Amoeblog

More than just riots and towers -- Exploring Watts for Black History Month

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 13, 2014 11:07pm | Post a Comment
INTRODUCTION TO WATTS

Welcome to Watts mural

It seems to me that reputation of Los Angeles's Watts neighborhood is based almost entirely on two things – the Watts Rebellion and the Watts Towers. Results of a Google search for “watts” can be divided into three categories: photos of the towers, black and white images of burning buildings, and people with the family name of Watts (i.e. Naomi, Charlie, and Reggie). Pop culture and the media almost never present Watts in a positive light – usually they don't mention it at all. 

Metro Blue Line heading to Los Angeles
Metro Blue Line heading to Los Angeles

Watts is, however, a community of 37,000 Angelenos – most of whom probably don't sell drugs, aren't in gangs, and probably spend many days not dwelling on half century-old riots or neighborhood folk art – impressive and important as both are. With that in mind, my friend Bruce and I met at 7th Street/Metro Center in the Financial District and headed down the Blue Line to Watts. 
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's hand drawn map of Watts
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Watts


A brief (and by no means complete) history of Black Los Angeles. Happy Black History Month!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 30, 2012 07:19pm | Post a Comment
Los Angeles' black population is relatively small compared to the city's other major racial and ethnic minorities. The LA metro area is only 8.7% black as compared to 47% Latino (of any race), 28.7% non-Latino white, and 14% Asian/Pacific Islander. However, since its inception, black Angelenos have always played a major role in LA's history and culture. Los Angeles is one of the only major US cities founded largely by people of black African ancestry. When it was still a Spanish colony, Los Angeles began life as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles on 4 September, 1781 (well, sort of). Of the 44 pobladores who ventured over from nearby San Gabriel, a majority of 26 were identified as having African ancestry.

BLACKS IN MEXICAN AND EARLY AMERICAN LOS ANGELES

Pio Pico
Pio Pico ca. 1890

During the period that Los Angeles was part of Mexico (1821-1840), blacks were fairly integrated into society at all levels. Mexico abolished slavery much earlier than the US, in 1820. In 1831, Emanuel Victoria served as California's first black governor. Alta California's last governor, Pío de Jesus Pico, was also of mixed black ancestry. The US won the Mexican-American War and in 1850, California was admitted to the United States. Although one of America's so-called "free states," discriminatory legislation was quickly enacted to restrict and remove the civil rights of blacks, Chinese, and Native Americans. For example, blacks (and other minorities) couldn't testify in court against white people. 

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Straight billin' through the Eastside - a South LA Eastside primer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 5, 2011 09:15pm | Post a Comment
A TALE OF TWO EASTSIDES 

In Los Angeles, usage of the term "Eastside" varies depending on the speaker. To most Angelenos -- especially Latinos -- "The Eastside" refers to a group of neighborhoods immediately east of the LA river: Boyle Heights, Brooklyn Heights, City Terrace, East Los Angeles, El Sereno, Happy Valley, Hillside Village, Lincoln Heights, Rose Hills, and University Hills


THE (HISTORICALLY) BLACK EASTSIDE


Map of South LA's Eastside
Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of South LA's Eastside

The other Eastside is in South LA. This Eastside was historically the main area that LA's black residents were required to live until the middle of the 20th century. It should be noted that when people speak of this region -- though they're implicitly referring to the East Side of South Los Angeles -- that reference to this area as "the Eastside" likely pre-dates the modern version of communties east of the river. Check out The Eastsiders, a documentary about South LA's Eastside between 1920 and 1965.

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