General historical overview of Afro-American
population and churches in Los Angeles

Compiled by Clifton L. Holland

Historical Overview:  Population growth and distribution

In the period from 1920 to 1960, African Americans from the Southeast U.S. arrived in Los Angeles and its population grew 15 times.  During World War II, Los Angeles boomed as a center for the production of war supplies and munitions, and thousands of African Americans migrated to Los Angeles to fill factory jobs. After the war massive suburban growth made the city enormously prosperous, but also created or exacerbated a variety of urban problems.  In 1965, the African-American community of Watts was the site of six days of race rioting that left 34 people dead and caused over $200 million in property damage.  Tom Bradley, the city's first black mayor, was first elected in 1973.

Since 1990, the African American population dropped in half as its middle class relocated to the suburbs, notably the Antelope Valley and Inland Empire and Latinos have moved into the once predominantly African American district of South-Central Los Angeles.  African Americans still remain predominant in some portions of the city, including Hyde Park, Crenshaw District, Baldwin Hills (as well as neighboring View Park-Windsor Hills and Ladera Heights), which is considered to be one of the wealthiest majority-black neighborhoods in the United States.  Los Angeles still has the largest African American community of any city in the western United States.

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Philip J. Ethington, History Department, USC, has created a website on Los Angeles and the Problem of Urban Historical Knowledge. See the following website for a series of maps by Ethington on Afro-American population distribution, 1940-1990:

The American Cities Atlas Project is a continuing public education project of Professor William Bowen of California State University Northridge. For maps on African American population distribution and density in the Los Angeles area based on 1990 Census see:

The IDEA Strategic Mapping and Information Service, directed by Clifton L. Holland, has produced a series of computer maps on ethnic and religious diversity in the Los Angeles 5-County Region, based on the 1990 Census of Population.    See the following links:   

Los Angeles County: ../laco/black2.pdf  (note PDF format).

Orange County: ../orco/d-black.pdf (note PDF format).

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Black in L. A. - The Vital Link

By Beverly Mateer Taylor

16th-century Spanish folktale about Queen Califa, ruler of an island inhabited by black Amazons living in caves full of gems, led the first Spanish explorers in search of this island called California. Since it's only a folktale, this story doesn't really qualify as the beginning of African American history in Los Angeles.  The true story begins in February 1781, when 44 settlers founded "El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula" under Spanish rule. Half of these original pobladores—Antonio Mesa, Manuel Camero, Luis Quintero, Jose Moreno, their wives, and the wives of Jose Antonio Navarro and Basilio Rosas—had African ancestors.

By 1789, the pueblo of 139 inhabitants elected its first city council, to which Manuel Camero was elected.

Descendants of these settlers were prominent in developing the Los Angeles area. Some, such as Andres Pico and Juan Francisco Reyes, acquired vast ranchos.

Among those exercising considerable political and economic power were mayors Juan Francisco Reyes and Tiburcio Tapia. Pio Pico, the last governor of California under Mexican rule and the builder of Pico House, was a large landowner and businessman. Grandchildren of Luis Quintero included Eugene Biscailuz, who served as sheriff of Los Angeles, and Maria Rita Valdes Villa, whose 1838 land grant is now Beverly Hills.

The first African American known to live in Los Angeles was Thomas Fisher, a sailor captured by the Spanish when Captain Bouchard attacked Los Angeles.  Little is known of him although he is believed to have played a role in the conquest of Los Angeles by American troops during the Mexican War.  In 1822, a Joseph Vincent Lawrence settled in Los Angeles.

When American troops occupied Los Angeles in 1847, a few blacks accompanied them.   One slave freed by an American officer was Peter Biggs, one of the more colorful characters of early Los Angeles.  He set up business as the first barber in Los Angeles, but due to his high prices, was forced out of business when a Frenchman opened a shop nearby.

California Statehood

American statehood in 1850 was a setback for blacks in Los Angeles and throughout the state.  Slavery was not allowed, but neither was equality.  During the first legislative session in 1850, statutes were enacted that denied them the rights to give evidence in court, to receive a public education, to homestead public lands, and to vote.

It took years of hard work for blacks to regain these rights.  In 1863, the legislature restored the right to testify in court.  Between 1872 and 1879, black children gained some access to education, but the law proscribing African American children's right to a public education was not repealed until 1880.

Census records reported an increase in the African American population from 15 in 1850 to over 60 in 1860. Pioneer families who came during this decade included the Smarts, Owenses, Masons, Ballards, Greens, and Peppers.  Their descendants were influential in the African American community into the 1940s.

Two who became wealthy through savvy real estate deals and were well known as philanthropists were Robert Owens and Biddy Mason.  Owens came to Los Angeles in 1853 and, until his death in 1865, owned a successful livery and teamster business and invested in real estate. His son, Charles, is believed to have alerted the Los Angeles sheriff when Robert Marion Smith was preparing to leave for Texas, a slave state, with fourteen blacks.  Smith was immediately served with a writ of habeas corpus, his "slaves" were taken into protective custody, and on Jan. 19, 1856, judge Benjamin Hayes of the United States District Court of Appeals ruled that they were not voluntarily accompanying Smith, and therefore must remain in California.

Robert Owens provided housing for four of them, Biddy Mason and her three daughters.   Biddy's daughter Ellen married Charles Owens, and Biddy found work as a midwife and nurse.  From an income of $2.50 a day, she saved $250 in ten years.

She then purchased two lots on South Spring Street between Third and Fourth streets. On one, she built the house she occupied until her death in 1891.  The other she sold in 1875 for $1,500.  Over, the years, her real estate deals enabled her to build an estate that was valued at $300,000 in 1909.  She was generous to her family and to others in need.  In 1871, she provided funding to establish the First African Methodist Episcopal Church.  She is said to have obtained a certified copy of the court order granting her freedom, which she carried always.  See Biddy Mason's biography at:

Between 1860 and 1880, the African American population grew slowly--to 102 out of a total population of 11,000--due to a strong Confederate element in Southern California during the Civil War, racist comments in the Los Angeles News, and the state's refusal in 1869 to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment.

Los Angeles prevented African Americans from registering to vote until Louis Green led a successful battle resulting in immediate registration for the 1870 election by the 25 African American men eligible to vote.

The era of quick wealth between 1850 and 1870 was also a lawless one, in spite of a county sheriff and a city police officer. According to Homer F. Broome, Jr., African Americans managed to mind their own business and avoid the frequent lynchings that vigilante Anglo-Americans and Mexican-Americans inflicted on each other.

Between 1886 and 1889, a combination of a railroad rate war and aggressive advertising lured 39,000 people to Los Angeles, including at least 1,100 African Americans.  Los Angeles became known as a good place for blacks.   Housing was integrated, as people choose neighborhoods they liked and could afford.   A strong sense of community began to emerge in 1890, and areas of African American concentration developed along Second Street between San Pedro and Alameda streets, and around Eighth Street and Maple Avenue.

