Wednesday, July 17

“Black Los Angeles” sheds light on African American influence in history of Los Angeles


Los Angeles County boasts the second largest black population in the nation.

Yet the body of literature available about the black community in L.A. does not reflect this fact, said Darnell Hunt, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

“While there are books on the subject that tend to be really specific in dealing with a certain time period or a particular issue or topic regarding black L.A., one thing I feel is neglected was a comprehensive understanding of black L.A.,” Hunt said.

This comprehensive understanding of L.A.’s black community is what the recently-released book “Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities,” co-edited by Hunt, hopes to achieve.

The book explores a broad range of topics about the history of blacks in the L.A. region, how that history relates to present-day black L.A. and the effect it has on the future of the community, Hunt said.

The book is the result of a personal-turned-professional interest. The culmination of eight years of work, the book is set up in four parts: “Space,” “People,” “Image” and “Action” ““ each with a different focus.

“Black Los Angeles” features essays by more than two dozen scholars on topics that range from the role blacks played in the very founding of L.A. in 1781 to hip-hop as a lifestyle for black males in present-day L.A.

Hunt, who has lived in Los Angeles since 1980, grew up as part of the sizeable black population in Washington, D.C. Upon moving to Los Angeles, the first house he and his wife bought was in an affluent area of black L.A.

This neighborhood prompted Hunt’s personal interest in black L.A. as he learned more about the history of the neighborhood and how it came to be.

“The more I found about the really interesting history of that neighborhood, the more I was curious about other neighborhoods, particularly about race and community and how people interact with one another in different spaces in black L.A.,” Hunt said.

Hunt’s personal interest in black L.A. became professional as he began thinking about doing a massive project on black L.A. upon becoming director of the Bunche Center in 2001.

Each chapter in “Black Los Angeles” uses a case-study approach, incorporating historical and contemporary anecdotes, maps, illustrations and demographic data to connect the dots between the past, present and future of black L.A., Hunt said.

Despite its ambitious range of topics, the book as a whole still conveys one central point: Blacks have been integral to the history and shaping of present day L.A., said Ana-Christina Ramon, Hunt’s co-editor and assistant director of the Bunche Center.

“I think we did a pretty good job of laying out a set of stories that are interconnected and significant to having people get a better picture of the influence that African Americans have had on L.A.,” Ramon said.

One of the challenges Hunt faced while compiling the book was balancing the desire to produce a work that was academically rigorous with remaining accessible to the general population, he said.

“We wanted to do something that was relevant to the community, that the community of black L.A. might be able to use to empower itself,” Hunt said.

The Bunche Center held a symposium May 25 to spotlight “Black Los Angeles.” Scholars and community leaders took part in a series of panel discussions based on the issues discussed in the book.

The panel discussions demonstrated the book’s ability to give insight into the structure of L.A.’s current black community, said Vickie Mays, director of the UCLA Center for Research, Education, Training and Strategic Communication on Minority Health Disparities and a panelist at the symposium.

“The book reminds us that some of the earliest individuals who came to L.A. were actually of African descent,” Mays said. “We don’t usually think of African-American descendents as having origins in helping to establish Los Angeles.”

The symposium allowed audience members to participate in panel discussions, and the resulting debates demonstrated the impact of the issues raised by “Black Los Angeles,” Hunt said.

“Clearly, the book forces people to think about things they hadn’t thought about before and exposes people to ideas about the history and culture and future of black L.A.,” Hunt said. “I hope that we can continue to stimulate further research into black LA and into topics that will certainly relate to the future of the city.”

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.