Delmer Berg : Anaheim’s Original “Antifa.”

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times flag struggleWhen the small group of Klu Klux Klan clowns showed up in Anaheim on February 27th , stirring decades old strong memories of racism and resistance to their hate message, the history of Anaheim as a KKK country came back into the spotlight. The LA Times wrote:

“The Klan has a long and troubling history with the city. Klansmen were once the dominant political force in Anaheim, holding four of five City Council seats before a recall effort led to their ouster in 1924… At the height of the group’s power in Orange County, nearly 300 Klansmen lived in Anaheim, patrolling city streets in robes and masks.  A large KKK rally once attracted 20,000 people to the city.”

The seminal account of this period, according to its author who is one of our prominent local historians, was naturally displayed in the Weekly. The interest in this period also reached the OJB,  according to the editor who had written a rebuttal : “Suddenly this piece (the rebuttal) is ranked #2 most popular in our daily site statistics” . I wonder if the rebuttal by another local historian (our own Cynthia Ward) has also experienced a spike.

KKKIn addition to providing a historical perspective, the OC Weekly has extensively covered this rally, questioning the performance of the police, which failed to prevent the violence that took place. The police in turn seems to be retaliating, by raising the suspicion that this publication may have contributed to the promotion of the hard reaction by the counter-demonstrators.

This reaction was summarized by a OC based writer and by the normally bland Executive Director of the County’s Human Relations commission, Rusty Kennedy. The writer says : “The best way to confront a hate group that has increasingly made its presence known in Anaheim is difficult to determine. Some people prefer not to give the KKK the satisfaction of receiving any attention at all. I understand that, but my bigger fear is that if we ignore the KKK, we allow racism the opportunity to fester in the dark.”

“Kennedy said he doubted there would be a Klan return to Anaheim in the near future. I think they got scared to death. They’re going to be wary of any repeat.”

Some of the anti-KKK people call themselves Antifas, short for anti-fascists. In today’s political environment, the term fascism is broadly associated with mostly violent white supremacists groups, inflaming and amplifying fear and hate against minorities.

delmer bergA few days after the rally I posted a comment in this blog about an early antifa:  “The last known American survivor who fought fascists in 1930s Spain, has died in northern California. He was 100 years old… Born in Anaheim on 20 December 1915…”

I thought that the local historical connection of anti-fascists, although briefly as his family did not stay long, was symbolic. Anaheim was not a city of only racists and  bigots, of KKK and John Birchers. Unfortunately their legacy is still alive in places like the Anaheim Chamber’s online mouthpiece. 

The relevance of this person did not get much attention here, but in other places did: ” An interesting obituary appeared in The New York Times recently, though the death of its subject last month was largely unnoticed beyond his family and friends.

delmer berg 2That’s not surprising. Delmer Berg wasn’t a celebrity. He wasn’t someone with great wealth or influence. He had never held public office. He was a Californian. He worked as a farmhand and stonemason. He did some union organizing. He was vice president of his local N.A.A.C.P. chapter. He protested against the Vietnam War and nuclear weapons. He joined the United States Communist Party in 1943, and, according to The Times, he remained an “unreconstructed Communist” for the rest of his life. He was 100.

He was also the last known living veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

“…. Mr. Berg went to Spain when he was a very young man. He fought in some of the biggest and most consequential battles of the war. He sustained wounds. He watched friends die. He knew he had ransomed his life to a lost cause, for a people who were strangers to him, but to whom he felt an obligation, and he did not quit on them. Then he came home, started a cement and stonemasonry business and fought for the things he believed in for the rest of his long life.

“I don’t believe in most of the things that Mr. Berg did, except this. I believe, as Donne wrote, “no man is an island, entire of itself.” He is “part of the main.” And I believe “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

“So was Mr. Berg. He didn’t need to know for whom the bell tolls. He knew it tolled for him. And I salute him. Rest in peace.”

You can read the entire salute here, written by Senator John McCain.

About Ricardo Toro

Chilean native and Anaheim resident for several decades. In addition to political blogging, one of his hobbies is providing habitats for the Monarch butterfly.