Fullerton College’s Political Science Department welcomed Shirley Weber in a Zoom meeting moderated by Miriam Adhanom on Friday as Weber discussed her journey from Southern slave roots to California’s newly inducted Secretary of State.
Weber was nominated by Gov. Gavin Newsom in December 2020 and sworn into office Jan. 29. In California’s 170-year history, she is the fifth African American to hold a constitutional officer position and the first Black Secretary of State.
She is a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) alumna, where she received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate by the age of 26. Weber previously taught at San Diego State University (SDSU), California State University at Los Angeles (CSULA) and Los Angeles City College (LACC).
Weber was born in Arkansas during the era of the Jim Crow South. Her great grandfather was a slave, and her grandfather and father were both sharecroppers.
According to Weber, her father was always an outspoken man and demanded to be paid his fair and honest wages. A lynch mob decided he was too outspoken and threatened to kill him.
Weber’s father was able to flee Arkansas to live in California. After a couple of months, he saved enough money to move Weber, who was 3 years old at the time, and the rest of her family to California.
“My father was a courageous person simply because he left in 1951 to come to California to save his family,” Weber said. “But the interesting thing is that every four years, he went back to Arkansas to make sure that they know that he was not afraid to return.”
As a Black person in the South, her father never received adequate education, which had a great influence on her role in education.
“My dad was very clear that education was fundamental, and he said to us regularly, ‘they can take everything from you but they can’t take your education … once you get it, it is yours to keep,'” Weber said.
She noted that she and her seven siblings graduated from high school and some continued their education. All of them are now working professionals.
Weber’s mother consistently worked voting polls as she was denied the right to vote while in the South—another influence on Weber’s political work.
After their local precinct closed and there were no other public places available offering to vote, the Weber family opened up a poll in their living room, 351 W. 45th St. in Los Angeles.
Weber is now in charge of elections for almost 40 million Californians.
One of the first bills Weber co-authored during her time in the Assembly was Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA) 6, a bill that restores voting rights to Californians who were previously imprisoned. The bill was passed in June 2020, allowing voting rights to over 50,000 ex-convicts.
“We’ve been sending out letters to everyone that’s on parole, we’ve been sending it to parole officers, we’re developing a plan with all of our communities to make sure the folks know they have the right to vote, and that they can vote in this coming election,” Weber said.
“I’ve seen, over the 40 years of my teaching, that teaching a student about somebody else’s culture, or even of their own, changes their view of the world against them,” Weber said.
Weber said as she left for another meeting, “One of the tragedies I have is that I’m a teacher to the bone and I relish always the opportunity to come to see young people. I love watching people learn, I love interacting. I’m sure I will retire to teach again.”