The day before US Sen. Kamala Harris and presidential candidate slammed former Vice President Joe Biden in the Democratic debate for his relationship with segregationists, US Central District Senior Judge Manuel L. Real, the man who forced the Pasadena Unified School District to implement busing, died at age 95.
A cause of death was not immediately known. No memorial plans have been announced.
Real’s controversial ruling was decided by the US Supreme Court and eventually came to define actions taken by school districts all over California in efforts to address a racial exclusion crisis occurring in public schools.
“I am sad beyond words at the death of our beloved friend, colleague, mentor and leader,” said US Central Court Chief Judge Virginia A. Phillips in a prepared statement.
“Judge Real has been the heart and soul of our district since it was formed in 1966 and his passing leaves an unfillable void for us, his family, the legal world and the larger community,” Phillips wrote. His legacy of public service is an inspiration beyond compare.”
On Jan. 20, 1970, Real ruled that the Pasadena Unified School District could not discriminate based on race and ordered that
“Commencing in September of 1970, there shall be no school in the District elementary or junior high or senior high school, with a majority of any minority students.”
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed local residents, Jim and Bobbie Spangler, Wilton and Dorothy Clarke and Skipper and Pat Rostker.
According to a 2007 article written by Pasadena Weekly Editor Kevin Uhrich, racial issues in Pasadena went beyond segregation. The American Nazi Party had set up shop in nearby El Monte and the Southern-based White Citizens Council, a group whose members belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, tried to establish a foothold in Pasadena.
In 1968 — the year that both Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated — the Spanglers, along with the Rostkers and Clarkes, filed the federal lawsuit.
But it all began in 1965, when the racial disparity in PUSD schools reached a crisis level after hundreds of white families pulled their children out of John Muir High School and moved them into the newly created La Cañada School District — more than a decade after the Supreme Court had ordered all schools to desegregate.
The African-American population continued to grow as black families began moving into Pasadena and Altadena in the wake of the Watts Riots, which left 34 people dead — 23 of them African Americans. Another 3,500 people were arrested and 1,000 buildings sustained $40 million in damages.
In response to this “white flight,” wealthier white families of East Pasadena began placing their children in Pasadena High School, and African-American students were placed in John Muir in Northwest Pasadena.
To appease white parents living near Linda Vista, the PUSD opened Blair High School near the South Pasadena border in hopes of stemming the tide of white families leaving the district.
But that only made matters worse, Blair was 20 percent black, Pasadena High School became 23 percent black and John Muir was almost 60 percent African American.
The families lost the lawsuit in state court. But they persisted and filed their case again the next year in federal court. Real later found that the school district was guilty of committing “intentional segregative acts.”
“The evidence in this case establishes that there is racial imbalance or segregation in the student bodies and faculties of the Pasadena Unified School District at all levels, elementary schools, junior high schools, and senior high schools,” Real ruled.
The case was later successfully argued in the Supreme Court by the ACLU in 1978.
The impacts of busing on John Muir High School are explored in the local documentary, “Can We All Get Along? The Segregation of John Muir High School,” by John Muir High alumnus and local filmmaker Pablo Miralles.
“The case was almost dropped, if a plan by the school board to return the traditional neighborhood of East Altadena to Muir had been passed,” Miralles said. “But the neighborhood fought the plan, preferring to stay at the newly constructed PHS.”
The longest-serving federal district judge in modern history, Real was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the Central District of California in 1966, just four years before he ruled in the Pasadena case.
During his tenure at the Central District, Real also lent his considerable assistance to understaffed courts throughout the country and served as a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States from 1981 to 1984.
Real received his bachelor’s degree in 1944 from USC and his law degree from Loyola Law School in 1951. He served in the US Navy Reserve during World War II from 1943 to 1945.