From this time on, increasing numbers of African Americans came to the Golden State.  The 1900 census counted 2,841 blacks; 1910, 7,599; 1920, 18,738; 1930, 30,893; and 1940, 75,209.  As late as 1940, Los Angeles had one of only two significant African American communities in the eleven western states.

The Golden Era, 1890 to 1920

Los Angeles seemed to have almost outgrown its anti-black bias.  The real estate mania had brought wealth to some families, and a small group of professionals, including, doctors, lawyers, editors, and ministers, were emerging as leaders in the black community.   The building boom between 1902 and 1908 created a demand for black muscle, a need partly filled by Southerners driven off cotton farms by boll weevils and racial tensions.   Los Angeles was one of the first communities in America to employ black firemen and policemen.

This small percentage of the total population had a surprisingly large share of the businesses. Among them were May's Ice Cream Parlor, Dawson Cafe, Golden West Hotel, Los Angeles Van and Storage, Shakelfords Furniture Store, Donnell's Blacksmith Shop, and J. B. Loring's real estate office. East First Street was a busy workingman's thoroughfare with Japanese, Russian Jewish, and black businesses side by side from Los Angeles Street to Central Avenue.

The community spread from First and Los Angeles streets to Boyle Heights and west of downtown along Jefferson Boulevard between Normandie and Western avenues.   The Furlong Tract was built south of downtown, selling lots to black families for $750. It became a working-class area settled by people like the Guillebeaus, Postells, and Hickses.  Many were employed at such nearby plants as the Cottonseed Oil Mill, the Hercules Foundry, and the Pioneer Paper Co.

Businesses and services needed by a community of 200 homes opened, including three churches and a school. After the 1933 Long Beach earthquake damaged some of the homes, families began to leave the neighborhood. The remaining houses were torn down in 1942 and the Pueblo Del Rio housing project, designed by a team of talented designers including Paul Revere Williams, was built to house the defense industry workers. All that remains of the original Furlong Tract is Holmes School, built as the 51st Street School in 1910 and renamed in 1913 after a fire. It was the first all-black school in Los Angeles, except that the teachers and principal were all white initially.

The first African American teacher hired in Los Angeles, Mrs. Bessie Bruington Burke, joined the staff in 1911. In 1918 she became the principal at Holmes. She retired after 44 years service in the school district, most of them at Holmes.

Organizations such as the Los Angeles Forum, the Sojourner Truth Industrial Club, the Women's Day Nursery Assn., and the local branch of the NAACP began during this period.  The Forum, a group of men from various black churches, worked on social issues from 1903 until 1942.  The Sojourner Truth Club began in 1904 to protect the welfare of Negro women and provided Christian non-sectarian housing for single women for more than 84 years.

The Los Angeles Branch of the NAACP was formed in 1914 at the home of Drs. John and Vada Somerville by E. Burton Cerutti, Charles Alexander, John Shackelford, Betty Hill, Rev. Joseph Johnson, W. T. Cleghorn, and others.

Dr. Charles Edward Block served eight years as the first president. An early successful battle gained admittance of "colored students" to Los Angeles County Hospital's nursing school, once the Board of Supervisors was convinced that these students could have filled the desperate need for nurses during World War I if they had been admitted then.

Drs. John and Vada Watson Somerville had earlier fought their own integration battles as the first and second African American students at the USC School of Dentistry. Another USC dental graduate, Dr. Claude Hudson, served ten years as the second president of the local NAACP.

Many individuals—such as R. C. Owens, J. L. Edmonds, Charles Alexander, and Margaret Scott turned the fight against racism in the city into a collective rather than an individual battle through two quasi-political organizations.

The Citizens Protective League focused on fighting local displays of bigotry in hotels, cafes, clothing stores, etc. and the Independent Republic attempted to unite all voters of color in California.  One result of this effort was the election of Frederick Roberts, a Republican, to the California Assembly in 1918.  He was the first African American to hold a statewide office and represented his Los Angeles district, which included Watts, until 1934.  He was unseated by Augustus Hawkins, a liberal Democrat, who held the seat until 1960 when he was elected to Congress from his Los Angeles district.

Newspapers, such as John Niemore's California Eagle, and the Liberator, edited by J. L. Edmonds, reported news of the community, provided housing and job information, and advocated for African Americans. One early newspaper campaign was to stop businesses from charging blacks significantly higher prices in food and drink establishments.

When California Eagle editor Neimore, who had begun the paper in 1879, died in 1912, Charlotta Spears Bass became editor.  Her husband, Joseph Blackburn Bass, was a partner in the business from their marriage in 1913 until his death in 1934.  Mrs. Bass was a fearless advocate for her community, but she also recognized the need for a social page in the paper.  She once pulled a gun from her desk and frightened off thugs sent by the KKK to intimidate her.

She kept the Eagle going until 1941, when she sold it to Loren Miller. Under all three editors, the paper was known for its political advocacy for equality and its fight against racial bigotry. Loren Miller sold the paper when he was appointed a municipal court judge in 1964, and within six months it failed due to poor management. The California Eagle Photograph Collection and the Charlotta Bass papers are available to researchers at the Southern California Library for Social Studies & Research.

Another long-running newspaper, the Los Angeles Sentinel, was founded by Leon Washington in 1933, and is still being published. His longest running campaign urged African Americans not to spend their money in places that would not hire them.

The first African American policeman, Robert William Stewart, was hired in 1886. By 1911, seven of the 505 sworn police personnel were black; by 1914, there were fourteen. These early police, black or white, were primarily chosen for their size, physical strength, physical stamina, and the ability to give and take physical abuse. Training consisted of a one-day orientation by a senior officer. Black officers were assigned to black neighborhoods, usually to foot patrol. In 1919, the first black policewoman, Georgia Robinson, was hired, followed by Lucile Shelton in 1925 and Juanita Edwards in 1928.

The first African American member of the Los Angeles Fire Department, George W. Bright, was hired in 1897. By 1902, he had attained the rank of lieutenant and the department was faced with a dilemma—segregate or allow a black to supervise white firemen. The department gathered up all the black firemen in the city and assigned them to Engine Company 30 under Bright's supervision. Fire Station 14 became all black in 1936. Civil service regulations were regularly violated to maintain the segregated system and retain captain as the highest rank open to African Americans.

Central Avenue, 1920s and '30s

The 1920s saw the erosion of many gains.  Activity by the Ku Klux Klan revived after World War I.  Housing covenants with racial restrictions appeared in 1927 and, with them, attempted evictions from many areas in the city.  Central Avenue became the major African American business section as industrial development pushed businesses and residents further south.

More businesses and professional services opened along Central Avenue to fill needs that were denied blacks at white-owned businesses and offices.

