- Space, Equality, and Expression: African Americas in Los Angeles
Often thought of as a very liberal, free-spirited, and open-minded urban center, the “City of Angels” is a multicultural metropolis with a complex history, much of it influenced by racism and segregation that has shaped the experiences, culture, and environment of its black residents. The Los Angeles area is a beautiful region of Southern California, offering rich soil, mountain ranges, and wide plains, all adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. From its very early history, Los Angeles has attracted people worldwide in search of adventure, riches, or a new start in life, the American dream renewed. These aspirations have held true for many of African descent since the late 1700s. Their history in Los Angeles stems back to the Spanish settlement of the area by the original Los Angeles Pobladores (townspeople), forty-four settlers of African, Native American and Spanish heritage from Mexico. These pioneers played an important role in the establishment of the Los Angeles area. Since that time, Los Angeles has held a familiar yet unique story for blacks who have made the area their home over the last three centuries. As with other large urban areas, African Americans in [End Page 169] the region have faced issues involving discrimination and segregation. Many of these experiences for African Americans in Los Angeles have been unique to the area, due to its geographic location, multicultural mix, entertainment industry, and the pioneering character and creative spirit of the people that live here. The issues involved with these experiences and more are discussed very candidly in the pages of Black Los Angeles and Black Arts West. Both books discuss the social, historical, cultural, and political experience of blacks in Los Angeles. These expositions present an integral and necessary knowledge toward a full understanding of American history. As a native Angelena, I learned a great deal more about the city of my birth through these books. They helped me understand the historical foundations of the geographic, demographic, economic, and cultural past of black Los Angeles and how it has impacted society today.
In the last fifteen years there has been a significant shift in the racial population ratio: a decrease in African Americans and an increase of Latinos in neighborhoods that were once majority black; an explosion of signs labeling every neighborhood in the city; and a change of name was found to be in order for South Central Los Angeles, now referred to as South Los Angeles. To my great disappointment, there is a charge for parking in a number of major shopping centers, including a parking lot full of meters in Leimert Park Village. The two books provide insight into the dynamics of African American life in Los Angeles, grounded in historical analysis with a close examination of changes that have taken place over the last sixty years. The books contextualize the issues involved in these changes and give thought to the impacts of these changes in the future as the city continues to transition.
Black Los Angeles is a compilation of sixteen essays by a number of academicians and other professionals in the fields of sociology, anthropology, political science, geography, education, labor organization, social psychology, psychiatry, and biobehavioral science. In the words of one of its editors, Darnell Hunt, the book is “. . . an attempt to connect the dots between the past, present, and future of a space that was seeded centuries ago with a profound black presence, that has attracted hundreds of thousands of black migrants in the intervening years, but that oddly enough, is only marginally understood as a black place.”1 Hunt sets the tone for this undertaking by examining Baldwin Hills, a predominantly African American, upper-middle-class neighborhood, using it as a entry point for issues discussed in the book: 1) the location of this affluent neighborhood within South Los Angeles, once known as “South Central” a moniker associated with...