Black Los Angeles

Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities

Darnell Hunt
Ana-Christina Ramón
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    Black Los Angeles
    Book Description:

    Los Angeles is well-known as a temperate paradise with expansive beaches and mountain vistas, a booming luxury housing market, and the home of glamorous Hollywood. During the first half of the twentieth century, Los Angeles was also seen as a mecca for both African Americans and a steady stream of migrants from around the country and the world, transforming Los Angeles into one of the world's most diverse cities. The city has become a multicultural maze in which many now fear that the political clout of the region's large black population has been lost. Nonetheless, the dream of a better life lives on for black Angelenos today, despite the harsh social and economic conditions many confront.Black Los Angeles is the culmination of a groundbreaking research project from the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA that presents an in-depth analysis of the historical and contemporary contours of black life in Los Angeles. Based on innovative research, the original essays are multi-disciplinary in approach and comprehensive in scope, connecting the dots between the city's racial past, present, and future. Through historical and contemporary anecdotes, oral histories, maps, photographs, illustrations, and demographic data, we see that Black Los Angeles is and has always been a space of profound contradictions. Just as Los Angeles has come to symbolize the complexities of the early twenty-first-century city, so too has Black Los Angeles come to embody the complex realities of race in so-called colorblind times.Contributors: Melina Abdullah, Alex Alonso, Dionne Bennett, Joshua Bloom, Edna Bonacich, Scot Brown, Reginald Chapple, Lola Smallwood Cuevas, Andrew Deener, Regina Freer, Jooyoung Lee, Mignon R. Moore, Lanita Morris, Neva Pemberton, Steven C. Pitts, Carrie Petrucci, Gwendelyn Rivera, Paul Robinson, M. Belinda Tucker, Paul Von Blum, Mary Weaver, Sonya Winton, and Nancy Wang Yuen.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9092-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Introduction: Dreaming of Black Los Angeles
    (pp. 1-18)
    Darnell Hunt

    Over a fast-paced montage of images—Los Angeles’s downtown skyline, home-lined hillsides, street signs—and accompanied by a hip-hop–inspired musical theme, we hear the voices of several black teenagers:

    Male #1: Welcome to Los Angeles . . .

    Female #1: . . . our Los Angeles

    Male #1: Baldwin Hills.

    Female #1: City in the Clouds.

    Jonathan: Not all black people live in the ’ hood.

    Moriah: Some of us live in big houses with amazing vistas.

    Ashley: We are the sons and daughters of doctors, actors, and athletes . . .

    Seiko: . . . as well as...

  5. PART 1 Space
    • Chapter 1 Race, Space, and the Evolution of Black Los Angeles
      (pp. 21-59)
      Paul Robinson

      First elected in 1973, Tom Bradley is usually credited as the fi rst black mayor of Los Angeles. But a more comprehensive history of the city must recognize that Francisco Reyes was actually the first. His term began in 1793, when the city was still under the Spanish flag. To be sure, the African presence in Los Angeles dates back to the city’s origins, and the story of the “Black City of Angels” has yet to be fully told. In this opening chapter, we journey through time to “map out” the spaces associated with the evolution of Black Los Angeles....

    • Chapter 2 From Central Avenue to Leimert Park: The Shifting Center of Black Los Angeles
      (pp. 60-80)
      Reginald Chapple

      Since the turn of the twentieth century, there have been two prominent black centers in Los Angeles: the Central Avenue community from approximately 1900 to 1950, and the Crenshaw/Leimert Park Village community from approximately 1960 to the present. Central Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard, respectively, form the main commercial spines of each center and are spatially connected by a seven-mile stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which moves from the west at Rodeo Road to the east and terminates at Central Avenue.

      One of the main elements that defined these two geographic areas as black centers in their respective time...

    • Chapter 3 The Decline of a Black Community by the Sea: Demographic and Political Changes in Oakwood
      (pp. 81-114)
      Andrew Deener

      I attended a party at the small cottage of my wife’s friend John, a white man in his late twenties, who recently moved to Oakwood and works in the fi lm production industry. Oakwood, a one-square-mile area in Venice, California, was oft en recognized as a distinct neighborhood altogether. Many referred to it as the “black section” of Venice, and activists commonly described it as the last remaining “pocket of poverty” in this coastal neighborhood, due to the fourteen low-income, housing projects constructed during the 1970s. Sometimes Oakwood residents identified this location through more pejorative terms as “the ghetto,” “the’...