Andrew J. Roberts sold his successful Los Angeles Van, Truck and Storage Co. to open the A. J. Roberts Funeral Home, which ran an apprenticeship program for morticians in addition to its other services. The Hudson-Ledell Building, designed by Paul Williams, was opened jointly by a medical doctor and a dentist in the '20s, and continued to house professional offices until World War II. Dunbar Hospital was opened by three black doctors in 1923. A pharmacy was opened by two pharmacists who had worked at the hospital.

Golden State Guarantee Fund Insurance Co. of Los Angeles was created in 1925 by Norman O. Houston, William Nickerson Jr., and George A. Beavers, to provide life insurance coverage for African Americans denied insurance by white owned firms. (The current company building on West Adams Boulevard, designed by Paul R. Williams, houses a significant collection of African American art.)

Social clubs, such as the Silver Fox Club and the Just for Fun Club, were formed, as was a literary group, the Phys-Art-Lit-Mo Club. The annual Lion Tamer's Ball was held for several years. The Golden West Lodge of the Benevolent and Paternal Order of Elks and the Prince Hall Free Masons were organized. The Marcus Garvey Universal Negro Improvement Assn. was active from 1921 to 1934. Among the leading figures of this era were Joseph and Charlotta Bass, J. D. Gordon, John Wesley Coleman, and W H. 'Pop" Sanders.

Black churches, such as the First AME [1871], [Wesley Chapel Methodist Church (1888)], the Second Baptist Church [prior to 1890 in East Los Angeles],  St. John of God Catholic Church, and others, including many storefront churches, have always been a strong force in the African American community.

Built in 1924, the Lincoln Theatre became the leading venue for theater productions, music, films, and comedians on South Central Avenue. Jazz thrived in such clubs as Club Alabam, the Savoy, the Apex, and the Kentucky Club along Central Avenue.

Recreational opportunities were limited by whites-only policies at pools, beaches, parks, etc. Bruce's Beach, a popular black-owned resort in Manhattan Beach, was forced by officials and residents to close, and the Pacific Beach Club in Huntington Beach burned the day before it was to open. To fill this gap, the resort town of Val Verde was founded in the Santa Clarita Valley in 1924 by a group including real estate agent Sidney P. Dones, Charlotta Bass, community leader Hattie S. Baldwin, and Norman O. Houston. It soon became known as "the black Palm Springs," and prospered until the 1960s when once-segregated vacation spots through-out southern California were opened to everyone.

Hotel Sommerville was built by Dr. J. A. Sommerville in 1928 to fill a need for a good hotel for African Americans. The first national convention of the NAACP took place as soon as the hotel opened in 1928. After the crash of 1929, it was renamed the Dunbar Hotel by new owners. Many jazz notables, including Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Count Basic, frequented the hotel when they worked in nearby clubs. Dr. Sommerville rebuilt his fortune in the 1930s and entered politics. He was the first black delegate to the California Democratic National Convention (1936) and the first black appointed to the Los Angeles Police Commission (1949).

In the 1930s, prosperous African Americans, including actresses Louise Beavers, Butterfly McQueen, and Hattie McDaniel, lived in the West Adams district. An attempt by white homeowners to remove them and other black families from the neighborhood led to a U. S. Supreme Court decision in 1948 declaring housing covenants unenforceable. Within five years the covenants were outlawed.

Post World War II

Thousands of African Americans came from other states during the Depression and post-war period, resulting in Los Angeles becoming one of America's major urban centers of black population. This tremendous surge of newcomers eroded the sense of community African Americans had before the war.  Social problems, including segregation, were now viewed more as national problems and less as unique to Los Angeles.

In the late 1940s, Dr. H. Claude Hudson founded the Broadway Federal Savings to enable African Americans to obtain real estate loans. Under his son Elbert Hudson and his grandson Paul Claude Hudson, the business has continued to grow and is now publicly owned with multiple branches. All three men were also lawyers.

Another individual with a lasting impact on Los Angeles was Paul Revere Williams, first black member of the American Institute of Architects, who designed 3,000 residential, municipal, and commercial buildings, including the theme building at LAX, in a career that began in the 1920s and continued nearly until his death in 1980. To overcome the reaction of potential clients dismayed at the discovery of his race, he learned to sketch upside down so they could see their dream house on paper as they described it to him. His many achievements have recently been detailed in a book by his granddaughter Karen Hudson.

Integration came slowly to the Los Angeles Police and Fire departments. As recently as the 1950s and 1960s, many African American sergeants studied law and went into legal careers because of a lack of promotional opportunities in the Police Department. Thomas Bradley, first African American mayor of Los Angeles, was one of them. In 1992, Willie Williams of Philadelphia became the first African American chief. Bernard Parks, promoted from with-in the department, replaced him in 1997. Ann Young became the first African American female captain in 2000.

By 1953, the NAACP was pressing for equality in hiring, transfers, and promotions in the Los Angeles Fire Department. Politicians dragged their feet, and the media became involved, triggering a nasty fight. Black firefighters organized the Stentorians with the slogan, "We only fight the department on integration." Firemen such as Wallace DeCuir, who greeted his colleagues every morning knowing they would ignore him, and Reynald Lopez, who kept his cool when a "Whites Only" sign was hung on the kitchen door, eventually gained acceptance through their dignified persistence.

In 1956 all fire stations were finally integrated. Jim Stern became the first black battalion chief in 1968; he moved on to become chief of the Pasadena Fire Department, and was elected president of the International Assn. of Fire Chiefs.

Fire Station No. 30 was closed and now houses the African American Firefighter Museum, thanks to the work of Arnett Hartsfield, who kept detailed notes, clippings, and photos of the struggle. A roster of black firemen, 1897 to 1956, with service details, is on the museum's website.


Black history in Los Angeles from the days of Spanish and Mexican rule to 21st-century America is a complex maze of good times and bad.  African American contributions to the development of the city have been—and continue to be—significant.  The California African American Museum in Exposition Park and the A. C. Bilbrew Library on El Segundo Boulevard are leaders among those who hold the keys to the whole story.


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The status of blacks in California during the first decade of statehood indicated the precarious position of African Americans who sought freedom and opportunity in the West.   Although only 1,000 blacks resided in California in 1850 out of a population of 175,000, they became the focus of intense legislative debate. In the account below historian Malcolm Edwards describes the debate which prompted 400 black Californians, ten percent of the state's black population in 1858, to emigrate to British Columbia in that year.

          As early as the autumn months of 1849 the proper position of black people in California had been debated long and heatedly by the constitutional convention at Monterey.  San Francisco's delegate had been instructed "by all honorable means to oppose any act, measure, provision, or ordinance that is calculated to further the introduction of domestic slavery into the territory of California" and they and their fellows agreed that slavery was unacceptable within the boundaries of the proposed state ....

