Lamb Lambert, Author

Cheryl returned, “I’m sorry, but I can’t find anything in our archives, Mr. Lambert. What I would like you to do is to make an appointment with our archivist, Manuel Escamilla. He can scan the articles and photos you have, and make sure they get into our computer system.” She gave us his direct number, and the days he would be in the library.

We returned the following week with our folder of documents and photos.

“Please, call me Manny.”  Soft spoken and easy going, he spent the next three hours scanning and downloading our documents into the library’s history database. Then he photocopied the articles, stamped them property of Santa Ana Public Library, and placed them in the manila police folder.

“Did you bring a blank CD with you?” he asked. I had indeed – I also brought my Canon camera with me. And while Manny copied the scanned files onto the CD for our personal use, I snapped photos of the pages from the illustrated police book titled History of Santa Ana Police Department 1869-1978. Lamb had worked there from January 1967 until October 1973.

                                  ***

Curiosity got the better of us. Two weeks later, we returned to the History Room. Each of our documents in the manila police folder was missing. Manny tried for over an hour to find the documents he had downloaded into the computer. “Unbelievable! Everything is buried so deep it’s impossible to find.”

Manny would be the first –but not the last- to tell us that certain news articles had a way of disappearing. He recommended we purchase a humidity gauge or a dehumidifier, to protect the news clippings.

                                  ***

We did, but we also got sidetracked. Lamb started a new business that would be another first in the life and career of Harlen “Lamb” Lambert, bringing positive recognition to him both at home and abroad.

In January 2016 we completed end-of-business arrangements and formally retired for the fifth time.

In March 2016 it had been eleven years since we’d worked on Lamb’s book. My son-in-law carried the box out from the guest bedroom closet. He helped me unpack and organize its contents on the dining room table.

Within an hour, folder and CD in hand I made another trip to the Santa Ana Library. I checked the police folder and requested the library archivist review the history database. Nothing had changed – there was no information, with the exception of the original hire notice and one line in the library’s Raitt Street Chronicles parroting the same information.

In April 2016 the mail carrier dropped the North Orange County Community College Class Schedule in our mail box. I was delighted to read a creative writing for seniors’ class was available – we attended the session and signed up, eager to complete this memoir about one man’s experience as the first black police officer in Orange County, in the city of Santa Ana, California. His words, his story, his sorrows and successes are typically American - but unique to him.

It’s time to break the silence - without stories like his, people might forget that life in these United States was regrettably once really like this. Is it still?

It should have been a time of triumph for the Santa Ana Police Department, not an occasion when profound hatred, bigotry and power drove a man’s career and life - like a giant eraser - into obliteration.

                                 ***
 
I unlocked the mailbox and opened the envelope containing the 2005 stamped copyright title change for my husband’s manuscript, Tough To Be a Hero When You’re a ‘Nigger Cop,’ quoted from the June 7, 1970 Orange County Evening News front page headline. I placed the document in a manila folder and walked to the guest bedroom.

Several boxes were stored on the closet floor. The carton of colorful Christmas wrappings and ribbons shifted as I pulled a heavy box out from under it.  With some difficulty, I dragged the box to the center of the room. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, I began unpacking the box of news clippings, framed awards, black and white photographs, the medal of valor encased in its gold-leaf frame, police department memos, and letters from community residents about my husband, Harlen “Lamb” Lambert.

Picking up the dog-eared manuscript from the bottom of the box, I brushed away a dried silver fish. The 1972 copyright date of Nigger Pig was a testament to the many years the 156 pages of typewritten memories had lain dormant.

As I leafed through the manuscript, I wondered if finally, Lamb and I would settle down and dig in. We had just retired for the fourth time in 2005.

Our dining room table soon became cluttered as we organized the materials to begin structuring and rewriting the story, which at this point, read like a narrative. The bones of the story were solid, but it was necessary to add the meat. We needed to establish timelines for crucial events, build Lambs’ character from childhood, develop primary themes, talk with people he worked and played with. We needed to research, among other things, the history of Santa Ana, the John Birch Society and their role within the police department, and the hurts of race and segregation Lamb experienced.

The toughest job, for me, would be to get my ever-in-motion Lamb to sit still long enough to answer questions that I would attempt to translate into word pictures.


                                 ***

We drove to the Santa Ana Library to meet with Cheryl Eberley, the History Room Librarian. I showed her the numerous news clippings I had with me, and told her we were looking for information regarding Lambs’ tenure on the police force, and to find dates that had been torn off a couple of the articles. She explained that newspaper articles were not scanned prior to 1985; we would have to go to Cal-State Fullerton periodicals and search the micro-fische.

After ushering us to a table, Cheryl said she would search the history room computer databases for information while we reviewed a manila folder that contained police clippings, and a hard-bound book she pulled from the shelves.


Inside the folder was the Orange County Register article dated December 12, 1966, with the headline: Santa Ana Police Hire First Negro. Lambs’ home address was published there. Lamb had told me that the following day was the beginning of threatening phone calls and vandalism to his home for weeks to come.

Next I opened the photo book of Santa Ana police officers, put together by Investigator Chuck Magdalena and Officer Al Sawyer.  In April 1979,
SAPD Sergeant Paul M. Walters, Chairman of History Book Committee wrote a letter thanking the members for their work on the History Book, prior to Raymond C. Davis, Chief of Police, presenting the photo book to the Santa Ana Library’s History Room. The volume was produced by First American Title Insurance Company, which allowed reproductions of Santa Ana historical photos.

The pictures were arranged in alphabetical order. Lambert should have been on page 29, between officers he worked with – but his photo wasn’t there. I checked under the letter H, in case he was accidentally posted under Harlen, his first name. It was not there. I scanned each page, looking for his name with the tag, photo not available. I didn’t find that either.

 A Matter of Research
An Inconvenient Truth

          "No Man is an Island . . ."

In studying the history of Orange County I am continually reminded of John Donne's immortal words: "No man is an island, entire of itself." As individuals we and those who have preceded us, are part of a whole. We move together in the stream of life.
The same is true of the cities and communities of Orange County. None has developed in an atmosphere of isolation. All live together as a family. They have common experiences, mutual problems and petty jealousies, but withal, a pride of belonging to the family.
No city is an island.
​Leo J. Friis (Orange County historian and attorney)
Author, Orange County-through-four-centuries
author/contributor: Sharron Read-Lambert