O'Day Short

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O'Day H. Short (died January 22, 1946) was an African American refrigerator engineer who broke the color barrier in Fontana, California after buying land and constructing a house south of Base Line Road.[1][2][3] Short contacted the FBI and the black press after receiving a warning of imminent violence from vigilantes.[1] On December 16, 1945, the house exploded in a fireball.[1] His wife Helen, and young children Barry and Carol Ann died due to their burns by the following day.[2] O'Day would linger for a month before succumbing to his injuries.[1]

Base Line Road[edit]

During the Dust Bowl, 5,000 Southern white families headed west and found jobs in Fontana, home of Kaiser Steel, but they did not leave behind their preferences for segregation.[4] African-Americans were welcome to live north of Base Line Road but were not permitted to live south of it.[1] Possibly because he and his family were light-skinned, however, Short was able to buy a five-acre lot on Randall Avenue and Pepper Street.[1]

While the home was still being completed, Short and his family moved there in the fall of 1945.[1]


As word got out that the family was black, neighbors became concerned, and asked a sheriff's deputy to advise Short that he was "out of bounds".[1] The local white Chamber of Commerce offered to buy the property back for full value.[1] The seller, once apprised of his mistake, warned Short that the local "vigilante committee" might have to resort to violence.[1][2]

In response, Short contacted the FBI and local black newspapers.[1]


On December 16, 1945, the house exploded while the Shorts were inside.[1] The family was taken by a friendly neighbor to Kaiser Permanente Hospital.[1][5] Although he lingered for a month, Short died soon after being informed by the District Attorney that none of his family had survived.[1][6]

Authorities claimed that the explosion was due to a faulty oil lamp.[5] However, the coroner's jury was skeptical of this conclusion and ruled that the fire was of unknown origin,[1] although they were not informed of the threats,[4] as the coroner considered the reports to be hearsay.[2] An arson investigator hired by the NAACP, Paul T. Wolfe,[4] found the lamp to be mostly intact, and concluded that the fire was deliberately set from outside the house.[7]


Black newspapers decried the deaths as an injustice.[1][8][9] The ACLU and NAACP organized rallies in Los Angeles and San Bernardino which drew upwards of 6,000 people[1] calling for a full investigation.[2]

The land on which the home stood is now the site of Randall Pepper Elementary School.[1]

It would be another 20 years until a black family would again live in downtown Fontana.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Allen, David (December 16, 2015). "O'Day Short tragedy still smolders in Fontana". Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Bradvica, David (June 6, 1999). "All They Wanted was the Right to Live... Anywhere" (PDF). Daily Bulletin.
  3. ^ Delmont, Matt (February 14, 2016). "February 14, 1946". Black Quotidian.
  4. ^ a b c Davis, Mike (1995). "Fontana: Junkyard of Dreams". Working People of California. University of California Press. 5. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  5. ^ a b "Burns Fatal Fontana Child / Three are Dead in Lamp Blast / Burns Fatal to Fourth of Family" (PDF). Daily Report. December 1945.
  6. ^ "O.H. Short 4th Fontan Victim Dies: Lacked Interest In Recovery" (PDF). Los Angeles Sentinel. Jan 24, 1946.
  7. ^ "NAACP Brands Fontana Fire As Incendiary; Kerosene Theory Flatly Denied By Arson Expert" (PDF). Los Angeles Sentinel. January 10, 1946.
  8. ^ Onion, Rebecca (March 8, 2016). "Roller Skating Socials and a Black Rosie the Riveter: Discovering a different side of black history in the archives of the black press". Slate.
  9. ^ "Violence Threat Against Short Must Not Go Unchallenged: AN EDITORIAL" (PDF). Los Angeles Sentinel. January 3, 1946. p. 1.

External links[edit]