There is a dearth of historical stories on black life in Southern California. Those that do exist focus on entertainment, crime, or sports. But looking back, one might wonder -- what was every day life like for black Angelenos thirty or forty years ago? Where, and how, did they live, work, and play?
There have always been more stories written for and about the communities west and north of downtown. South and East L.A. stories are mostly crime-related or reports of 'just how bad it is' for African-Americans and Latinos in Southern California. It was the same when I grew up in the period following the Watts riot. Then, as now, crime, poverty, unemployment, educational inadequacies, and racial tensions, formed the nucleus of the stories on Black L.A.
However, as a black girl coming of age in what was then called South-Central Los Angeles, I remember lives that weren't defined by what the media wrote about us. We had a distinct culture that differed from blacks in other metropolises. And -- we had fun, we fell in love, and we enjoyed all that Southern California had to offer! Where are those stories?
Given, nostalgia tends to 'rewrite the hands of time' with a positive slant. However, I do remember cohesive, family-centered, black Los Angeles communities before the crack epidemic of the 1980s decimated so many neighborhoods. I'm speaking of parents who worked hard, raised their children, and held on to that same middle-class dream that fueled families from Pacoima to Pasadena. Where are those stories?
Do we want to go back to those times? Probably not. There was segregation and limited opportunities for blacks. Oh wait -- this still exists! Nevertheless, the stories must be told - the good and bad. Perhaps in looking at our history we can find nuggets of wisdom on how to get through today's hard times.
Then, as now, we kept living... kept going... and within the stories of being black in 'back-in-the-day' L.A., there are references that only those that lived it would understand; although, others might find them enlightening, such as: what black teens used to do with white index cards; why our parents traveled across town to shop at FEDCO; how the Red Onion and the Speakeasy became popular spots on Friday nights for black professionals; when 'the Jungle' was the place to live; bid-whist games and barbeques at Centinela Park; the black high school students who traveled to Hollywood to dance on Soul Train each week; meeting up at Fatburgers after the Saturday night parties; and much, much more. Where are those stories?
Nostalgia? Perhaps... but what else is there these days?