Alex Wilson | Ventura County Reporter
John R. Hatcher III spent his life fighting for civil rights. He was the leader of the Ventura County Chapter of the NAACP for nearly 40 years, and rose to national prominence in the organization.
His legacy could soon be enshrined for future generations under a plan to name downtown Oxnard’s U.S. Post Office in his honor.
HR 5659, the bill to name the building at 1961 North C Street the “John R. Hatcher, III Post Office Building,” was introduced by Congressmember Julia Brownley (Dist. 26). HR 5659 was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on July 14, by a vote of 348 to 63. The bill must still go before the U.S. Senate and be signed by President Joe Biden.
“John was a fearless advocate for the people and the community that he loved so deeply,” Brownley said. “He was integral to the empowerment of Black Americans throughout Ventura County through the numerous organizations he founded and established, which continue to carry on his legacy of social justice and racial equality to this day.”
HATCHER FAMILY LEGACY
In some ways, the July 14 vote by the U.S. House of Representatives supporting Brownley’s bill also honors Hatcher’s father, who played a role in the start of the civil rights movement, and his daughter Regina K. Hatcher-Crawford, who took the reins of the local NAACP chapter after he passed away in 2017.
Hatcher-Crawford told the Ventura County Reporter that her father was born in 1932 in Birmingham, Alabama, under discriminatory Jim Crow laws. Her grandfather John R. Hatcher II was a leader of the first NAACP chapter formed there, she said, and there’s even a street in Birmingham named after her grandfather.
“It was kind of the birthplace of the civil rights movement. And so he was credited for a lot of things that happened there in the community in Birmingham,” she said, adding that her grandfather held classes on what Black people should do if pulled over while driving, and also helped people register to vote.
Hatcher-Crawford explained that under Jim Crow laws, Black people had to take an unfair test to become eligible to vote, and sometimes faced trick questions meant to trip them up. She recalls laughing with her father over what his dad taught him about answering the questions, when her father was almost old enough to vote.
“My grandfather said, ‘Remember, if they ask you silly questions, you always give them a silly answer back.’ And so, my father said, the lady asked him ‘How many bubbles are in a bar of soap.’ And he said, ‘9689, ma’am.’ ‘What was George Washington’s wife’s name?’ and he says ‘Mrs. Washington.’”
“WE’RE BEING HEARD AS A COMMUNITY”
Hatcher served in the Air Force for 22 years. According to his daughter, the family moved every four years while he was on active duty, and she was born at Hunter Air Force Base in Savannah, Georgia. Another base he was stationed at was Oxnard Air Force Base, which was later converted into the Camarillo Airport. After leaving active duty, Hatcher worked as a civilian civil service employee with the Department of the Navy. Hatcher loved Oxnard and decided to make it his permanent home.
Just like her father, Hatcher-Crawford was exposed to the civil rights movement from an early age.
“My father took me to my first march when I was about five years old and it happened to be in Oxnard, and it was for the farmworkers in a Cesar Chavez group,” she recalled. “And so as I grew up, I understood that as a people of color, Blacks, we are sometimes treated unfairly. And so in order for us to get our equal share, as people now put it, you have to stand up for it.”
Having the post office named in honor of her father will be a source of pride, she said.
“For the Black community, for the community as a whole, for people who knew him and worked with him, it gives them ideas that we’re being heard as a community. Because too many times we see buildings named after others but not anyone that is Black. So actually in Ventura County, from my understanding, this will be the first federal building named after somebody locally. So it gives us an idea that we now have something that we can say that somebody we all know, that loved this community, is being recognized.”
LOCAL POLITICIANS REMEMBER HATCHER
Brownley said she knew Hatcher for many years starting when she represented Oxnard in the state legislature and that it’s an honor for her to pass the bill recognizing him by naming the post office after him. Brownley also admires Hatcher-Crawford for her continuing leadership.
“She’s definitely a person who reaches out to me and I reach out to her and we’ve been to lots of different rallies together and she’s carrying on her father’s legacy,” Brownley said.
The Congressmember said she’s already spoken with U.S. Senator Alex Padilla about the importance of passing the bill in the Senate and sending it to the president’s desk for final approval.
Ventura County Supervisor Carmen Ramirez (Dist. 5) worked as a legal aid attorney for many years and said she and Hatcher often asked each other for help on issues including housing and job discrimination. She said that Hatcher’s caring personality helped him get things accomplished.
“He was serious, but had a great sense of humor. Fantastic smile and a warm personality. He was a person who loved people. He did not hold grudges,” Ramirez recalled. “He was very strong in the values he held, and he was a very engaging and fun person to be with. But don’t ever let anybody think he would allow people to get away with injustice. He wasn’t just about African American people and their rights; he was about everybody’s rights, and he spoke up for it.”
Ramirez said she’s looking forward to a ceremony officially renaming the post office and seeing his name on the building.
“It will be a reminder to people about John’s legacy. Every day we will see it. Those who didn’t know him will get information and learn about what he did here in Oxnard and Ventura County. So it’s spectacular. I think it’s great.”
This story was originally published by the Ventura County Reporter on August 5, 2022.