          Having disposed of the slavery question directly, the convention then moved to the critical question regarding the exclusion of "free persons of color" from California....  M.M. McCarver, born in Kentucky and arrived in Sacramento in 1848 urged the exclusion of all free persons of color and "to effectively prevent the owners of slaves from bringing them into this State for the purpose of setting them free".  McCarver's logic, and that of many conventioneers, was that slaves freed by their masters solely to become indentured servants in the mines would constitute a threat to order "greater that slavery itself."

          The prejudice against free blacks expressed in the constitutional convention carried over into the first legislature and maintained momentum as the debate progressed.  The state's first governor, Peter Burnett, openly negroes within California's boundaries.  The legislature, which gathered in 1850, was divided on the question.... Northern and Southern whites representing the mining districts, feared economic competition with alien or colored races and worked....without success for the exclusion of blacks.  The majority was [opposed to] prohibition but promptly began to write statutes which humiliated, restricted, and periled any blacks who chose to enter California.

          By 1858 eight California legislatures had built an appallingly extensive body of discriminatory laws including: the prohibition of testimony in civil and criminal actions involving whites; the institution of poll and property taxes; the invalidation of marriages between whites and blacks or mulattoes; exclusion from the state homestead law; exclusion from jury eligibility; and the lapsing of legislation affection free blacks' rights under Fugitive Slave laws.   In practical terms this meant that free blacks, and those brought in indenture to California during the late 1840s and early 1850s, lived a lean socio-political existence.

Source: Malcolm Edwards, "The War of Complexional Distinction: Blacks in Gold Rush California and British Columbia," California Historical Quarterly, 56:1 (Spring 1977), pp. 34-37.

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Bridget "Biddy" Mason, born a slave in Georgia, became one of the first English-speaking African American settlers in Los Angeles when the city had fewer than 1,000 inhabitants.   Here is a partial account of her life.

          Nothing is left of the original homestead of Biddy Mason, the first black woman to own property in Los Angeles.  In its place, at 331 South Spring Street, is the new ten story Broadway-Spring Center, primarily a parking structure.... More than a mile away, close to the USC campus, an old church that Mason founded still exists.  The First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles, one hundred and eighteen years old, is a testament to the complexity of Mason's life, work, and impact on the city..... Biddy Mason bought her land and built her house in 1866 in a town then so raw and new that the streets were troughs of mud or dust.  Gas lamps were individually lit, one by one, every night, by a rider on horseback, illuminating a scant few blocks of humble houses in the bottom of a dark, sloping basin, now the valley of a billion lights.

          Mason was born in 1818 in the state of Georgia and sold into slavery at eighteen.  She walked across America in 1848 with the family who owned her and her sister--a Mississippi family who'd converted to Mormonism and were trekking west in caravans of wagons.  They were a homeless people slouching toward Zion, traveling with their slaves and stock and children in oxcarts loaded with everything they owned.  Biddy thus became a western pioneer, a black slave caught up in a white religious pilgrimage.  She had three children at the time, including the baby she carried in her arms.  They walked from Mississippi to Paducah, Kentucky, to Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Lincoln, Nebraska, and points less charted to the west, seven continuous months of walking, until eventually Biddy's party passed the valley of the Great Salt Lake in Utah-where others settled permanently-and went on to San Bernardino, arriving in 1851.  But this Mormon family, named Smith, who owned Biddy and her sister and their children, didn't realize that California was a free state:  If you brought your slaves here, and they wanted to leave you, they could.  That's exactly what Biddy wanted, but Smith was hoping to depart for Texas, taking his slaves along before anyone could stop him.

          Biddy, however, had made friends with free blacks here, including Elizabeth Flake Rowan, Charles Owens, and his father, Robert Owens, who ran a flourishing stable on San Pedro Street.  Owens got up a posse of vaqueros to rescue Biddy and her kin, swooping down on the Mormon camp in the Santa Monica mountains in the middle of the night.  Biddy sued for freedom in court, won her papers in 1856, and moved her family in with the Owens.  She was, at this time, thirty-eight years old.

          Ten years after winning her freedom she had saved enough money to buy the Spring Street lot; she eventually built her own house there---the house in which the First African Methodist Church was born [in 1871].  In time she bought more land.   Her grandsons were prosperous, in part because she gave them land to start a stable, and later she erected a two-story building.  She became known for her good works.  Before her death in 1891, she also became rich enough to know the joys of opening her hand and giving her wealth away.

Source:  Judith Freeman, "Commemorating An L.A. Pioneer," Angeles Magazine, April, 1990, pp. 58-60.

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The account below provides a brief description of Robert C. Owens, the most famous grandchild of Biddy Mason.

          When Biddy Mason died in January 1891, she left a legacy of achievement and community service that was universally heralded.  Her obituary in the Los Angeles Times read:   "These...years have been filled with good works and we are sure she has been welcomed into the better land with the plaudit, 'well done'!" 

          Through the Afro-American community expanded in the late nineteenth century, the descendants of Robert Owens and Biddy Mason continued to exert great influence in the city until the coming of World War I. The families were united in 1856 when Charles Owens married Ellen Mason, Biddy's oldest daughter, a union that produced two children, Robert Curry in 1858 and Henry L. in 1860.  Before his death in September 1882, Charles had continued the family tradition of acquisition, buying land on Olive Street and moving the Owens Family Stables to 1st and Main as the San Pedro Street property became too valuable to house horses.

         Robert C. Owens, who the Los Angeles Times called the "richest colored man in Los Angeles," built upon the foundation of his ancestors and far surpassed their dreams in terms of wealth, political power and national repute. During his youth Owens, his brother and his mother attended J.B. Sanderson's school for blacks in Oakland.  By the mid-1870s he worked as a ranch laborer for the Slauson family.  Beginning in the 1880s, "R.C." toiled as a charcoal peddler, a railroad worker in San Pedro and drove the street sprinkler wagon for $1.00 per day.  From this point, Owens managed the family holdings with great success.  He purchased land throughout the city...   An example of his skill is seen in a real estate purchase located near the original Mason homestead.  In 1890 Owens purchased a lot on Spring Street between 7th and 8th for $7,200; when he sold the property in 1905 he earned a profit of $65,000.  Owens and his family lived in regal elegance in one of the most beautiful homes in the city, located at 10th and Labany...

          Owens...maintained a vision of California as a place of opportunity...  [He said] "colored men with money to make even small purchases; who will work the soil; who want to better their condition and enjoy every political right as American citizens should come to the golden West."   While Owens did not urge "wholesale emigration of colored people to this section," he did believe that "a few hundred farm families" would find equal opportunity in the West.  As a nationally known figure, friend of Booker T. Washington and patron of Tuskegee Institute, Owens' own words carried great weight in the Afro-American community.

Source: Lonnie Bunch, III, Black Angelenos: The African American in Los Angeles, 1850-1950 (Los Angeles, 1989), pp. 18-19.

