Remembering Warren Bussey: Legacy of Resilience
By Dianne Anderson
Tough-minded and resilient is how the Orange County community remembers Warren Bussey, so dedicated that he would give the shirt off his back and his last dime to anyone that asked, if needed.
He had enough personality to light up the room, and his smile would make others smile.
This is the way that Shedrick Collins always remembers his great uncle, who was among the first Black families to make it through some of the most intense racism that the nation had to offer.
Bussey, who recently passed away at 108 years old, was born in a town called “Bobo” near Tenaha, Texas, where he took the opportunity to leave the sharecropping farm by joining the Army. He started as a cook and later elevated to infantryman as WWII required more American fighters.
With his unit pinned down, Bussey and two others were the only ones to survive the freezing cold. Everyone died of frostbite, and Collins said it’s important to know that America didn’t allow Black people to carry rifles.
But for dire times of WWII, they had no choice. A lot of the infantrymen joined in to protect the lives of troops, and Bussey fought the war for America. He was one of the few in his unit to carry a weapon.
“It’s not glorified or talked about in any of the history books. If you think about the time in 1941, the last thing they wanted to do was give Black men a gun, that they’d kill other white men, German soldiers, or whatever,” said Collins, president of the Orange County Heritage Council.
His uncle, third oldest of 12 children, was a sharecropper’s son, and his parents only had an elementary school education. On the farm, they had to split responsibilities, tending to the white family’s farm first before they could tend to their own farm. It was the way of life.
Like so many Black children in those days, Bussey also dropped out of school before 7th grade to go to work, and he worked hard all the days of his life. Collins said all the siblings were the same way, including his grandfather, Bussey’s younger brother.
“Their work ethic was all they knew,” he said. “The six siblings that I met in my lifetime were all dedicated working people that always gave back.”
After surviving and dodging bullets of war and frostbite, Bussey shipped back to northern California for medical treatment, and from there, went straight to work. He got a job in Orange County, where he purchased a home in Fullerton and married his one and only wife.
He worked to expand their cleaning business, always doing the best job possible and later landing their first big contract with the first skyscraper in Los Angeles.
Collins said the business grew so big that Bussey was able to bring on many other people. There’s no telling how much he contributed to the local Black and Brown economy of Orange County by providing good-paying jobs, but not just for anyone.
“He hired veterans and single moms, and people of color, he gave them opportunities. He was one of the reasons why Blacks in Orange County were able to get good employment and cars,” he said.
The family legacy and pride of community was in keeping his integrity and longevity, even in the face of an extremely tough life.
“In my eyes, I’m proud to say he had this resilience that only people wish they could have,” he said.
Collins said that Bussey came from a time and era when the country wouldn’t allow Black men to walk around in groups, even small things like going to the grocery store in the 1940s and 50s required bravery.
A lot of people stuck together and grew their own produce. He lived in a small pocket of Black and Brown homeowners in Fullerton for 17 years before buying a home in Santa Ana.
“If there were more than two, you were accosted by police and thrown in jail. There was no database, it was on a ledger. You could go months without people knowing where you were. He experienced that and he shared those stories with me and others,” Collins said.
Bussey was also one of three founding charter members of the Wiley L Kimbrough #91 Masonic Lodge in Santa Ana, where Collins is also a member.
Vernon Benson said Bussey brings a long history and strong legacy, and not just as one of the first Black families in Fullerton and Orange County, but he also had a big heart for the community.
“He was a charter member of our lodge and being he was from Texas, the Masons are very well respected down south, especially back in the day,” said Benson, Sr., Worshipful Master of Wiley L Kimbrough #91 in Santa Ana.
Benson recalls meeting Bussey for the first time when he joined the lodge in 1981, and older members would always guide the younger members, explaining how things work, and how they should carry themselves in the community.
“He was a very positive person,” Benson said. “Just in giving to charity, his business was successful and he gave back to the community, he always wanted to do the right thing. He inspired people, he definitely inspired me.”
Benson said that Bussey always focused on the importance of not just looking out for the masons, but for the community. He had watched him in action over the years, always appreciating him as someone who never hesitated to give to anyone that asked, but that he was definitely a fighter.
He wanted things in order and done by the book.
“When he sees things not going the right way, he’ll pull everyone’s chain and say look this is not going right, do this the right way and everything will be just fine. Everyone will stop and look, and say – well he’s right.”