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Alley rechristened to honor activist

Bell fought for rights of African-Americans

La Jolla African-American activist Mabel Bell probably never imagined in 1950 when she and her husband bought the first home in an area of La Jolla previously barred to blacks that one day a community thoroughfare would be named in her honor.

More than half a century later, San Diego City Council President Scott Peters and family and friends of the late Bell, along with members of her church, Prince Chapel African Methodist Episcopal, did exactly that, gathering across from La Jolla Post Office Aug. 14 to unveil a city street sign proclaiming “Mabel Bell Lane,” an alley running from Silver Street all the way to Rushville Street at La Jolla High School.

It was an appropriate memorial to Bell, who died in 2007 at age 94 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In the past she used that same alleyway to minister to the sick, make friends and spread the gospel of goodwill amongst her neighbors.

Summarizing the importance of Bell’s contribution to La Jolla’s early history, Carol Olten, La Jolla Historical Society historian, said: “She was a very beloved member of the black community. She came to La Jolla from Texas in 1942 and she and her husband David were the first blacks to purchase property, a house north of Pearl Street, where, though there was no written law, it was generally considered that you had to stay south of Pearl Street. She was very well known for her community efforts. Everybody in town knew her.”

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Bell is also notable for having founded Strongly Oriented For Action (SOFA), a nonprofit activist group affiliated with Prince Chapel that successfully lobbied for creation of affordable housing in La Jolla.

On Aug. 14, Bell’s nephew, Charles Buchanan, told of knowing his aunt was “special” by age 4.

“Today is my birthday and I officially became a senior citizen,” said Buchanan, “and I’m so proud to also have a family member with a road name officially donated to her for what she provided and did for La Jolla. She was truly a leader. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. She would find a way to get a yes.”

“This is a very important part of our history that many people didn’t know about, and I didn’t know about,” pointed out Peters. “I’m very happy to be here to commemorate this.”

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Of Bell, Danah Fayman, who was among a group of people who lobbied local government to make a roadway named after Bell a reality, said: “She had a big and warm heart. She was a courageous woman and an entrepreneur. Mabel Bell was very good at changing alleys into lanes.”

Before giving a benediction ending the Mabel Bell Lane dedication, Rev. Janet Swift of Prince Chapel summed up the import of the occasion in pointing out how Bell’s life experience should serve as a model to be emulated.

“If you live your life well,” said Swift, “someone will remember you - and call your name.”