Carlos Valdez Lozano, an assistant city editor at the Los Angeles Times, offers up a personal Op-Ed tribute to his friend Alice McGrath, a longtime union and left-wing activist in these parts, starting with the notorious Sleepy Lagoon case during World War II that had a hand in spurring L.A.'s infamous Zoot Suit Riots. She died last month in Ventura at age 92.
A fighter for social justice all her life, she played a key role in one of California's first civil rights cases, coordinating efforts to overturn the wrongful convictions of 12 Mexican American men for the murder of a man found dead near a reservoir known as Sleepy Lagoon. The men were tried en masse in 1940s L.A., amid a climate of racism and open hostility that extended into the courtroom. The case, she always maintained, was about due process....
She helped organize a birthday celebration in Los Angeles in 1951 for the distinguished African American author W.E.B. Du Bois, who later became a dear friend; she taught martial arts to women (because she believed it would empower them) and wrote a book about it called "Self-Defense for Cowards"; though not a lawyer herself, she developed a legal aid program for the poor in Ventura County; and she led 85 humanitarian aid trips to war-scarred Nicaragua.
She was also an invincible conversationalist, an orthodox liberal (make that radical), a great teller of jokes and an awful lot of fun to be around. Her life's work may have been about helping others, but she would be the first to tell you she was no saint.
"Never pass up the opportunity to have a good time" was one of her commandments. And she meant it.
Regarding a 1950s FBI report that said she had "no known weaknesses," McGrath quipped: "Oh, that's just because they didn't think women liked sex back then."
Photo: Ventura County Star