Activists and Family Members Keep the Memory of Alex Odeh Alive, 30 Years After His Unsolved Assassination

Statue of Alex Odeh in Santa Ana
Brian Feinzimer
If you were able to identify your and others' misfortunes
I would have brought out an extraordinary human being of you
--from a poem by Alex Odeh

On the morning of Oct. 11, 1985, Norma Odeh made breakfast for her husband, Alex, in their Orange home. The night before, KABC-TV Channel 7 had interviewed Odeh, West Coast regional director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and one of the U.S.'s most prominent Arab-American activists. The interviewer wanted his opinions about the Achille Lauro hijacking and the subsequent killing of 69-year-old wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer that had happened just a couple of days before.

A camera crew filmed Alex at the ADC offices in Santa Ana. He condemned the hijacking, as well as terrorism in general. But he also claimed the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) wasn't responsible for the attack and called Yasser Arafat "a man of peace" for helping to secure the release of hostages.

"After he came home, we watched it together," Norma recalls. "I hope to God nobody does anything to you," she told him then. Alex's sister also phoned him with her worries after seeing the news segment. He moaned to his wife about how KABC had simplified his nuanced statements into a soundbite about Arafat, then went to bed.

The interview was still on Norma's mind the next morning when Alex kissed her goodbye. A long day awaited him, including a speech at Congregation B'nai Tzadek, a Jewish synagogue in Fountain Valley.

Odeh arrived at the ADC's second-story offices in Santa Ana around 9 a.m. His assistant usually opened up in the morning, but she was running errands that day for an upcoming banquet. As Odeh turned the doorknob, a rigged 30-pound pipe bomb exploded, blowing off his legs. Shards from the shattered windows rained onto the street. Only the concrete floor saved the debris-strewn office from total obliteration. Paramedics hoisted Odeh's charred body onto a stretcher and rushed him to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana; doctors pronounced him dead roughly two hours after the attack. He was 41 years old.

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The 20 Most OC Things to Ever Happen in Orange County History

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OC Weekly archives
Nice Christian girl at a Chapman Undie Run? That's SO OC...

Cover Orange County for 20 years, and you learn to love the awesome hypocrisies, oxymorons, contradictions, and flat-out HILARITY that define us. Yes, some of our stories, trends, and issues could happen anywhere in the United States--but some are absolutely, only OC. So, in honor of our 20th anniversary, behold the 20 most OC things that have ever happened in Orange County history (or rather, during OUR history, which is when OC really started). Enjoy, and make sure to rant in the comments section!

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Irvine Valley College to Rededicate Emigdio Vasquez Mural THIS THURSDAY

Courtesy of Irvine Valley College
El maestro's work

Irvine Valley College ain't exactly thought of as a Chicano mural stronghold, but it's one of the many places in Orange County that hosts a mural by legendary artist Emigdio Vasquez--a 40'x8' beauty called La Educación y El Trabajo (Education and Work). And, unlike the rest of OC--which keeps letting the maestro's work fade away or tries to criminalize it--IVC cares enough about its treasure to not only take care of their Vasquez mural, but to restore it, and rededicate it in a ceremony this Thursday.

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Re-living the Great Disneyland Cast Member Strike of September 1984

This week's feature story, "David Koenig Has Exposed the Disneyland Secrets Mickey Doesn't Want You to Know About," mentions how much the September 1984 strike by cast members was a gut punch to employee morale, resulting in many of the stories that turn up in the author's books.

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An Oral History of OC Weekly, Part 1: Sept. 15, 1995-Sept. 2000

Stern Publishing--owned by Leonard Stern, a pet-food magnate whose Hartz Mountain corporation controlled 70 percent of the pet-supply market--bought the Village Voice, the nation's oldest alternative weekly, in 1983. In 1994, Stern purchased the LA Weekly, which then set its sights on Orange County. . . .

Michael Sigman, LA Weekly/OC Weekly publisher, 1983-2002: The crass but simple answer [why OC Weekly was created] is that big advertisers in LA Weekly like Tower Records said they'd advertise in an Orange County edition. Before Leonard bought us, there were several years of exploratory machinations and research, but we never had the funding or authorization. And even though other people had explored it and had decided it wasn't such a good idea, it seemed obvious to us that it had potential. There was never any question in my mind that we could do a successful paper. After we were bought, the mandate was "Let's get OC Weekly started as soon as possible." I remember having serious conversations with [the late New York Times media critic] David Carr about the position [of editor], and there were probably one or two others, but I can't remember anyone else being a serious candidate. And then there was Will.

Nathan Callahan, OC Weekly contributor, 1995-2004: Will and I had worked on a little zine back in the early '90s, The County, and we tried to cover OC as much as we could. It came out sporadically and slammed everyone from Irvine City Councilman Dave Baker to Jerry Brown. And when [Will] heard about the editor job, it went from there.

Will Swaim, OC Weekly founding editor, 1995-2007: I was working at Entrepreneur, a business magazine, and a friend of mine said she had heard of LA Weekly starting something in Orange County. At the time, the landscape was littered with a whole bunch of attempts to start alt-weeklies here, and they had all been grotesquely underfunded or weren't very good.

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An Oral History of OC Weekly, Part 2: September 2000-September 2005

The Weekly began its second five years in September 2000 with a new ownership group. In two months, a new president is elected--kind of. In one year, two buildings fall in New York, and the build-up to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would follow, and then the bombs rain. But through the national and international turmoil, the Weekly keeps chugging, reflecting on big issues while still focusing on local ones.