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In the account below historian Lonnie Bunch, III, describes Central Avenue, the center of black life in Los Angeles between World Wars I and II.

          Central Avenue was in its heyday as the center of both the black business and residential communities.  By 1920 the black population of Los Angeles had doubled from the 1910 level to 15,579.  Unlike earlier neighborhoods were unable to accommodate the influx. "Keep the neighborhood white" drives...eventually led to the overpopulation of the Central Avenue community by forcing all new arrivals into the area.  Any discussion of the 1920s should begin with "The Avenue."  The story of Central Avenue with its elegant neighborhoods, jazz clubs, business districts and trolley cars full of black faces has grown to mythic proportions.  Some remember the "Avenue" as a miniature Harlem where musicians and literati gauged the community's pulse by day and transformed that energy into rhyme and music by night.  Others recall with pride the offices of the black physicians and dentists, the storefronts of black businesses, and the fabled Dunbar Hotel.  Many, however, have memories only of overcrowded homes and apartments, the underside of the Avenue...

          By 1910 Central Avenue was the main thoroughfare of black Los Angeles, with the nucleus at 9th and Central, later moving south to 12th and Central.  Soon "The Avenue" became an eclectic mix of stately homes representing the cream of black society, rentals and apartments that housed the new southern migrants, and the business and professional offices of the black middle class.   In essence, poverty and prosperity existed side by side on Central Avenue.

          The black businesses in the Central Avenue corridor were a continuing source of pride for black Angelenos.  As one walked from 12th Street a myriad of businesses appeared...the offices of the California Eagle, the Lincoln Theater, the Kentucky Club, Blodgett Motors (with advertisements claiming "you can't go wrong with an Essex"), the Elks Auditorium...and the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company were just a few of the many enterprises that graced the street.  Just off the avenue was the 28th Street YMCA, the site of political meetings, social gatherings, as well as the leading organization working with Negro youth in the city.  Nearby...between Hooper and Central Avenues, the Dunbar Hospital...ministered to the needs of the community until World War II.  Liberty Savings and Loan [was] located near 25th and Central from its inception in 1924 until it ceased operation in 1961...  The Hudson-Liddell Building at 41st and Central..was designed by Paul Williams...  Williams, the preeminent black architect, had already designed...the 28th Street YMCA, the Hollywood YMCA and the Second Baptist Church.

          But the jewel of Central Avenue was the Hotel Somerville, later renamed the Dunbar Hotel.  One of the most important landmarks in Los Angeles, it was more than just a resort for weary travelers of color.   The lobby, restaurant and conference room became the central meeting place of black Angelenos, hosting a wide range of social and community events.  It was truly the symbol of black achievement in the city.  The hotel was the creation of John Somerville, a dentist in Los Angeles...  Somerville and his wife, Vada were both graduates of the School of Dentistry of the University of Southern California and active participants in the affairs of the black community for over fifty years.

          Central Avenue was also home to a musical and literary movement that followed the patterns of the Harlem Renaissance, though on a much smaller scale... Literati from Langston Hughes to native son Arna Bontemps periodically spent time in the ever enlarging artist colony.  Poetry readings by local and nationally known writers became standard Sunday fare at the 28th Street YMCA...

          The plethora of musical establishments, jazz dens and nightclubs...made Central Avenue the entertainment center of the city... Nightclubs such as the Kentucky Club, the Club Alabam, the Savoy at 55th and Central...the Apex at 4015 Central...all provided opportunity for black musicians to develop a following...  Central Avenue was the home to many dreams...the hub of black life. 

Source: Lonnie Bunch, III, Black Angelenos: The African American in Los Angeles, 1850-1950 (Los Angeles, 1989), pp. 29-34.


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Few Americans realize that African American actors have been a minor presence in Hollywood movies since the beginning of the industry in the 1890s.  Fewer still know that their image on the big screen deteriorated in the second decade of the 20th Century into demeaning roles as servants or "natives," setting a pattern which would last until the 1960s.  In the following vignette film historian Thomas Cripps describes the 1920s.

          From the earliest days race was steeped into every corner of [Hollywood] life, from the "nigger" in the scenario marginal notes written for the sound version of The Birth of a Nation to the simplistic "how-to-write-for-the movies" books that taught young fans the racial code.  Some merely warned their readers to "stay away from censorable themes," while other defined the traits of racial stereotypes.  One of the earliest lessons in comedy writing appeared in 1913 and featured a "shiftless, worthless, fat negro" whose eventual good fortune bring him quantities of chicken, pork chops, melons, and "other things dear to a darky's heart..."  The absence of black opinion, except for an occasional writer such as Wallace Thurman in the early 1930s, allowed whites a smug confidence in the accuracy of their views.... Along with incidental racism, and in part the cause of it, Hollywood nurtured a Southern mystique.  Many blacks and whites had drifted from the South to California and found work in the studios, and their beliefs colored life in the movie colony.

          Between the wars there was little overt interracial hostility--nothing to bring racial prejudice to a conscious level.   Liberals were punctilious toward the feelings of minorities; there were even acts of personal sacrifice and courage, but they effected no general changes.  Ronald Reagan's father, for example, forbade his children to see The Birth of a Nation and slept in his car rather than stay in anti-Semitic hotels.  Fred Astaire proudly boasted of appearing on the same vaudeville card with Bill Robinson... More revealing of racial postures was the point at which art and life became one: the publicity campaign for MGM's Trader Horn in 1929.  The small company on location in Africa had been beset by misfortune, the rumored death of an actress, and disappointing footage, so that for retakes and promotional uses they brought Mutia Omooloo, a young African who had given a sensitive performance in the movie, back to California.  From his arrival onward his every wish was treated as a savage eccentricity.  Segregated on the studio lot, he was made to seem fey because of his Islamic kosher demands, his sightseeing and wandering on Central Avenue, and shopping in five-and-tens.  Feminine companions for him became the assignment of a studio toady who doubled as a pimp.  Misunderstandings up and down the avenue resulted in bickering and violence, ending in a wild chase through Culver City; a confrontation with Irving Thalberg, the head of production; hospitalization and eventual escape; down to the very night of the premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater, complete with Africans in loincloths in the lobby.  There, even his balking at the segregation of the women he escorted was taken as no more than African orneriness.   At no time was he taken seriously.  The studio research department even forgot the names of the tribes, eventually labeling them "Gibboneys" and "Joconeys" after Cedric Gibbons and J.J. Cohn, two studio executives.

