Introducing A People’s Guide to Los Angeles

By David J. Barboza

I’ve recently started to read A People’s Guide to Los Angeles. It’s not your typical tourist guidebook. Instead it:

“creates a dramatically different perspective on our region: one that centers on the analysis of power and inequality. It shares the perspectives and histories of those who have been systematically excluded from most representations of the city’s history: the working class and the poor, indigenous peoples, people of color, women, immigrants, gays and lesbians, environmental justice activists, political radicals, and other marginalized groups” (A People’s Guide to Los Angeles, p. 6).

The title of the book refers to a movement in history writing that was popularized by Howard Zinn (e.g. A People’s History of the United States), that is, a critical examination of the past from the perspectives of marginalized groups. By taking this approach, A People’s Guide to Los Angeles intentionally tries to bring an unorthodox (some might say provocative) perspective to the question of what is historically significant in Los Angeles. To get a sense of how the book reads, it’s best to consider a few examples.

Musicians Union Hall (Local 47)
817 Vine St, Los Angeles, CA 90038

Musicians Union Hall Local 47. Photo: Google Maps.

Musicians Union Hall Local 47. Photo: Google Maps.

This hall houses the first musician’s union in the United States to become racially integrated from segregated origins. Established in 1897, Local 47’s integration was not achieved until 1953, thanks to the efforts of noted jazzman Buddy Collette (among others) and only after intense financial negotiations. Before integration a separate “Negro” musician’s union struggled to achieve the same pay and access to gigs as its white counterpart. The joining of the two unions is an important early civil rights victory in Los Angeles.

California Eagle Building
4071-75 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles 90011

The California Eagle Building. Photo: Google Maps.

The California Eagle Building. Photo: Google Maps.

This building housed the California Eagle, an early black-owned newspaper, which was published from 1879 to 1964. The paper was founded by John Neimore, who had escaped slavery before moving west. In 1921 Charlotta Bass  bought the paper and changed its name to the California Eagle (it was originally called The Owl). The paper built a reputation for challenging racial discrimination, the mistreatment of workers and police abuses. The Eagle remained woman-owned until just before its closure.

Morris Kight House
1822 W. 4th St., Los Angeles, CA 90057

The Morris Kight House. Photo: Google Maps.

The Morris Kight House. Photo: Google Maps.

From 1969 to 1972 the Los Angeles branch of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was headquartered at this house, formerly the residence of Morris Kight. Kight an activist active in the gay rights and antiwar movements. The GLF, in addition to fighting against anti-gay discrimination, also forged alliances with other struggles, such as those for women’s rights and racial equality. Kight and the GLF helped to found the gay pride parade now known as L.A. Pride, which commemorates the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, as well as the organization now known as the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

That’s just a taste of course. None of the examples listed above have historic designations, so they’re just the kind of places that SurveyLA wants to know about. If you know of any places that help to illustrate the social history of Los Angeles, please let us know!

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