular opinion. Courage often isn’t a public spectacle. Social change requires people lead by example. Every day, my father had to make choices between what was easier and what was right. As a child, I thought what he did was natural. It was only when I was older that I saw how difficult it was. My father’s faith was the cynosure of his actions. His quiet conviction and courage were formidable. He was a man of integrity and grace. He was a role model I rarely measured up to but not for lack of trying.
Before each meal, Dad would say grace: “Bless this food to our use and us to Thy service and make us ever mindful of the needs of others. Amen.” We repeated that prayer three times a day, a reminder to lead a Christian life, and to be “ever mindful of the needs of others” was a constant reminder to fight the good fight for justice and equality.
My father wasn’t a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher threatening eternal damnation if you didn’t follow his interpretation of God’s wishes. He was a thoughtful, principled man of real faith who believed in the Biblical ethic of standing with the powerless against the powerful. He was a role model for living a Christian life.
In a few years, the vestry would reward his moral courage by firing him.