los angeles

In Our Cities: Los Angeles—Exploring the City of Angels

In the second installment of our new series, EBONY heads west to explore Black LA

by Britni Danielle, March 10, 2017

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los angeles

Winsor Hills and the LA skyline in the background.

The cinematic shootouts and gang wars of the 1990s are a thing of the past. Today, Los Angeles is considered one of the safest big cities in the U.S., according to safety.com.

But it does have its challenges. Though LA was once a haven for Black folks in search of the American dream, the spike in housing costs has driven many south to Dallas, Houston and Atlanta. Angelenos need to make $33 an hour to afford the average cost of an apartment in the city, according to the California Housing Partnership, a group that advocates for affordable housing. If homeownership is the goal, things get more expensive. The result? Residents are spending nearly half of their income on housing, and the federal government says LA’s chronic homelessness rate leads the nation.

Still, joy thrives in the city. In the second installment of our In Our Cities series you’ll meet the literary pillar of Leimert Park, Eso Won Books; see how the organization Dignity & Power Now is reforming the city’s jails; tour the California African American Museum; and meet restaurant owner Cynthia Hawkins, who serves award-winning burgers in Watts.


Quick FactsPeople

Current population: 3,971,896 (per 2015 U.S. Census)

Black population: 9 percent

THINGS NEVER TO SAY TO A CITY OF ANGELS NATIVE:

  • “LA people are so fake.”
  • “Have you met (insert celebrity name)?”
  • “Is it true you can only wear certain colors?”

Highlights:

-Tom Bradley became the first Black mayor of a major U.S. city with a majority White population in 1973. He served for five terms until he retired in 1993.

-John Alexander Somerville, the first Black graduate of the University of Southern California, opened the Somerville Hotel in 1928. It later became the Dunbar Hotel, a luxury property along LA’s famed Central Avenue jazz corridor. Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Lena Horne and Duke Ellington all passed through the Dunbar.


Famous Black Angelenos

Paul Revere Williams, architect

Noted Racial Developments:

-The Mexican city of El Pueblo de La Reina de Los Angeles was founded on Sept. 4, 1781. Of the 44 settlers, 26 were Afro-Mexicans.

-Biddy Mason, a former slave turned Los Angeles real estate mogul, was a founding member of First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest church established by African-Americans in the city of LA in 1872.

-World War II sparked a second wave of the Great Migration of African-Americans to LA. Drawn to jobs in defense industries, the Black population grew from 63,700 in 1940 to 763,000 in 1970.

-In 1965, a traffic stop between a White police officer and Black motorist sparked the Watts Riots, which set off five days of violence and illuminated the city’s fraught racial tensions. In 1992, Los Angeles went up in flames again after four officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King.


Black Mecca: View Park-Windsor Hills

Winsor Hills courtesy Valerie Goodloe
Winsor Hills courtesy Valerie Goodloe

Known to some as “Black Beverly Hills,” View Park has been a bastion for the African-American upper middle class since White residents began fleeing South Los Angeles in the 1960s. Once home to stars such as Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner and Nancy Wilson, View Park boasts palm tree-lined streets and a collection of stately homes perched atop a hill. Although gentrification has brought White residents back to the area in recent years, the neighborhood—which has a median household income of $81,214—is still more than 85 percent Black.


Stay tuned for more stories about America’s urban meccas at ebony.com/inourcities.

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