          Blacks observing Hollywood from deep down in the (Los Angeles) basin knew the social structure of the movie colony was unfair and corrupt, and yet the ills of the Afro-American could not be traced directly to it...  Furthermore, divisive elements within the ghetto contributed to the persistence of the racial system.  Oppression encouraged by the growth of a stratified black society, which divided black attention away from protest against discriminatory practices.  Central Avenue north of Watts in the 1920s throbbed with life: dense, varied, sought after by white habitues of "hot-colored" clubs...   It seemed the servants of the stars came alive only in the jazzy sessions of Sebastian's Cotton Club in Culver City.  Simultaneously the growing...ghetto included the families of the Beaverses, the McDaniels, and the Dandridges--the future black stars...  Black papers reported the gossip of Twelfth and Central as though it were Hollywood and Vine, and generally supported the aspirations of the few Negroes in the studios.  More automobiles, crowded street corners, new young stars such as Carolynne Snowden at the Cotton Club, Stepin Fetchit flaunting his wealth, feeding the love-hate blacks felt for him, angry complaints that Hollywood distorted black identity in such movies as Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments--all contributed to the tempo of the black West Coast.

          Yet beneath the vibrant activity and black camaraderie there was a vague uneasiness.  Movie roles were only resumptions of old Southern roles.  Blacks were still dependent upon whites for jobs, status, and security.  To do a sixty-eight weeks at the Cotton Club, win a featured role in Old Kentucky...attend cast parties, have a dressing room on the MGM lot, a roadster and a maid, and best of all, a five year contract was still, at bottom, to be beholden to powerful white men and to be replaceable by any one of the sleek young "foxes" in the chorus line.  That was Carolynne Snowden's story but it could have been the life of any black actress in Hollywood.

          Success meant puffed press releases to disguise the wide spaces between jobs.  It meant a hard journey from Omaha for Julia Hudlin, who saw an old Lincoln movie and quit her job as a social worker for a try at Hollywood.  After six years of struggle she became a personal maid to the movie star Leatrice Joy, and later "secretary" to Dolores Del Rio...  Other women, like Anita Thompson, a young black New Yorker who shocked her social set by taking a fling at show business, chose to stop short and leave Los Angeles before falling into the slough of servant life.  Mildred Washington survived as a "Creole Cutie" in Sebastian's between roles in Uncle Toms' Cabin and In Old Kentucky.  Even good performances brought few new roles, and many clung to their menial jobs or to ghetto hustling... Even at their best, black careers ended with no more than a friendly obituary praising a long succession of "mammy" roles.

          Rather than make the rounds of the casting offices and agents, Negroes clustered in a little cadre along Central Avenue from the Dunbar Hotel...northward toward the Lincoln Theater and toward Hollywood.  Studio scouts scanned the avenue looking for likely specimens and invited the most physical types to "cattle calls"--mass invitations to try out for spots in the coveys of natives in jungle movies.  Between [acting] jobs they supported themselves through regular jobs with City of Los Angeles agencies such as the highway or the water department.  Like longshoremen at the morning shapeup, they hung on the corners at the Dunbar and Smith's drugstore, to see and to be seen.  Only Stepin Fetchit and a few other contract players retained agents.

          Because casting directors preferred types rather than talent, success was measured in the number of hours, days, or weeks rather than in the quality of roles.  Therefore the black actor counted himself luck to pick up his $3.50 per day as an extra, and aspired to no more than that.  Indeed, a speaking part could easily lead only to another "cattle call" rather than an interview for a substantive role... Not that whites were not sometimes defeated by the system; rather, blacks never won...  Segregation saw to that...   

          [Moreover] Stepin Fetchit and the lesser players together, consciously or not, acted both as a conservative force and as a palliative for black rage.  Their foolish public roles and conspicuous consumption made them appear richer and more powerful than they really were, so black adored them even when they may have winced at the flunkeys' roles that paid the bills.  Fetchit cruised Central Avenue in his big car with "Fox Contract Player" lettered on its side, claiming as his title "The King of Central Avenue."  Because of his professional needs, Fetchit never revealed any inner dignity to whites for fear of undermining his public image.  Only with black friends did he reveal the pleasure derived from his season ticket to the Hollywood Bowl symphony series.  To a white reporter he hewed to type, insisting, "If you put anything Ah says in the papah, it might be wise to kind of transpose it into my dialeck."  Except for Spencer Williams, who wrote stereotyped scenarios of Octavus Roy Cohen stories at Christy Studios, there was no black voice inside the studios to deny the universal nature of Fetchit's type.

Source: Thomas Cripps, Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American Film, 1900-1942  (New York, 1977), pp. 97-106.

* * *

Exerpts from Edward Drewry Jervey, The History of Methodism in Southern California and Arizona.  Nashville, TN:  Parthenon Press for the Historical Society of the Southern California-Arizona Conference, 1960, page 90.  (California Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, North).

Wesley Chapel, organized in 1888, was the first Negro [Methodist] church in the Southern California Conference.  In 1900 the Conference had become aware of the growing Negro population and felt a definite responsibility for these people.  The quality of leadership among them was capable, as evidenced by the ultimate elevation of a Conference member, Dr. Alexander P. Shaw, to the episcopacy.  The progress was relatively slow, but by Unification [in 1939], there were five Negro chuches in the Conference:  Hamilton, Shaw Chapel, Wesley Chapel, Scott and Las Vegas Zion.   Hamilton [Methodist], formerly a Caucasian church, was sold to a new Negro congregation when the Caucasians moved out of the neighborhood.  The others were Negro churches from the beginning, located in Negro sections.  There were no integrated churches before Unification, although a few churches had one or two Negro members.  This was true, for example, of the First Methodist Church in Santa Monica.

* * *

Alexander Preston Shaw was notable as an African American Pastor, Editor, and Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church and The Methodist Church.   He was elected and consecrated to the Episcopacy in 1936.  Bishop Shaw held the distinction of being the first African American Bishop of The Methodist Church (at the age of 71) to preside full-time over a predominantly white Annual Conference:  the Southern California-Arizona Conference (in 1950, coincidentally the 100th annual meeting of this body), which met that year at the University of Redlands.   The Rev. Shaw was pastor of the Wesley Chapel Methodist Church [founded in 1888] in Los Angeles from 1917 to 1931.  He also was a member of the 1928 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church (North).


* * *

The Church of God in Christ (COGIC
), was formed in 1897 by Charles Harrison Mason (1866-1961), who was expelled from his Baptist church in the late 19th century.   Mason was licensed to preach by Mt. Gale Missionary Baptist Church of Preston, Arkansas. He entered Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock in 1893, but soon became dissatisfied and withdrew.

He became connected with Charles Price Jones of Jackson, Mississippi, J. A. Jeter, of Little Rock, Arkansas, and W. S. Pleasant of Hazelhurst, Mississippi during the Holiness movement of the late 19th century.  As the result of one of these holiness revivals breaking out in Jackson, Mississippi, a new church, eventually called the Church of God, was formed.  The first convocation called by these Holiness individuals was held in 1897 at the Mt. Helm Missionary Baptist Church in Jackson, MS.

