In many respects, a new book spearheaded by UCLA’s Center for African American Studies (CAAS) is a people’s history of Blacks in Los Angeles.
The 439-page paperback, “Black Los Angeles, American Dreams and Racial Realities,” which is introduced by a cover with a piece of artwork done in the style of artist Ernie Barnes, is an eight-year labor of love that connected academia around Southern California with community residents.
“We formed a series of working groups that brought scholars together with community people to think through relevant questions,” explained Darnell Hunt, a UCLA professor and book co-editor along with Ana-Christina Ramon.
The questions that were dealt with included just what should and should not be included in the book, and from what direction should presenting the content be approached. From those first meeting in 2003 emerged a book that is a hybrid of sorts– it is not solely academic, says Hunt, but neither is it strictly entertainment.
There are 16 chapters divided into four sections: Space, people, image, and action.
The contributors are a mixture of university professors, and labor and community organizers.
“At the end of the process, we eventually came up with the topics,” explained Hunt, who also wrote one chapter.
Black Los Angeles is more than a recitation of the history of African Americans in the region. It is a look at the why as well as the when and where.
The chapter on the decline of the Venice community of Oakwood is a case in point. Written by Andrew Deener, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, this selection talks about how Oakwood formed but also about why it stayed the way it did for so long.
Additionally, the author featured quotes from people who lived in this community and what sometimes happened when they tried to leave.
In another chapter, “Imprisoning the Family” the authors explore incarceration, but co-editor Hunt said that, unlike most approaches, this work looks at the impact of prison and jail on the families of inmates.
The way these two sections are laid out is indicative of how each chapter is constructed–from the history of gangs evolving from protective organizations into predators to an in-depth look at how young Black men struggle to achieve success in the context of Black L.A.
Ultimately, Hunt said the point of the work is quite simple: “We want it to be a book scholars can read 30 or 40 years from now that makes a statement about where L.A. is in 2010.”