I had the chance to reconnect with an old friend of mine — Ben Gross, Jr. — last weekend, and the opportunity to see him again brought back a flood of memories from the early days of Milpitas, when Ben’s dad served as our mayor. It was awesome to see the many copies of early editions of The Milpitas Post that Ben had saved, a number of them chronicling the nascent Milpitas community. And stories about the new Milpitas neighborhood dubbed “Sunnyhills” got me thinking about the significant role it played in the development of Milpitas…
I grew up in the 1960s in Milpitas. I lived near Sunnyhills, but not in it. I did, however, go to school in Sunnyhills when I spent two years as a student at Thomas Russell Middle School (it was called a junior high in those days). So I spent many after-school afternoons with my friends who did live in Sunnyhills. I remember the neighborhood of Sunnyhills as a place where the homes were well kempt, and the local park was HUGE (or at least it seemed that way!). Sunnyhills, built as an affordable housing neighborhood that was occupied in large part by workers from the Milpitas Ford Assembly Plant, was a vibrant area that welcomed everyone in.
While I certainly was aware that Sunnyhills was a very diverse neighborhood, it really didn’t matter to me, or anyone else for that matter. The thing is, we worked, played, and went to school in a multicultural environment, and we never thought for a second about our differences. While I did grasp the meaningful words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he said he was longing for a day when we would all be judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin, I did not grasp the fact that the Sunnyhills neighborhood was practicing Dr. King’s teachings in real time. Sunnyhills, born of racial peace and justice, was a living testament to all that was good in our country in the 1960s.
In those days, Sunnyhills served as the conscience of our community. Political and civil rights leaders from Sunnyhills toiled in the halls of Congress, the legislature in Sacramento, and the City Council chambers in Milpitas to ensure that housing laws were adhered to, discrimination of any sort was thwarted, and everyone, regardless of race, religion, or national origin, was treated with respect and was valued in our society. What an awesome example Sunnyhills set for the young City of Milpitas! We owe much of our diverse heritage to Sunnyhills, and the political, religious, civic, and civil rights leaders it fostered.