In 1906, Mason, Jeter, and D. J. Young were appointed as a committee by Jones to investigate reports of a revival in Los Angeles, conducted by the itinerant preacher, William J. Seymour.  Mason's visit to what is today called The Azusa Street Revival changed the direction of his newly formed Holiness COGIC church.   Upon his return to Tennessee from the Azusa Street Revival, Mason began teaching the Pentecostal message he experienced.

However, Jeter and Jones rejected Mason's teaching, resulting in a mutual separation of these Holiness men.  Jones continued to lead his COGIC adherents as a Holiness church, changing the name in 1915 to the Church of Christ, Holiness (USA).   Mason, however, called a conference in Memphis, Tennessee, and reorganized the Church of God in Christ as a Holiness Pentecostal body.

The Church of God in Christ, Inc., experienced phenomenal growth since its inception, and is generally acknowledged to be the largest African-American and Pentecostal body in the United States, with 5,799,875 members.  Worldwide membership is estimated to be 7 million in 15,300 churches.

The COGIC organization is overseen by a 12-person general board.  These are bishops chosen to oversee the national and international work of the church.  Upon the death of Presiding Bishop Gilbert Earl Patterson, the founding pastor of the Memphis, Tennessee Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ, in March 2007, Bishop Charles E. Blake, pastor of the largest local church within COGIC, the Los-Angeles-based West Angeles Church of God in Christ, succeeded Bishop Patterson as presiding bishop in April 2007.


* * *

Flamming, Douglas.  Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America. University of California Press, 2006.

Book Description
Paul Bontemps decided to move his family to Los Angeles from Louisiana in 1906 on the day he finally submitted to a strictly enforced Southern custom--he stepped off the sidewalk to allow white men who had just insulted him to pass by. Friends of the Bontemps family, like many others beckoning their loved ones West, had written that Los Angeles was "a city called heaven" for people of color. But just how free was Southern California for African Americans?

This splendid history, at once sweeping in its historical reach and intimate in its evocation of everyday life, is the first full account of Los Angeles's black community in the half century before World War II.  Filled with moving human drama, it brings alive a time and place largely ignored by historians until now, detailing African American community life and political activism during the city's transformation from small town to sprawling metropolis.

Writing with a novelist's sensitivity to language and drawing from fresh historical research, Douglas Flamming takes us from Reconstruction to the Jim Crow era, through the Great Migration, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and the build-up to World War II.  Along the way, he offers rich descriptions of the community and its middle-class leadership, the women who were front and center with men in the battle against racism in the American West.

In addition to drawing a vivid portrait of a little-known era, Flamming shows that the history of race in Los Angeles is crucial for our understanding of race in America.   The civil rights activism in Los Angeles laid the foundation for critical developments in the second half of the century that continue to influence us to this day.

About the Author
Douglas Flamming is Associate Professor of History at the Georgia Institute of Technology and author of Creating the Modern South: Millhands and Managers in Dalton, Georgia, 1884-1984 (1992), winner of the Philip Taft Labor History Award.

* * *

Mitchell, Pablo
To Live and Learn from L.A.
Reviews in American History - Volume 32, Number 4, December 2004, pp. 545-551

A Review of Josh Sides, L.A. City Limits: African American Los Angeles from the Great Depression to the Present.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

"Los Angeles hurt me as much racially as any city I have ever known," Chester Himes wrote of his experiences in Los Angeles in the 1940s, "much more than any city I remember from the South" (p. 54).  Himes's heartbreaking admission is at the core of Josh Sides's illuminating and pointed L.A. City Limits.  While many African Americans in the middle decades of the twentieth century found much to celebrate in the relative personal freedoms and job opportunities available to them in Los Angeles, racial exclusion and violence--from police abuse to housing and employment discrimination to unequal schools--remained an insidious force in the lives of most black Angelenos. This maddening paradox was, according to Sides, due in large measure to the distinctive qualities of Los Angeles.  Placing Los Angeles in a national context, Sides argues that three broad characteristics, "its diverse racial composition, its dynamic economic growth, and its dispersive spatial arrangements," distinguished the city from its urban counterparts throughout twentieth-century America (p. 6). First, unlike the largely binary racial dynamics in most cities in the East and Midwest, "successive waves of Latin American, Asian, and European immigrants" joined African Americans in Los Angeles over the course of the twentieth century, leading to a racial heterogeneity unprecedented in its size and scope (p. 6). Second, the city experienced relatively novel forms of industrial growth, led by the rise of the...

Another Description of this book from:

In 1964 an Urban League survey ranked Los Angeles as the most desirable city for African Americans to live in. In 1965 the city burst into flames during one of the worst race riots in the nation's history. How the city came to such a pass--embodying both the best and worst of what urban America offered black migrants from the South--is the story told for the first time in this history of modern black Los Angeles. A clear-eyed and compelling look at black struggles for equality in L.A.'s neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces from the Great Depression to our day, L.A. City Limits critically refocuses the ongoing debate about the origins of America's racial and urban crisis.

Challenging previous analysts' near-exclusive focus on northern "rust-belt" cities devastated by de-industrialization, Josh Sides asserts that the cities to which black southerners migrated profoundly affected how they fared. He shows how L.A.'s diverse racial composition, dispersive geography, and dynamic postwar economy often created opportunities--and limits--quite different from those encountered by blacks in the urban North.

About the Author
Josh Sides is Assistant Professor of History at Cal Poly Pomona.

* * *

The Shifting Grounds of Race:
Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles

By Scott Kurashige

Princeton University Press, 2008

Los Angeles has attracted intense attention as a "world city" characterized by multiculturalism and globalization. Yet, little is known about the historical transformation of a place whose leaders proudly proclaimed themselves white supremacists less than a century ago. In The Shifting Grounds of Race, Scott Kurashige highlights the role African Americans and Japanese Americans played in the social and political struggles that remade twentieth-century Los Angeles.

Linking paradigmatic events like Japanese American internment and the Black civil rights movement, Kurashige transcends the usual "black/white" dichotomy to explore the multiethnic dimensions of segregation and integration.  Racism and sprawl shaped the dominant image of Los Angeles as a "white city."  But they simultaneously fostered a shared oppositional consciousness among Black and Japanese Americans living as neighbors within diverse urban communities.

Kurashige demonstrates why African Americans and Japanese Americans joined forces in the battle against discrimination and why the trajectories of the two groups diverged.   Connecting local developments to national and international concerns, he reveals how critical shifts in postwar politics were shaped by a multiracial discourse promoting the acceptance of Japanese Americans as a "model minority" while binding African Americans to the social ills underlying the 1965 Watts Rebellion.  Multicultural Los Angeles ultimately encompassed both the new prosperity arising from transpacific commerce and the enduring problem of race and class divisions.

This extraordinarily ambitious book adds new depth and complexity to our understanding of the "urban crisis" and offers a window into America's multiethnic future.

