top of page

The Context: A Brief History of Race In Los Angeles

Los Angeles is home to some of the most brilliant and vibrant people in our society. Often romanticized for its opportunity, LA became was once a destination where families could build generational wealth and achieve the “American Dream”. However, the story of Los Angeles could would not be completed without the multifaceted journeys of people of color. Looking through the lens of these communities, race played a crucial role in the generational struggle to achieve joy and progression.


1500 – 1800

Thriving indigenous villages of the Tongva, Tataviam and Chumash people originally

inhabited what is now known as greater Los Angeles. European conquest, religious conversion and mass genocide of indigenous peoples in the 16 th century eventually led to the settlement of El Pueblo de la Reyna de Los Angeles, “The Pueblo of the Queen of the Angels” in 1781. The city was established by 44 settlers and 4 soldiers from Mexico, over half of which were of African descent. Over time, the area became known as the Ciudad de Los Angeles, “City of Angels.”



Upon the arrival of American trading ships, the first English-speaking inhabitant

settled in the area in 1818. California was ruled by Spain until 1822, when Mexico

assumed jurisdiction. As a result, trade with the United States became more frequent. By the 1840s, Los Angeles was the largest town in Southern California. In 1848, after hostile circumstances, California was added through treaty to American territory. The annexation of California and the discovery of gold brought adventurers and immigrants alike to the West by the thousands.the area became known as the Ciudad de Los Angeles, “City of Angels.”

The Early 1900s

In the early 1900s, people were fleeing the south to escape lynching genocide and the harsher realities of Jim Crow in the first migration of about 15,000 people. Los Angeles was a 6 opportunistic place to live for black families, where black people could find blue-collar jobs, own a home, and ultimately gain social mobility to arise from second class citizenship.


By 1910, more than 36% of black Angelinos owned their own homes, the highest percentage of black homeownership in the nation at the time. Soon after the first increase of African Americans, enacted discriminatory legislation was enacted to restrict and remove the civil rights of African Americans. For example, redlining and racial covenants were often utilized by white property owners to prevent people of color from moving into white communities. These restrictions prevented families of color from having access to education, healthcare, housing, and jobs. Despite these racial restrictions, minority communities found a way to thrive in struggle. The 1930s South Central was considered the Harlem of The West Coast. This led to African Americans dominating population of South(central) LA.


Mid 1900s

The Second Great Migration in the 1940’s brought about the majority of the African American population seen in Los Angeles during that era. As World War II commenced, the national defense production skyrocketed in Los Angeles with more than $11 billion in war contracts and supplies. This called for factory labor in the automobile, rubber and steel industries. African Americans migrated West in response to this need and the African American population in Los Angeles leaped from 63,700 in 1940 to 86,000 in the early 1960s.

In the 1950s, Los Angeles was a manufacturing and industrial powerhouse that competed against the cities of the Rust Belt and the East Coast. The black population had grown to around 170,000. However, after the globalization nationally, industrial jobs began to leave Los Angeles. Plants, factories, and all of the blue-collar jobs were dramatically decreasing leaving the black

middle class deflated.


On top of the loss of jobs, black and brown families were challenged with racial hatred and whiteness. On August 11, 1965, 21-year-old Marquette Frye was pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving. Marquette’s family heard the news and came to the scene. Marquette’s mother filled with pain and reaction ripped one of the officer’s shirts. In response, the police bashed Marquette’s mother in the head with a baton and arrested the two brothers and their mother. Members of the community gathered around the scene and 29 people were arrested. The next day, uprisings broke out in South Central. The five-day uprising resulted in 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries, 3,428 arrests and over $40 million in property damage. The 1992 Uprisings were similar in origin, as they were sparked by the senseless beatings of Rodney King and killing of Latasha Harlins.

The Late 1900s

Deindustrialization left the communities of LA with little to no none economic investment. With unused plants and factories that companies did not want to invest in, public policy neglected unemployment. Following the uprisings, loss of jobs, and racial tension, the black and brown communities of South LA were vulnerable. In the 1980s the Nixon and Reagan administration began to cut government supportive programs that was were helping the economic distress of communities of color. In response, communities of color were also introduced to substance abuse. 


The Crack Epidemic began in South Central, and spread throughout the country. Many people grew up without one or both parents because someone in their family was addicted. One of the most detrimental pieces of the crack epidemic was mass incarceration. With the mandatory minimums, 3 strikes law, and the over-saturation of police, California began to lock up black and brown people for substance abuse. Overtime black and brown communities were the majority of prison and county jail populations. The commodification of black and brown bodies mas made the prison industry of California billions of dollars.


2000s to Present Day

Moving towards present-day Los Angeles, black and brown communities are still facing public disinvestment and push out. Private investment and public disinvestment haves led to property owners raising property values. Some black and brown communities have flooded into the valley to have find affordable housing. Others were unfortunate and losts homes, contributing to the rise of homelessness in LA county

Join Us!

Join us as we break bread, share stories and engage in honest, and difficult conversations about race and how we can help change inequities in our personal lives and on a policy level.

Image 3.png
bottom of page