13 Places to Learn About Black History in LA

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Wondering how to celebrate and honor Black History Month in Los Angeles with kids? From South Central to Santa Monica, take a walking tour of 13 local landmarks and institutions that shine light on the rich history and culture of LA’s Black community. Read on to discover Central Ave.’s Jazz Corridor, Watts Towers, EsoWon Books and more.

South Central L.A.

Central Ave. Jazz Corridor

Explore all the landmarks along South Central's historic Central Ave. Jazz Corridor, the center of jazz music on the West Coast from the 1920s to 1950s. Renowned musicians including Miles Davis, Dorothy Dandridge, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and Billie Holliday all performed at iconic venues along Central.

Dunbar Hotel

Located on Central Ave., this hotel (originally called the Hotel Somerville) was built for the first West Coast convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1928. According to the Los Angeles Conservancy, "The hotel provided first-class accommodations for African Americans in segregated Los Angeles, who were denied comparable lodging elsewhere."

It also hosted prominent players in the Central Avenue jazz scene, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Bessie Smith. After falling into disrepair for several decades, the hotel was restored and reopened in 2013. Today, the hotel as the centerpiece of Dunbar Village, an affordable housing project for seniors and families.

4225 S. Central Ave.
Los Angeles

African American Firefighter Museum

Although the African-American Firefighter Museum is currently closed, you can still swing by the historic Fire Station 30, opened in 1997 as a dedication to the first 100 years of African-American firefighters in LA. Be sure to return when the museum reopens to discover vintage firefighting gear, photos and memorabilia.

1401 South Central Ave.
South Central LA
Online: aaffmuseum.org

Ralph J. Bunche House

This charming Victorian bungalow on E. 40th Place is the childhood home of Dr. Ralph J. Bunche, the first person of color to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Bunche received the honor in 1950, for his role as a mediator in the Middle East. He was also involved in the formation of the United Nations and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President John F. Kennedy.

Raised in South Central Los Angeles, Bunche graduated as valedictorian from Jefferson High School, and went on to attend UCLA, where he was again valedictorian. His home briefly served as a museum, but was foreclosed on in 2009. Although the home remains a historic-cultural monument, it is now a private residence

1221 E. 40th Place
Los Angeles
Online: laconservancy.org/locations/ralph-j-bunche-house

Watts Towers

Still haven't been to the spectacular Watts Towers? This is the perfect opportunity to check out the iconic sculpture, constructed from broken dishes, bottles, tiles, pottery, rocks, seashells and more, items salvaged from the area by Simon Rodia in the early part of the 20th century. Today, the Watts Towers Art Center, adjacent to the Towers, displays contemporary art, provides tours of the Towers and offers art classes, for local youth and special needs adults. 

1727 E 107th St.
Los Angeles
Online: wattstowers.org

Leimert Park

Leimert Plaza Park

Located in the center of the Crenshaw District, Leimert Plaza Park has long been a site for community events and celebrations, including the Leimert Park Art Walk, the Kwanzaa Heritage Festival, and the Day of the Ancestors: Festival of Masks. Recently, as part of an effort by the local leaders and businesses, the park's central fountain was restored, and new plants, grass and flowers were added.  

4395 Leimert Blvd.
Leimert Park
Online: leimertparkvillage.org

Vision Theater

Opened in 1932 as the Leimert Theatre, this historic art deco treasure was a movie theater until the 1960s. Actress Marla Gibbs purchased the building in the early '90s and renamed it the Vision Theater. Since the late '90s, Vision Theater has been owned by the City of Los Angeles and is currently undergoing a major renovation to create a state-of-the-art performing arts venue. According the Vision's Facebook page, the goal of the theater is to "produce and present diverse world class theater, music, and dance concert productions, along with offering a variety of cultural forums; and to serve as a center for community meetings."

3341 W. 43rd Pl.
Leimert Park
Online: facebook.com/thevisiontheatre

Eso Won Books

Founded in 1987, the independent Black-owned store, Eso Won Books, takes its name from the African term “EsoWon,” which means “water over rocks.” Eso Won strives to be “a living proverb as it provides fluid, safe, stirring opportunities that flow to a reservoir of knowledge for all people to experience.”

In addition to its wide selection of books on the African American experience and the African Diaspora, Eso Won has hosted authors including Presidents Barack Obama, Maya Angelou, Misty Copeland, Toni Morrison and more.

4327 Degnan Blvd.
Leimert Park
Online: esowonbookstore.com

Santa Monica

photo: Shades of L.A. Collection, Los Angeles Public Library

The Inkwell in Santa Monica

Make your next beach trip a history lesson and visit what was once known as The Inkwell, located on the western end of Pico Blvd. and extending to Bicknell St. The name comes from a derogatory label used by white Angelenos during the Jim Crow era, when African-Americans came to this beach to avoid bigotry and create a space of their own. Today, the name and its origins represent a time in LA's history that should not be forgotten. In 2008, the City of Santa Monica officially recognized The Inkwell and Nick Gabaldon, the first documented African/Mexican-American surfer, with a landmark plaque at Bay St. and Oceanfront Walk. 

Learn more about the history of the Black community in Santa Monica, and the racism it faced, here.

Bay Street & Oceanfront Walk
Santa Monica
Online: smconservancy.org

photo: Santa Monica History Museum

Phillips Chapel CME Church

Beginning in the 1890s, Black families settled in the small neighborhood around Broadway between 4th and 6th Streets, in Santa Monica. The heart of the community would form in approximately a half-mile radius around the Phillips Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, located in an old Colonial Revival schoolhouse on the corner of 4th and Bay. In 2005, Phillips Chapel was designated as a City of Santa Monica landmark.

2001 4th St.
Santa Monica
Online: smconservancy.org

More LA Destinations to Visit Virtually

California African American Museum

CAAM is a hub of resources to explore the African-American diaspora in Los Angeles and beyond. While the museum is closed due to Covid-19, you can still participate in virtual programs all month long, including the Family Story Time and Collage Workshop on Feb. 17.

600 State Dr.
Exposition Park
Online: caamuseum.org

The Museum of African American Art

The Museum of African American Art has curated two online exhibits on the Google Arts & Culture platform. With detailed text panels, the online exhibits are ready to use as part of your "remote learning" curriculum. The Palmer C. Hayden Collection exhibit features 40 paintings (in seven themed subsections), while the John Henry Series exhibit features 15 paintings.

THE PALMER C. HAYDEN COLLECTION is a central part of the permanent collection at MAAA, giving the public insight into the life and work of one of the leading artists of the Harlem Renaissance. The Palmer C. Hayden Collection includes the John Henry Series, a narrative art series of 12 oil paintings by Palmer C. Hayden illustrating the story told in the Ballad of John Henry. 

4005 Crenshaw Blvd., 3rd Fl.
Los Angeles
Online: maaala.org

Los Angeles Public Library

The Los Angeles Public Library always make a point to commemorate Heritage Months and Feb. is full of events and learning opportunities. There will be a number of virtual programs to celebrate the month, including pre-school story times. The LAPL also has a great list of children’s non-fiction book about African-American history. 

Online: lapl.org

–Shannan Rouss


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