Oneil and Adele Cannon will be honored this year as they celebrate fifty years of an activist marriage. The following is just a short summary of the many ways Oneil and Adele Cannon have contributed to the history of Los Angeles.
The great French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) wrote in his work Emile: “there is no happiness without courage nor virtue without struggle”. This is a quote that certainly can apply to the lives of Oneil Cannon and his wife Adele. As they celebrate fifty years of an activist marriage, their life journey has exemplified the qualities of courage and struggle. The causes that they have fought together are a chronicle of the progressive movement over the last half century.
Oneil Cannon was born in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana on January 28, 1917. He attended grammar and high school in New Orleans, Louisiana. In his 20’s he was drafted into the Army in Louisiana. He first visited L.A. during his furlough from the Army, to visit his sister and younger brother. He met and married his first wife, Elizabeth, in New Orleans in 1939. After his discharge from the Army in 1945 he felt that Los Angeles would probably offer better opportunities for a man and his young family, so they moved to Watts. This was during the era of a large migration of African-Americans from the south to California and other northern states. In order to sustain an income in those beginning years, he had various jobs. In 1946 he obtained a position as an Insurance Agent with the historical Golden State Insurance Company (the first insurance company to predominantly serve the African American community in Los Angeles).
As Oneil puts it: “My brother Fred and I had opened our own printing shop in Watts before either of us knew very much about printing. We were both just out of the Army (World War II) and after a time, we decided that I would go to school and learn printing. I studied printing at Frank Wiggins Trade School which later became Trade Tech Junior College in the years 1947 to 1950. Fred would stay and take care of the shop and then I would come home and teach my brother what I learned at school about printing. That was my job. That’s the way we did it. So we both became printers at the same time, but I became a printing teacher, the same day that I became a printing student. We ran the shop and studied between meetings and other community activities, which we were both involved in Mrs. Carlotta Bass, editor and publisher of the California Eagle Newspaper, (who also introduced Oneil to Paul Robeson) also had a printing shop needing someone to take it over at that time. So Oneil went in and made a deal with her--she rented him the use of the printing shop. Therefore Oneil was in business for himself as the California Eagle Printing Company (1950-55). Also, he still worked with his brother at the Quick Service Advertisers Print Shop on 111th and Wilmington. They printed signs, leaflets and advertisements for various funeral establishments, political causes and groups, and businesses in the community.
One day Carlotta Bass came into the printishop with some people to talk to Oneil about the Printers Union. Because of his hands-on work and training as a printer, they invited him to join in starting a campaign to break the color line in the Printers Union. This was a significant point in continuing the struggle for equal opportunities for all, and shows his genuine concern and courage to bring justice to the community. Philip “Slim” Connelly from the CIO, asked if he could participate in this very important campaign. Prior to this time, the Union did not have any African American members. Considering Oneil’s history of activism, from the voting rights movement in the south in the 1930’s, to being involved in breaking the color bar in the International Typographical Union (ITU), this was one of the most important, telling and dramatic labors of his life.