For years before and after World War II, Fontana, California wasn’t the most hospitable places for Black people. Base Line Road was basically the dividing line for Black and White homeowners with Blacks staying north of the road. That is until November 1945 when O’Day Short and his family moved in south of the road.
At this time, the city would’ve enforced prejudiced practices to keep the different parts of Fontana separated. The reason why O’Day Short and his family were able to move south of Base Line Road was most likely down to being particularly light-skinned and not arousing suspicion.
The Short family moved into the property on Pepper Street and Randall Avenue during the fall of 1945. That season, news got around that the Shorts were a Black family thus raising concern among White citizens.
There was a push for the sheriff’s office to have the Shorts removed from that part of Fontana. The agent who sold O’Day Short the property offered to buy it back at full price. When Short turned down the offer, it was mentioned that local vigilantes might take things into their own hands. Viewing all of this as a threat, Short would reach out to Black newspapers in California as well as the state’s FBI branch.
Death of the Short Family
An explosion rocked the Short house on December 16 with the family inside. A neighbor rushed them to the local hospital to receive treatment. A month later O’Day Short awoke to the reality that his family–wife Helen and children Barry and Carol Ann–had died as a result of their injuries. Short would pass away not long afterward.
Law enforcement stated that a faulty oil lamp was the cause of the explosion but the coroner’s jury thought otherwise. In their conclusion of the explosion, it was marked as being of “unknown origin.” Paul T. Wolfe was the NAACP’s arson investigator. He would check the oil lamp and find that it hadn’t been altered or faulty, stated that the fire was set outside the house on purpose.
In the wake of the Short family’s death, the NAACP and ACLU held rallies demanding justice for the family and a proper investigation. There would be no further investigation into the explosion. A Black family wouldn’t move south of Base Line Road until the 1960s.
Fontana’s population has seen steady growth. As of 2010, Fontana’s Black population remains around 10-percent and the White population sits around 47-percent. Latinos make up the largest demographic in the city. Currently, the land the Shorts’ house sat on makes up Randall Pepper Elementary School.