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In Memoriam: Kate Stern, 100

In Memoriam: Kate Stern, 100
Catherine G. "Kate" Stern in 2007

Catherine G. “Kate” Stern, a leading activist since the 1950s for improved human relations and civil rights in Los Angeles, died Sept. 23 at the age of 100.

Her record as an activist is preserved in the USC Libraries’ Catherine G. Stern Collection, which she donated to USC in 1997. The collection contains decades’ worth of correspondence, official reports, administrative papers and other records that chronicle not only Stern’s personal advocacy but also the wider struggle for tolerance and civil rights in Southern California.

Stern’s family moved to Los Angeles when she was a child. After earning her Bachelor of Arts degree from UCLA in 1932, she met and married her late husband, Meyer Price Stern.

The mother of two children, Stern began her community efforts with the Parent-Teachers Association and in the 1940s volunteered for both the Red Cross and in the neuropsychiatric section of the Sawtelle Veteran’s Hospital.

She perhaps was best known for her more than 30 years of service on the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, which she joined in 1959. Stern chaired the commission from 1966-68 and throughout her tenure was a tireless advocate for improved racial, ethnic and gender relations in Los Angeles County.

In the aftermath of the 1965 Watts Riots, Stern spearheaded an advertising campaign that sought to change public attitudes about racially integrated neighborhoods.

“I felt that if proper utilization of the mass media could change attitudes in trivia ¬- the Marlboro cigarette campaign for a masculine image, for instance – we ought to be able to change racial attitudes,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1970.

Her idea grew into advertising campaigns in print media, television, radio, bumper stickers and display ads that targeted both white residents and minorities with slogans such as “Good Neighbors Come in All Colors” and “Is Your Neighborhood All-White or All-American?”

Stern served on the commission through the 1990s when she retired and was named an honorary commissioner. At its Nov. 1 meeting, commissioner Lea Ann King remembered Stern’s tenacity and talent for getting things done.

“Kate Stern served on the Human Relations Commission when women were seldom seen on boards and commissions and demonstrated how capable and effective women are as community leaders,” King said. “Not only did she serve as a role model for women, but she stood as a stalwart advocate for programs that promoted understanding and inclusion of all people in Los Angeles County.”

Stern served on several other community panels, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Community Relations Committee and the KCET Community Advisory Committee. In 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower invited her to Washington as a delegate at the White House Conference on Childhood and Youth.

Four years later, Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown appointed her to the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Children and Youth.

In addition to the papers and reports of these organizations, the USC Libraries’ Catherine G. Stern Collection also preserves her personal correspondence, including a telegram from Brown dated Nov. 14, 1963 and a letter from Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson dated Oct. 24, 1963.

Stern is survived by her daughter Mathilde, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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