  6. PART 2 People
    • Chapter 4 “Blowing Up” at Project Blowed: Rap Dreams and Young Black Men
      (pp. 117-139)
      Jooyoung Lee

      In 2009, Trenseta was a thirty-four-year-old African American male who stood around 6 feet and weighed close to 180 pounds. Despite being lean, he had a deceptively muscular build, which he credited to lift ing weights and playing pickup basketball almost daily. A die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan, he never missed televised games and made sure the game was always playing on the television at Crenshaw Faders, the local barbershop where he worked full time.

      Trenseta spent ten years building a reputation for being one of the most respected rappers in South Central Los Angeles.¹ In the past few years,...

    • Chapter 5 Out of the Void: Street Gangs in Black Los Angeles
      (pp. 140-167)
      Alex Alonso

      With the exception of a few studies,¹ what is most striking about the corpus of gang research is the lack of attention paid to how race, segregation, and discrimination worked together to create the communities that have spawned street gangs. These important factors certainly shaped the fi rst clubs that later became street gangs in Black Los Angeles.

      Los Angeles’s notorious Bloods and Crips gangs can be traced back to the early 1970s, but the first major wave of black street gangs in the city actually developed decades before. As early as the 1930s, there were reports of a disproportionate...

    • Chapter 6 Imprisoning the Family: Incarceration in Black Los Angeles
      (pp. 168-187)
      M. Belinda Tucker, Neva Pemberton, Mary Weaver, Gwendelyn Rivera and Carrie Petrucci

      As co-investigators, we shared an academic interest in examining the impact of incarceration on families, but as we became better acquainted, we discovered that the topic had far more intimate significance for us. Some of us grew up in neighborhoods where incarceration was commonplace and access to the elements that allow for success were limited; we considered ourselves privileged to have obtained university educations. We shared personal experience with the incarceration of close family members, of being arrested, and of coping with the legal system. These were threads that bound us in a deep understanding and common commitment to our...

    • Chapter 7 Black and Gay in L.A.: The Relationships Black Lesbians and Gay Men Have to Their Racial and Religious Communities
      (pp. 188-212)
      Mignon R. Moore

      On November 4, 2008, California voters passed Proposition 8, an initiative on the state ballot that sought to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. The proposition passed by a 52 to 48 percent margin, and the first exit polls conducted by the Associated Press reported that 70 percent of black voters backed the initiative, which effectively overturned the California Supreme Court’s May 2008 decision that had allowed same-sex marriage.¹ Three weeks after the vote, theLos Angeles Sentinel² sponsored a town hall meeting³ to allow black Angelenos to voice their opinions about the vote on Proposition 8 and...

  7. PART 3 Image
    • Chapter 8 Looking for the ’Hood and Finding Community: South Central, Race, and Media
      (pp. 215-231)
      Dionne Bennett

      “This is the worst neighborhood in Los Angeles?!” my friend shouted as we drove through Watts. In the mid-1990s, I took a visiting friend on my own political tour to show her some of the race and class segregation that quietly divides Los Angeles. We began in Bel Air and ended in Watts. She had seen John Singleton’sBoyz N the Hood¹ (see fig. 8.1) and other fi lms that claimed to authentically represent blacks in South Central Los Angeles.

      As we traveled through the area, I reminded her that Watts was considered by many to be one of the...

    • Chapter 9 Playing “Ghetto”: Black Actors, Stereotypes, and Authenticity
      (pp. 232-242)
      Nancy Wang Yuen

      As I sit across from a beautiful black woman with long, flowing hair, I feel like I am in the presence of a movie star. Although she is not a recognizable celebrity, Vivian’s melodious voice and elegant movements underscore her background as a dancer and actor. Donning a red cashmere sweater, she tells me how her privileged upbringing has shaped her acting sensibilities despite the stereotyped, “South Central ghetto” roles she is typically offered to play. Vivian is one of many black actors in Los Angeles whose life experience bears no resemblance to the South Central stereotyped roles typically available...

    • Chapter 10 Before and After Watts: Black Art in Los Angeles
      (pp. 243-265)
      Paul Von Blum

      In 1929, the California Art Club hosted the first recorded black art show in Los Angeles. The exhibit was brought to California from Chicago and did not feature local artists. Only at the request of the club were three local black artists included. Unfortunately, the exhibit was not warmly received by Arthur Miller, the leading art critic of the period for theLos Angeles Times,who lambasted the exhibit for not possessing enough “Negro naïveté” and “Negro warmth.” He suggested that white artists would do a better job re-creating black images than the “Cultivated Negro working in a purely European...

