A Taste of San Diego History: Marie C. Widman

Yvette Porter Moore
January 25, 2024

Photo: Marie C. Widman, native San Diego civic leader, possibly in 1963 for John F. Kennedy or 1968, Robert F. Kennedy campaigns, based on the election button she wears

By Columnist Yvette Porter Moore

Marie C. Widman –

Black Arts & Culture District


While driving east, along Imperial Avenue toward Lemon Grove, you will find yourself in the heart of Southeastern San Diego, which is the birthplace of the Black Arts & Culture District, located between 61stand 69th Streets.

On June 14, 2022, the former President Pro Tempro of the 4thCouncil District, Monica Montgomery Steppe, secured unanimous votes from the council to designate this area as the Black Arts & Culture District. One of the main landmarks within this new district is the Marie C. Widman Memorial Park. The park is situated at the corner of Julian & 6727 Imperial Avenue. The Boys & Girls Club is on the same block and is located east of the park. The Park & Recreation Board voted to have Encanto Park renamed after Marie C. Widman in the spring of 1994 at the end of the park’s redevelopment.

This park is significant to the art district because this is the place where the community comes together to celebrate Black culture in San Diego. Many events have been held recognizing the culture, history and the people who have lived and thrived in San Diego.

In the past, I wondered who Marie Widman was. People like the late Robert Tambuzi and Conley Major shared what they knew, but it wasn’t enough. Conley had photos, but after moving from Mexico to Atlanta, these items were lost. Individuals who knew her have since passed on, so there are only a few individuals alive who can give an account. So, my goal was to search and recover what seemed lost. I found articles with unclear photos and documented Marie Widman’s life. I also was put in connection with her son, who guided me to her resting place.

The pressure to find high-resolution photos of Marie Widman became a priority when Gaidi Fini of the San Diego African Museum of Fine Art commissioned me to search through archives and make requests to standing organizations that hold her history.

What many people might not have known is that Mrs. Marie Widman was a Black woman. What I find Godsent and ordained is that Marie Widman Memorial Park is the hub of the Black Arts & Culture District. In 1975, the San Diego City Park and Recreation Board formed an ad hoc committee to serve as a liaison for cultural interests in the city. Marie Widman and Paul Leyton were named as co-chairs of the San Diego Cultural Arts Committee. Mrs. Widman advocated for all forms of arts and culture to be accessible to all people and to those who lived in Southeast San Diego.

Marie Cooper Widman and her twin were born to Pearl B. and William Cooper on July 8, 1931, in San Diego, California. Marie attended San Diego Public Schools and was graduated from San Diego High School in 1949. She also was an alumnus of San Diego City College and San Diego State.

Marie C Widman was a longtime leader in San Diego civic affairs, a housewife, and a  mother of two boys. She was the backbone of her local community and of greater San Diego. She ran for the 4th District City Council and the 79th California State Assembly. Even though she did not succeed in securing those seats, she took up leadership roles in the campaigns of those who knew her leadership strengths and even those who she ran against.

Widman’s resume is quite substantial, and there is not enough space to include all she did and accomplished.


Positions she held:

During the mid-1960’s, she served on the Memorial RecreationCouncil.

Served on the Park and Recreation Board and Southern AreaCommittee from 1971-1977.

Served on the Library Commission

Served on the San Diego City Planning Commission from1976-1985.

Served on the Community College District Citizen’s Councilfrom 1976-1989.

She was a founding member of the Friends of Parks andRecreation Foundation.

A member of the court-appointed school-integration taskforce

She was on the San Diego Integration Board/Committee

Chair of San Diego County Urban League’s Community EducationCommittee

San Diego City general chairperson of the Friends of theStrong (Cancer Research) Foundation

City Planning Commissioner

Mayor’s Black Advisory Board and Crime Commission and State Commission on Police Community Relations

The San Diego Metropolitan Sewer Task Force

San Diego Chapter of the NAACP, Secretary

The Boys and Girls Aid Society

A life member of the YWCA and served four terms on itscounty board and held the posts of Vice President and President.

Travelers Aid Society, Chair (served on the County andNational Boards)

San Diego County United Way officer


(Obituary in the SD Union Tribune)

As a member of the Community College District board, she fought for equal access to educational and cultural advantages for all persons, including children, seniors, minority groups and the disabled. As a member of the Parks and Recreation Department board, she helped plan a conference in 1974that was aimed at encouraging broader participation in the leisure arts in San Diego. She interpreted the term leisure arts to cover everything from exercise classes to art. Charles Reid, a member of the Community College District Board, said that “Mrs. Widman was an all-around community leader. She served all of San Diego.”

Former Mayor Frank Curran said that in June she agreed to work with him and others to form a not-for-profit urban health foundation to work toward solutions for community health problems among the disadvantaged.

Curran said that he first met Mrs. Widman in 1955 when  he running for his first term on the City Council. She was working for one of his opponents, but he was so impressed by her that, when he was elected, he selected her to serve on the Library Board.



First Vice-President of the County Democratic Central Committee. Served from 1966-1971

1968 Delegate to the Democratic National Convention

Co-chairperson of Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s Presidential campaign in San Diego

Candidate for the 79th Assembly District in 1970. Was narrowly defeated in the primary, losing by 400 votes. Co-chairperson of Pete Chacon’s campaign after she lost her bid for the 79th Assembly District.

Marie Widman was the campaign chairperson for George WalkerSmith’s San Diego School Board Race.

In 1971 Leon Williams planned to seek re-election to his 4thCouncil District Seat.

Leader in the City Council Campaign of Leon Williams. She ran for the San Diego City Council when Leon Williams stepped down from City Council when he was elected as a San Diego County Supervisor. Marie Widman along with William Jones had the same number of votes from the San Diego Council; however, William Jones filled the position of Council Member.

Mrs. Marie Widman died of cancer on July 23, 1989, at theage of 58. She was a woman who lived life to the fullest, and we must rememberall she has done and never forget.