History of Los Angeles

African American Contributions

1781 – Los Angeles is founded by 44 settlers including 26 who have some African ancestry.

1793 – Francisco Reyes, a mulatto settler, was elected to serve as mayor of Los Angeles.

1831 – Pio Pico, a descendant of persons of African ancestry, becomes governor of Mexican California after overthrowing Colonel Manuel Victoria, another person of African ancestry.

1831 – Emanuel Victoria, a mulatto known as “The Black Governor”, took the oath of office as political and military governor of California.

1846 – Pio Pico is sworn in as governor of the California, in Los Angeles. Out-of-towners begin to mispronounce his name (it’s PEE-koh).

1849 – The California Gold Rush begins. Eventually four thousand African Americans will migrate to California during this period

1850 – The Compromise of 1850 revisits the issue of slavery. California enters the Union as a free state, but the territories of New Mexico and Utah are allowed to decide whether they will enter the Union as slave or free states. The 1850 Compromise also allows passage of a much stricter Fugitive Slave Law. Despite California’s status as a nominally free state, approximately 1,000 blacks are in slavery with most of the bondspeople brought in from slaveholding states.

1856 – In January Los Angeles District Court Judge Benjamin Hayes frees Bridget Biddy Mason and her thirteen extended family members.

1862 – In November, Leland Stanford becomes the first Republican Governor of California. Stanford and the Republican dominated legislature begin repealing many of the racially discriminatory laws directed at the state’s African American population.

1865 – Civil War ends. African Americans begin heading to Los Angeles in significant numbers.

1879 – John J. Neimore founds the Los Angeles Owl which in 1892 becomes the California Eagle. The newspaper will continue in operation until 1966

1885 – Former California Governor Pio Pico recruits one hundred African Americans to work for his Pico House hotel.

1903 – The Southern Pacific Railroad brought in almost 2,000 African American laborers to break a strike by Mexican American construction workers, effectively doubling the African American population in Los Angeles and sparking lasting interracial tension.

1903 – Los Angeles minister, J. E. Edwards, newspaper editor Jefferson Lewis Edmonds and attorney Frederick M. Roberts create a local civil rights organization called the Forum. Three years later the Forum gives its first scholarship to Ruth Temple who becomes the first black woman physician in Southern California.

1903 – Watts is founded as a racially integrated suburban community of blacks, whites and Latinos seven miles south of downtown Los Angeles.

1905 – Los Angeles businessman Robert C. Owens, grandson of Bridget Biddy Mason, constructs a six-story, $250,000 building on the Mason homestead in Los Angeles. The building is the largest black-owned structure west of the Mississippi River.

1906 – The Azusa Street Revival begins in Los Angeles in a former African Methodist Episcopal Church building at 312 Azusa Street in April. The revival, led by black evangelist William J. Seymour, is considered the beginning of the worldwide Pentecostal Movement.

1912 – The area around First Street and Central Avenue becomes the gateway to a famous African-American corridor along Central Avenue, which swells in population in the 1920s.

1918 – In November, attorney and newspaper editor Frederick M. Roberts (Republican) of Los Angeles becomes the first African American elected to the California Assembly.

1921 – The one thousand member Los Angeles division (chapter) of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), led by Noah Thompson and Charlotta Bass, is the largest in the nation west of Chicago.

1925 – Authors Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman and Arna Bontemps write and publish in Los Angeles before going on to greater fame in the Harlem Renaissance.

1928 – The first NAACP convention in the west takes place on Central Avenue.

1933 – First publication of the African-American newspaper the Los Angeles Sentinel.

1939 – Dancer and actor Bill Bojangles Robinson of Los Angeles serves as the first honorary president of the Negro Actors Guild of America.

1941 – Rev. Clayton Russell forms the Negro Victory Committee in Los Angeles to use mass civil disobedience tactics to challenge racial discrimination.

1942 – Los Angeles newspaper editor Charlotta Bass, California Assemblyman Augustus Hawkins and the actors Hattie McDaniel and Lena Horne join the Citizens’ Committee for the Defense of Mexican American Youth formed by actor Anthony Quinn and Josephine Fierro de Bright of the Spanish-Speaking People’s Congress. The organization is created to defend eight Mexican American men charged with the murder of Jose Diaz.

