Where to Learn About Black History in LA

MLK Day in LA

This month we’re highlighting special ways to celebrate and honor Black History (including 46 places you can support Black-owned businesses in LA) with your family. From South Central and Leimert Park, to Santa Monica and DTLA, Los Angeles has several, incredible landmarks and institutions that recognize the deep, rich history and culture of LA’s black community and are absolutely worth visiting not just this month but all year long.


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South Central L.A.

Black History in LA: African American Firefighter Museum

african american firefighter museum LA
Cheri A. via Yelp

After temporarily closing during the pandemic, the African American Firefighter Museum has reopened its doors to visitors three days a week. Historic Fire Station 30, originally opened in 1997 as a dedication to the first 100 years of African American firefighters in LA. The museum is home to vintage firefighting gear, photos and lots of unique memorabilia dedicated to the pioneering African American firefighters in Los Angeles.

Hours: Tues. and Thurs. 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and Sun. 1 p.m.-4 p.m.

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

Black History in LA: 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 distinguished honor in 1950 for his role as a mediator in the Palestine conflict 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 get his college degree at UCLA where he was again valedictorian. His home briefly served as a museum, but it 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

Black History in LA: Watts Towers

support BOB in LA
Ed U. via Yelp

There’s never been a better time to visit Watts Towers, one of the most remarkable pieces of public art in the United States. Seventeen interconnected sculptures form towering spires made of 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 is said to “Serve as a beacon of light for arts education and a conduit for social change.” They display contemporary art, provide complimentary guided tours outside the fence of the Towers, and offer art classes to local youth and special needs adults.

Tours: Guided tours outside the fence of the Watts Towers are free of charge and are available every half hour Thurs.-Sun. from 10:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m.

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

Black History in LA: Central Ave. Jazz Corridor

If you listen closely, you can almost still hear the swinging and soulful sounds of jazz legends like Miles Davis, Dorothy Dandridge, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and Billie Holiday echoing throughout South Central’s historic Central Ave. Jazz Corridor. As the beating heart of jazz music on the West Coast from the 1920s to 1950s, some of the most groundbreaking musicians in the world played here and continue to be celebrated today through all of the incredible landmarks along the corridor.

Dunbar Hotel
Originally known as Hotel Somerville, the Dunbar Hotel located on Central Ave. was built for the 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.”

Once regarded as the finest black hotel in the nation, the Dunbar hosted many 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 lovingly restored and reopened in 2013. Today, the hotel as the centerpiece of Dunbar Village, is an affordable housing project for seniors and families—some of its residents were even active participants in Central Avenue’s jazz scene during the 1960s.

4225 S. Central Ave.
Los Angeles
Online: laconservancy.org/locations/dunbar-hotel

Leimert Park

Black History in LA: Leimert Plaza Park

Located in the vibrant heart of the Crenshaw District, Leimert Plaza Park has long been a site for community events and celebrations, including the Kwanzaa Heritage Festival, the Day of the Ancestors: Festival of Masks and the beloved Leimert Park Art Walk that takes place the last Sun. of every month. In 2021, 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 to the landscape.

Tip: The Leimert Park Station is scheduled for completion in about a year as part of the future Metro Crenshaw/LAX line. The underground station will have direct access to Leimert Park Plaza.

4395 Leimert Blvd.
Leimert Park
Online: leimertparkvillage.org

Black History in LA: 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, the 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 to 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.” The theater hopes to reopen later in 2022.

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

Black History in LA: Eso Won Books

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Jolie D. via Yelp

Founded in 1987, 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 impressive selection of books on the African American experience and the African Diaspora, Eso Won has hosted authors including President Barack Obama, Maya Angelou, Muhammed Ali, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Misty Copeland, Toni Morrison and more.

Hours: Tues.-Sat., noon-4:00 p.m.

4327 Degnan Blvd.
Leimert Park
Online: esowonbookstore.com

Santa Monica

Black History in LA: The Inkwell in Santa Monica

The next time you head to the beach, share an important history lesson with your kids 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 that reads “A Place of Celebration and Pain.”

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

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

Black History in LA: 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 eventually be 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 Places to Visit & Learn About Black History in LA

Black History in LA: California African American Museum

Located near USC, the California African American Museum (CAAM) is a hub of resources to explore the African American diaspora in Los Angeles and beyond. In addition to rotating exhibitions, CAAM has an impressive permanent collection and “aims to represent the diverse contributions of African Americans in the United States, but also to interpret how the past has affected identity in the present.”

Good to Know: There is no café inside CAAM, so it might be a good idea to bring food for a picnic or grab a bite at one of the eateries nearby.

Hours: Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Mon.

600 State Dr.
Exposition Park

Online: caamuseum.org

Black History in LA: The Museum of African American Art (Temporarily Closed)

The Museum of African American Art is a nonprofit cultural and educational institution dedicated to the interpretation, promotion, and preservation of art by or about people of African descent and their contributions to world culture.

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. 

Note: At press time, the museum remains closed to visitors due to COVID, but you can join their email list to keep abreast of future reopening plans.

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

Black History in LA: Los Angeles Public Library

The Los Angeles Public Library has reopened to visitors, and they always make a point to commemorate Heritage Months with plenty of wonderful events and learning opportunities. The LAPL has a great some great resources online as well, including a list of children’s non-fiction book about African American history.

Online: lapl.org

–Jennifer O’Brien

RELATED STORIES: 

5 People Your Kids Should Know About For Black History Month

Black History Books To Read With Your Kids

Where to Visit & Learn About Race in America

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