    • Chapter 11 SOLAR: The History of the Sounds of Los Angeles Records
      (pp. 266-282)
      Scot Brown

      SOLAR (Sound of Los Angeles Records) was the most dominant, blackowned record label from the late 1970s through the 1980s.¹ SOLAR, known as the Motown of the 1980s, dominated R&B and pop music with a run of hits from a large roster of artists, including Th e Whispers, Shalamar, Lakeside, Midnight Star, Klymaxx, Carrie Lucas, Th e Deele, Calloway, and Babyface. SOLAR flourished in the midst of a major transformation in the history of American and African American music — large entertainment conglomerates took a serious interest in gaining a stronghold in black music consumer markets. This change corresponded with a...

    • Chapter 12 Killing “Killer King”: The Los Angeles Times and a “Troubled” Hospital in the ’Hood
      (pp. 283-320)
      Darnell Hunt and Ana-Christina Ramón

      The above quote, which comes from an overview of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize winners for Public Service, is as familiar as it is ambiguous. The “courageous, exhaustively researched series”² referred to in the quote is based on the investigative work of a team of whiteLos Angeles Timesreporters.³ Celebrated by American journalism’s highest award, this work documented startling cases of incompetence and fraud at Martin Luther King Jr./Charles Drew Medical Center⁴ —a county-run hospital that served one of Los Angeles’s poorest minority communities. “[I] t became clear to us that King/Drew rated poorly on practically all statistical measures,” wrote...

  8. PART 4 Action
    • Chapter 13 Bass to Bass: Relative Freedom and Womanist Leadership in Black Los Angeles
      (pp. 323-342)
      Melina Abdullah and Regina Freer

      On August 8, 2008, a beautiful Friday morning in Los Angeles, patrons are waved through the gates of the California Science Center at Exposition Park, a sprawling urban oasis and educational center that sits at the gateway to South Los Angeles. The parking lot, which is normally bordered by yellow school buses and only sparsely populated by the cars of parents bringing their children to the Center and the nearby Natural History Museum, is filled to capacity. A few steps away, housed within an impressive building, is Muses Auditorium.

      Every seat in the auditorium is filled, and dozens of people...

    • Chapter 14 Concerned Citizens: Environmental (In)Justice in Black Los Angeles
      (pp. 343-359)
      Sonya Winton

      In August 1985, two African American women learned that the City of Los Angeles had selected their neighborhood as the site for a thirteenacre, municipal solid waste incinerator plant. They immediately took action by establishing the Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles (CCSCLA)— “one of the first African American environmental organizations in the country.”¹ Through their locally based environmental justice organization, Robin Cannon and Charlotte Bullock—who possessed moderate grassroots activism experience²—launched a large-scale protest campaign against a $535 million bond issue for the development of the Los Angeles City Energy Recovery (LANCER) Municipal Waste Incinerator.³ According to...

    • Chapter 15 A Common Project for a Just Society: Black Labor in Los Angeles
      (pp. 360-381)
      Edna Bonacich, Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, Lanita Morris, Steven Pitts and Joshua Bloom

      On September 7, 2007, a standing-room-only reception was held in the lobby of theLos Angeles Sentinel.¹ The energized scene included Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), Kwanzaa founder and chair of the US Organization Maulana Karenga,² and the activist Rev. Eric Lee, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference³ (SCLC) of Greater Los Angeles. They had come together to honor the appointment of Faith Culbreath, an African American firebrand from Detroit, as president of a newly formed security officers union.

      “I am here because of you,” were the first words uttered by the impressive thirty-something woman. As the new leader...

    • Chapter 16 Reclaiming UCLA: The Education Crisis in Black Los Angeles
      (pp. 382-406)
      Ana-Christina Ramón and Darnell Hunt

      On a Sunday morning in June 2006, Los Angeles woke up to the above words under the headline “A Startling Statistic at UCLA.” Media throughout the nation soon picked up the news, reigniting a long-standing debate about higher education, race, and access.² For much of the city’s black community, the revelation that fewer than one hundred African Americans were expected to enroll in a freshman class of more than 4,900 students was indeed startling. Black students stood to account for only about 2 percent of the freshman class at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)³ —a public university located...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 407-424)
  10. About the Contributors
    (pp. 425-428)
  11. Index
    (pp. 429-439)