1947 – On April 10, longtime Pasadena, California resident Jackie Robinson joins the Brooklyn Dodgers and becomes the first African American to play major league baseball in the 20th Century.

1952 – Los Angeles newspaper editor Charlotta Bass receives the Progressive Party nomination for Vice President.  She is the first African American woman to be placed on a national party ticket.

1953 – The U.S. Supreme Court declared the enforcement of residential race-restrictive covenants illegal in Barrows v. Jackson. Race-restrictive covenants were long utilized in California to racially segregate residential areas. Los Angeles NAACP attorney Loren Miller was part of the legal team that lobbied the Supreme Court.

1965 – The Watts revolt and rebellion erupt in Los Angeles when a non-Hispanic white police officer arrests a black man for drunk driving. After six days, four people lay dead, over 1,000 are hurt, nearly 4,000 are arrested, and property damage is estimated at about $40,000,000. The National Guard is called in to restore order.

1965 – The Governor’s Commission on the Los Angeles Riots (the McCone Commission) issues its report, “Violence in the City: An End or a Beginning?,” citing hatred and resentment of the police as symbols of authority, the absence of jobs for blacks, the lack of good schooling for black children, and a prohibitively expensive transit system as fundamental causes of the riots and rebellion. Warren Christopher, vice chair of the McCone Commission, later heads the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department (the “Christopher Commission”) to investigate the Los Angeles Police Department following the Rodney King beating before becoming Secretary of State in the Clinton administration.

1965 – Maulana Karenga founds the black nationalist group, US, in Los Angeles following the Watts Uprising.

1966 – Maulana Karenga creates the Pan-African and African American holiday, Kwanzaa, in Los Angeles.

1968 – The Black Panther Party announces its “serve the people” program which includes a free breakfast for children on welfare.

1969 – A confrontation between Black Panthers and members of the US organization on the UCLA campus erupts into a gun battle which leaves two Panthers, Alprentice (Bunchy) Carter and John Huggins dead.

1969 – The city of Compton elected California’s first African American mayor, Douglas Dollarhide.

1970 – The San Rafael, California courthouse shooting on August 7 results in the death of Judge Harold Haley and three others including Jonathan Jackson, the younger brother of imprisoned Black Panther George Jackson. UCLA Philosophy Professor Angela Davis is implicated in the shooting and becomes the subject of a nationwide FBI-led search. Davis is captured and brought to trial. She is acquitted of all charges on June 4, 1972.

1972 – In November Yvonne Brathwaite Burke of Los Angeles is elected to Congress from California.  She and Barbara Jordan of Texas become the first African American elected to Congress from the West.

1973 – Tom Bradley becomes mayor of Los Angeles, the second African-American mayor of a major United States city. He is to serve as mayor for the next two decades.

1981 – The California African American Museum opens in temporary headquarters in Exposition Park. It moved to its permanent site in 1984.

1983 – The United States Supreme Court issues its decision in City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95 (1983). The Court held that the plaintiff, a black motorist who was placed in a chokehold following a routine traffic stop, did not have standing to seek an injunction prohibiting the Los Angeles Police Department from using chokeholds to effectuate an arrest because he did not demonstrate a serious likelihood of being subjected to a chokehold again in the future. The holding represented a defeat for the plaintiff and for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the suit. However, non-litigation forms of advocacy resulted in a victory for police reform when the City of Los Angeles banned chokeholds in 1982 after the police killed sixteen people, including twelve black men, using the chokehold during routine arrests.

1991 – Four Los Angeles police officers beat and arrest Rodney Glen King while 23 others stand by and do nothing. George Holliday captures the beating on videotape from his apartment across the street and delivers the tape to a local television station on March 4. The tape is broadcast around the world, galvanizing international attention on police brutality in Los Angeles.

1991 – The Los Angeles County District Attorney dismisses all charges against King.

1991 – Four Los Angeles police officers — Sergeant Stacey Koon and Officers Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno — are charged with felony assault and related charges arising from the King beating. The four remain free on bail pending trial.

