The late Rev. Hillery T. Broadous created a decades-long legacy of social activism and community improvement in his adopted home of Pacoima, where he and wife Rosa Lee moved to from Arkansas in the 1946, and lived until his death in 1982.
His legacy is being honored in the latest mural to beautify communities in the Northeast Valley. It is the most recent example of a surge of public art that includes the “Guernica to Home” mural in San Fernando, the “Ancestral Healing” mural in Sylmar, and the “A Valley in Time” mural, also in Sylmar, that is currently underway. All of them embrace celebrating their communities.
Younger people today may only know of Hillery Broadous from the elementary school that bears his name. But the new mural painted at the school honoring him and his family can be a way to ensure his many accomplishments are not lost to time.
Hillery founded the Calvary Baptist Church of Pacoima; fought to end unfair housing laws that barred many people of color from being able to rent or buy residences in various parts of the Valley; was a crucial organizer to what became the San Fernando Valley NAACP; and lobbied LA city officials to allocate $60,000 to develop what is now the Hubert Humphrey Memorial Park — which is located across the street from the school that bears his name.
The strategic placement of this mural, which is one of the largest murals for an LAUSD school, is off of Filmore Street, one of Pacoima’s main thoroughfares, and across the street from Hubert Humphrey Memorial Park. It was located there to ensure it would be in public view. And reflects the past as well as the future exemplified by a Mexican American girl opening up a jar of “imagination.”
Broadous and his wife raised 11 children in Pacoima. Several of them entered the ministry, and followed in their father’s footsteps to become voices for change.
“I guess you could say we did it willingly if unknowingly,” said Rev. Zedar Broadous, Hillery’s son and sixth child. Zedar, now 73, still lives in Pacoima. Zedar serves on the board of directors of the Valley Economic Alliance, and is the executive minister for the Adonai Covenant International Ministries in Pacoima.
“For myself, most of my brothers, and my extended family, we all tend to be social activists of some sort,” Zedar said.
Juan Pablo Reyes, the lead artist who has been a professional muralist for seven years, considers the Broadous project one of his most satisfying works.
“To be honest, I did not know much about [the family] other than the school’s name. But since immersing myself into the family legacy and history, it’s made me that much prouder of being a Pacoima resident, and of being able to paint someone who helped develop Pacoima and started it growing,” Reyes said.
“This mural is a testament to the whole community — and the world — that Black and Brown can work together.”
A Multifaceted Man
Hillery was more than a community activist, Zedar said. He was a professional barber before joining the ministry in 1952.
“My father comes from a family of 19 sisters and brothers, which in and of itself means you have to have some sense of commitment to individuals as well as a group. I had 10 sisters and brothers. My father used to joke that he did not become a pastor until God gave him a congregation — his children.”
Hillery took his religious calling as seriously as he did his social activism, his son recalled.
“My father, on some Sundays, would first preach on the other side of the Valley at a white church, then come back and preach at Calvary,” Zedar said. “We would have fellowship [at Calvary] with people from different backgrounds. Even though Calvary was predominantly African American, we had people from other cultures in our congregation.”
But bettering the lives of others — especially helping those being able to live where they want — was a constant motivation.
“In the 1950s and 1960s there were still what they called ‘covenants’ in the San Fernando Valley. Minorities couldn’t buy [housing] in what is now known as the West Valley,” Zedar said.
Hillery —and others — set out to end such discrimination, forming and serving on the Board of the Fair Housing Council of the San Fernando Valley. In 1963 the state legislature would pass the Rumford Fair Housing Act, which prohibited property owners from refusing to rent or sell housing on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, marital status or physical disability.
Zedar knows there probably was pushback by those opposed to his father’s activism, but he does not remember how bad it might have been. Not that there weren’t examples of oppressive treatments. The city next door to Pacoima, San Fernando, was an all-white city in the 1950’s and early 1960s. Zedar remembers his brothers going to movie theaters in San Fernando, but having to leave the city limits before dark or risk being stopped or harassed by police.
“I was not old enough at that time to know of any [specific] threats to our safety,” he said. “But for any minority, because California had a subtleness to its racism, there was always a concern.”
Threats would not have deterred his father, however, Zedar said. Besides, Hillery had a gift for galvanization, and constantly collaborated with others.
“The reality that [pushes] my family, other families or people who are working to make a change, is the people who support us and are behind us,” he said. “Our father’s name wouldn’t be where it is now had it not been for the other men and women he worked with…it takes all of us. It’s the people that support people that help all of us make a change. You can’t do it by yourself.”
Mural Encompasses the Family and the Valley
The finished artwork is massive. At 145-feet long and 27-feet tall, it covers the entire west side of the school auditorium. A majestic image of Hillery Broadous is the centerpiece of the mural. On the left lapel of Hillery’s jacket is a heart-shaped rose in tribute to his wife Rosa Lee. Further to his left are 11 other roses representing each of his children.
Other significant images include:
— Orange groves at the beginning of the mural, signifying Pacoima’s early landscapes;
— the “Rock of Pacoima”;
— an African American student symbolizing the large Black population from the 1940s through the 1970s;
— 33 images of butterflies, in memory of the 33 family members of students and school staff who died from COVID-19. Pacoima, at one time was called the “epicenter” of the coronavirus pandemic. And;
—An atom and space shuttle, as a nod to the school’s STEAM program.
Reyes submitted eight different renditions of what the mural could look like. The final one was approved by the family and supporters. Even the elementary school students had input.
“The nice thing about this is the kids were allowed to take a vote on the symbols they wanted to show about the magnet portion of the school,” Principal Victoria Littlejohn said.
“We hope our kids are getting a better understanding of who Hillery was in the community, of how he really gave a voice to underrepresented populations, and that we wish that is something our students will carry on into their futures,” she said.
Zedar who is participating in the mural’s official unveiling on Saturday, March 26, has seen the completed work and said the family is pleased.
He and family members— along with other residents and students— participated in a couple of community paint days.
“While the centerpiece is my father, then you [have to] step back and look at the whole mural in its context,” Zedar said.
“It starts with the what the Valley was at that time — mainly farmland — [but today] you have a lot of production companies in the Valley, a lot of tech companies. They may not be as well known as Silicon Valley, but we do have our share.”