In 1959, a Los Angeles physician sued a private school after it refused to admit his six year-old daughter. But the Superior Court quickly dismissed the lawsuit, concluding that Dr. A. Palmer Reed had accused the Hollywood Professional School of doing something that wasn’t legally prohibited. Even if the school had denied admission to Cynthia Denice Reed because she was black, the court concluded, “the anti-discrimination statutes were never designed for the purpose of regulating what strictly private groups shall do.” In Los Angeles, as in the rest of the country, private schools had every right to offer admission only to white students. They would maintain that legal right until 1976.
In the year that Dr. Palmer filed his unsuccessful lawsuit, the Westland School was ten years old – and it had prohibited racial discrimination since the moment of its founding. In a December 19, 1949 meeting, making their first rules for the operation of a new school, the Westland board of trustees considered and passed Article IX of their original bylaws:
“It was moved by John McTernan that there shall be no discrimination in the administration of any of the affairs of this corporation against any student, prospective student, member, prospective member, or any other person on account of race, creed, color, national origin or political belief.”
The measure passed, decades before the trustees had any legal obligation to pass it. From the first moments that Westland existed, the founders of the school knew what the institutional culture would be: open, diverse, pluralistic. It was a decision – and a culture – that they passed down to the generations of parents, teachers, and students who have followed. Our history is who we are.