1991 – Soon Ja Du, a Korean-American grocery store owner, shoots to death Latasha Harlins, a fifteen-year old African-American girl, after Ms. Du accused the girl of trying to steal a $1.79 bottle of orange juice. A security camera in the store captures the shooting on videotape. The shooting exacerbates racial and ethnic tensions in Los Angeles in the wake of the Rodney King beating.

1991 – Soon Ja Du is charged with murder for the shooting death of Latasha Harlins.

1991 – Boyz n the Hood is a 1991 American teen hood drama film written and directed by John Singleton in his directorial debut, and starring Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long and Angela Bassett, depicting life in South Central Los Angeles, California.

1991 – Compton Superior Court Judge Joyce Karlin sentences Soon Ja Du to five years probation, four hundred hours of community service, and a five hundred dollar fine for killing Latasha Harlins. Ms. Du had faced eleven years in prison.

1992 – The Crips and the Bloods announce a peace treaty and truce modelled on the work of Ralph Bunche.

1992 – The Simi Valley jury finds the four police officers not guilty of committing any crimes against Rodney King, except that the jury is hung on one count of excessive force against Laurence Powell. The judge declares a mistrial on that count.

Revolt and rebellion erupt throughout Los Angeles. Daryl Gates leaves police headquarters to attend a political fund-raising party across town in the wealthy and disproportionately non-Hispanic white beachside community of Pacific Palisades.

The police evacuate the intersection of Florence and Normandie in South Central Los Angeles, which is a tinder box for the revolts and rebellion. Reginald Denny, a non-Hispanic white man, is pulled from his truck and beaten. A news helicopter captures the beating on videotape. African American residents living nearby who see the beating on television rush to the intersection and take Reginald Denny to a hospital, but this fact is little noted nor long remembered by the dominant culture and media.

Fidel Lopez, a contractor who is a Guatemalan immigrant who lives in the neighborhood, is beaten near the same intersection. His beating is little noted nor long remembered by the dominant culture and media.

Choi Sai-Choi, an immigrant from Hong Kong, is pulled from his car, beaten and robbed. An off-duty black firefighter rescues him. His beating and rescue are little noted nor long remembered by the dominant culture and media.

By the time the riots and rebellion are over several days later, at least 42 people have been killed, 700 structures have been destroyed by fire, thousands of people have lost their jobs, 5,000 people have been arrested and Los Angeles has suffered $1 billion in damages. Of those arrested, 51% were Latino, 38% were black, 9% were non-Hispanic white, and 2% were Asian American or “other.”

1997 – geronimo ji Jaga (preferred capitalization), also known as Geronimo Pratt, a Black Panther leader, was wronfully convicted 25 years before for the murder of a woman in Santa Monica, California. Geronimo always maintained his innocence, and that he was 400 miles away in Oakland, Calfornia, at the time of the killing at a Black Panther meeting, and that he was a victim of the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO).

Represented by Stuart Hanlon, Johnnie Cochran, Robert García, Julie Drouse, Valerie West, David Bernstein and other members of his defense team, geronimo’s conviction and life sentence are vacated on May 29, 1997. He is released from prison on June 10, 1997. Judge Everett W. Dickey, a California Superior Court Judge appointed by Governor Ronald Reagan, holds that the prosecution denied geronimo a fair trial, in violation of his constitutional rights. The main witness against geronimo at trial was an informant for the FBI, the LAPD, and the district attorney’s office. The prosecution suppressed this material evidence relating to the question of guilt and to the credibility of a material witness whose testimony may be determinative of guilt or innocence, in violation of the 1966 United States Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The California Court of Appeal later affirms Judge Dickey’s decision, dismissing the District Attorney’s arguments to reinstate the conviction as “disingenuous” and having “no merit.” See In re Pratt, 69 Cal. App. 4th 1294, 1315, 1318, 82 Cal. Rptr. 2d 260 (1999).

1999 – The Wood released, The Wood is a 1999 romantic comedy, written by Rick Famuyiwa and Todd Boyd highlights growing up in 1980’s Inglewood.

2015 – Film, ‘’Straight Outta Compton’ and ‘Compton’ Album released dedicated to the city of Compton celebrating the city’s influence on the rap group NWA and cultural influence the group and the independent artists have had on Rap Culture.

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