Scott Kurashige is associate professor at the University of Michigan, where he teaches Asian/Pacific American history and U.S. urban history.


"By offering a comparative and relational history of African Americans and Japanese Americans in Los Angeles and their respective struggles against racial segregation, Scott Kurashige extends our historical knowledge about race relations and civil rights to the West. Indeed, he shows just how many of the multiracial questions that vex us today were prefigured in Los Angeles in the early and middle twentieth century."--Mae Ngai, author of Impossible Subjects

* * *

West Angeles Church of God in Christ (COGIC), located in Los Angeles, was founded in the early 1960s and the first sanctuary was located on Adams Boulevard, near Interstate 10 (known locally as the Santa Monica Freeway).  In 1969, Charles E. Blake, a son of a pastor and a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, took over as the pastor of West Angeles.

Under Blake's leadership, the church has grown from 40 members in 1969 to over 20,000 members in 2006.  The sanctuary has moved twice, first to a 1,000-seat facility (today called the North Campus) located at 3045 Crenshaw Boulevard, and then to the present structure, the 5,000-seat West Angeles Cathedral at 3600 Crenshaw Boulevard.  The Cathedral was dedicated in 1999.

Today, Blake is a bishop within the COGIC and is a jurisdictional head within the national organization.  He is also the co-founder of Save Africa's Children, a charity that raises money and awareness for AIDS victims in Africa.

"West A" is known for both its influential pastor and for its celebrity members, which include Magic Johnson, Denzel Washington, Stevie Wonder, and Angela Bassett.


* * *

The Second Baptist Church,  an Afro-American congregation, was established prior to 1890 in East Los Angeles (History of Los Angeles County:

Lorn S. Foster, Ph.D., Charles and Henrietta Johnson Detoy Professor of American Government and Professor of Politics, Pomona College. My current project is:  "Black Migration to Los Angeles, 1910-1950:   the Role of the Black Church in Social Mobility."  This is a study of eight black churches in Los Angeles and how they helped to shape the secular life of blacks in Los Angeles.

* * *

Exerpts from Leland D. Hine, Baptists in Southern California.   Valley Forge, PA:  Judson Press, 1966, pages 174-175.
(American Baptist Churches in the USA, formerly known as the Northern Baptist Convention).

As in other parts of the country, so in Southern California, the relationship between White and Negro Baptists has become more difficult in recent years.  This difficulty may well be the prelude to better things, but the present difficulty is very real. In 1920 there were 35 Negro Baptist churches affiliated with the Western Baptist Association, representing 3,058 members. The State Convention was giving some financial help both through individual churches and in partial support of a missionary, Dr. W. R. Carter.  Help was never sufficient.  At the 1920 Convention, Dr. Carter "appealed to the white brethren to befriend the Negroes of the state.   Those thousands cannot help themselves."  Conditions had not improved much in 1936.

"Our Negro population represents a section of our own American popultion of between 75,000 and 100,000. This group is the most earnest, self-denying, and challenging of all the groups in the city, not excepting our white American English-speaking population.  According to their population and needs, they are receiving less missionary assistance than any other group.  There are 35 Negro [Baptist] churches in Los Angeles, none of them receiving assistance to pay pastors' salaries.  The Los Angeles Baptist City Mission Society is making strenuous efforts to assist these wonderful people in improving their church buildings and equipment.  Like all our groups, our Negro friends need assistance in improving their leadership and church organizations.  By special gift, the Southern California Baptist State Convention and the Los Angeles Baptist City Mission Society are able to coorperate in a plan to help these pressing needs."

State secretary Kepner reporte to the annual Convention in 1955:

"We have a fine relationship with the Western Baptist State Convention of California [compossed of Afro-American churches].  Many of them have a salary of less than $100 per month and no good place to worship God.  I suggest we appoint a committee to work with the Western Baptist State Convention to advise that some of the Churches for New Frontiers funds be used to build churches for the Western Baptist State Convention and also to supplement salaries."

Even though more financial assistance would have been helpful, much more was needed.   Once segregation was allowed to establish itself, no easy answers were possible.    Not only white apathy and prejudice but Negro failings also must be taken into account.  Negro leadership has been jealous of its prerogatives.  A deep gulf of misunderstanding and suspicion has separated Baptists of different colors.   After these many years, attempts at rapproachement are met with many frustrations and disappointments on both sides. 

Although deep-rooted prejudice is present in every white church and appears to be dominant in some, the record of the Convention is mixed.

* * *

Abyssinia Baptist Church was founded in December 1936 and named by the late Founder and Pastor Dr. L. D. Stevens.  This church has an historical name,  because the name Abyssinia originally came from a land in Africa, a country called Abyssinia.  Its name is the former name of the country known as Ethiopia.

Abyssinia Baptist Church
4417 Ascot Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90011

Dr. Stevens was also the Founder and Organizer of the Baptist Ministers Wives Union and served as President of the Baptist Ministers Conference in Los Angeles, California.

The former Pastors of Abyssinia Baptist Church are as follows: 1. Dr. L. D. Stevens, 2. Rev. Meadows, 3. Rev. T. W. Grinnage and 4. Rev. Rabb.

Today (2006), Dr. Clifford Harris serves as our pastor and the director and instructor of the Sunday School Bible Expositor of the Baptist Ministers Conference of over 400 pastors in Los Angeles.

Our church is located in South Central Los Angeles, which has become largely a Spanish-speaking community.  Pastor Harris has studied the Spanish language and is well known in Los Angeles as a Spanish Instructor.

Dr. Harris has a love for teaching the Spanish language to reach the Spanish-speaking community and businesses for Christ.

For more than 50 years Abyssinia Baptist Church has been affiliated with the Los Angeles District Association and the Western Baptist State Convention of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. Inc.

Abyssinia Baptist Church is a church on the move for Jesus Christ, and a church with a sure foundation.  Under the administration of Dr. Stevens and Pastor Clifford Harris, Abyssinia has been honored to Fellowship with well-known churches and pastors.

 Victory Baptist Church
The late Rev. Arthur Atlas Peters
Los Angeles, CA.

 Morning Star Baptist Church
The late Dr. Perry C. Ellis
Los Angeles, CA.

 Little Zion Baptist Church
Rev. Jerome Fisher
Compton, CA.

 Mt. Zion Baptist Church
The late Dr. Edward V. Hill Sr.
Los Angeles, CA.

 Southside Bethel Baptist Church
The late Dr. Elliott Brown
Los Angeles, CA.

 Mount Corinth Missionary Baptist Church
Rev. A. Louis Patterson, Jr.
Houston, Texas

Greater Fountain of Life Missionary Baptist Church
Dr. Monroe E. Nunley
Los Angeles, CA.


Additional Bibliography

George, Lynell. No Crystal Stair: African-Americans in the City of Angels.  New York: Verso Press, 1992.