Bishop Henry Herns at Juneteenth celebration at Jackie Robinson Park in Sun Village in the Antelope Valley, Los Angeles County, CA.

Bishop Henry Hearns

Love Beyond Hate

Born in 1933 and raised on a farmer’s plantation in Byhalia, Mississippi, Bishop Henry Hearns has been a fixture in and around Sun Village since moving there with his family in 1965. Growing up, Hearns navigated years of educational disenfranchisement and military conscription to graduate with two engineering degrees from Nashville’s Tennessee State University. But when he entered a segregated job market, his prospects at home didn’t quite match his qualifications. 

“When I got out of school in 1959, I could not find a job as a Black engineer. Nowhere in Mississippi, and in Tennessee, I see a big sign up. It says, ‘Civil Engineers: Wanted,’ and I go up to look for the job. They said, ‘It’s just been filled.’ So, [I] wait a week, two weeks, come back, that same sign is there.  I knew at that [time] that I wasn’t going to get a job. I ended up getting with a friend of mine, and we drove to California to look for jobs. I ended up finding a job in San Fernando, California…I took the test, got the job.”

Once west, he’d go on to build a pathbreaking, decades-long career as an engineer, pastor, and community leader. Hearns’ many accolades include serving as the first Black engineer to work for the Department of Agriculture’s soil conservation service, the first Black City Councilman and then Mayor of Lancaster, CA, and a driving force behind the robust and much beloved civic life at Jackie Robinson Park.

“When I became the pastor [at First Missionary Baptist Church, now Living Stone Cathedral of Worship], I was able to help put together the programs…I have fond memories of helping to develop the park and bring kids out here. In fact, once or twice a year, I would bring my church out here and have church in the park. People were spread out everywhere. My daughter was a part of that, so we brought out ushers, our choirs, musical instruments, and everything else. So, that was a very special time in my life, and I was also able to help them put together the Black Chamber [of Commerce] that they have up here, and also the Black Town Council, and the place just grew from there. They help them put on Juneteenth days; they help them put on Black History days right here in the park.”

For Hearns, Jackie Robinson Park heralds back to a time when “people cared about their community” and “houses…really represented home.” “My kids grew up around here,” he recounts. “One of the things that I remember that was very precious to me—my kids could come here to the park, and everybody was their parent. So, talking about taking a village to raise a kid, well, everybody here helped to raise my children.”

The lifelong community advocate remains mindful of Sun Village’s origin story, too. “We are the town where the people are here because we were not welcome in Lancaster or Palmdale. There’s that prejudice issue, so I would like it to be known…that is: we are the city who lived through it by love, and we love beyond hate…This is the place where people live through prejudice, and still love.”