Michael Sigman: Leonard [Stern] was a business genius. He sold the paper at the absolute top of the market, right before the dot-com crash, for a tremendous amount of money. And the people who bought it were heavily leveraged, and it was making a lot of money, but they bought it based on it making more money. LA Weekly and OC Weekly still made a tremendous amount of money for the next two years, but it wasn't enough. So they made a lot of changes throughout the company. Pretty much got rid of everyone. [Sigman left the company in 2002.]

Shelle Murach, PR/special events coordinator, 1998-2003: Under Stern, we were owned by that family, and they were fantastic and very supportive. The paper was growing, there was a lot of support in Orange County, and we really expanded into a lot of things we wanted to do. Then we were sold to Village Voice Media, and it was just different. Things were becoming more corporate, and there were a lot of impacts because of what the economy was going through. After 9/11, we saw a huge decline in advertising, so there were a lot of changes as far as the whole industry.

In April 2000, a writer who would later make an impact on the county appeared.

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An Oral History of OC Weekly, Part 3: September 2005-October 2010

OC Weekly's 10th-anniversary edition, a 154-page tome, hit the streets Sept. 9, 2005, as one of America's most beloved cities was drowning. Rebecca Schoenkopf wrote the introductory column, subheaded "It's hard to celebrate 10 years of the Weekly when you're busy hating the president." Little did the Weeklings know the paper would soon descend into its own murky waters.

Matt Coker: One thing they always told us is "We'll never sell you guys to the New Times." We had heard all these horror stories about the New Times. A big part of it was Lowery and Wielenga had worked for New Times Los Angeles and had horrible experiences. And the two chains seemed to hate each other. They seemed bitter rivals. [David] Schneiderman always said, "Don't worry. We'll never sell you to the New Times." So what happened? They sold us to the New Times.

Technically, it was a merger. On Oct. 24, 2005, Village Voice Media, which owned OC Weekly and five other papers, announced it had reached an agreement to be acquired by New Times Media, which began in 1971 with a paper in Phoenix and had grown to 11 across the country. Once sworn adversaries, the two chains had apparently grown closer since 2002, when a deal they'd reached to shut down papers in Los Angeles and Cleveland was blocked by the Justice Department, which charged them with collusion. The new company retained the name Village Voice Media.

Coker: I don't know. Maybe once their lawyers started talking, they started liking each other more?

Michael Sigman: I wasn't remotely surprised. They had been salivating for LA Weekly for many years and had started a paper in Los Angeles to compete with it, which was not successful. It was their dream to build a national network of papers, but without Los Angeles and New York, they could never have accomplished that. They were serious bidders when Leonard [Stern] sold the papers [in 2000], but they weren't the winner. But they kept trying, and to me, it was inevitable that it would happen.

Rebecca Schoenkopf: First they fucked up The Village Voice, then they moved onto LA Weekly. We thought we were safe. We were very profitable. We had a very lean operation, but even so, we weren't doing it in their very formulaic, jigsaw-puzzle sort of way, so that was not acceptable.

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Do You Have a Copy of This OC Weekly? We'll Give You $50 for It!

Anyone got a copy?

This Thursday, the OC Weekly will publish its 20th anniversary issue, a fantabulous collection of oral histories, essays, and general merriment. Part of the online package will be slideshows of every single cover this infernal rag has ever published--over 1,000! Amazingly, our archives (which look like the apartment of the Collyer Brothers) are virtually complete--we're only missing one issue of the entire run, an achievement more miraculous than remaining in business in these crazy times.

And that issue? Amazingly, not one involving legal action against us or one that Bob Dornan's spawn tried to collect every copy of and throw into a bonfire, but the one above.

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Joseph Jackson Jr. Made Civil Rights History as a Member of Mississippi's Tougaloo Nine

Mugshot memories
"You know you don't belong here!" a worker yelled at 23-year-old Joseph Jackson Jr. as he walked into the Jackson, Mississippi, main public library on March 27, 1961, to try to desegregate it. "You go back to your library!"

Dozens of angry, white faces surrounded the slight, bespectacled, nervous student as he made his way to the information desk and into the front lines of war. In a couple of months, freedom riders would get arrested by the hundreds in the city; the following year, James Meredith tried to enroll at the University of Mississippi with the help of U.S. Marshals only to have a deadly riot erupt around him. The year after that saw Jackson weather a sit-in at Woolworth and the assassination of legendary activist Medgar Evers. And in 1964, the murder of three civil-rights workers brought in the federal government and led Nina Simone to pen her scintillating smackdown of the Magnolia State, "Mississippi Goddam."

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OC's First Black Resident was an Anaheim Barber Named Drew

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Legendary cover by Luke McGarry
Can't stop sharing this cover...HA!

When one just reads stuff--as opposed to Google, Proquest, Lexis-Nexis or Reddit--you'll discover amazing things. And that's what happened while I was doing research on Rosario "Zarco" Sainz, the Anaheim murder who was OC's last desperado.

I was in the SanTana Public Library, going through microfilm, when I decided to walk around the library stacks. I came across "The History and Development of the Negro Community in Santa Ana, California," a 1967 Cal State master's thesis documenting the city's significant African-American community at the time. Did you know, Orange Countians, that SanTana at one point was not all Mexican? Of course not.

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