Dr. Quintard Taylor, Jr.
Scott and Dorothy Bullitt
Professor of American History
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African American History | African American History in the West (Now available at www.blackpast.org)  

History 313:
The History of African Americans in the West
Manual - Chapter 10
The Black West: Into the 21st Century

Introduction | Chap. 1 | Chap. 2 | Chap. 3 | Chap. 4 | Chap. 5 | Chap. 6 | Chap. 7 | Chap. 8 | Chap. 9 | Chap. 10

CHAPTER TEN: The Black West: Into The 21st Century

This final chapter explores the contemporary African American west. The first vignette, The Watts Riot: Twenty Five Years Later, explains what has and has not occurred in the region's largest African American community after its bloody uprising. Crippin: The Rise of Black Gangs in Post-Watts Los Angeles provides background on the nation's first mega-gang, the 50,000 member Crips. Crack and Black America is one indication of what has changed for the worst in Los Angeles and other cities of the region. In Crime and Punishment: Two Black Generations Collide we see the justice system from the perspective of two individuals from the same neighborhood but who face each other from each side of that system. Pan-Africanism in Portland, 1991 suggests that even western African Americans long for economic and cultural connections with the African homeland. The Block, 1992 and Korean Green Grocers: Challenge and Opportunity discuss the future of race and economics in the West. Finally, the vignette The Multicultural American West suggests that this region, traditionally, the most multicultural area in the United States, could lead the nation in adjusting to the rapidly changing population as we move into the 21st Century.

Terms for Week 10:

  • “Crippin”
  • O.J. Simpson Trial
  • Judge David W. Williams and Richard Winrow
  • Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP)
  • Sam Smith
  • Norm Rice
  • Rodney King Riot
  • Soon Da Ju
  • Bussing in Seattle
  • Michael Preston
  • Al Sugiyama
  • Model Cities
  • Gentrification


In August 1990, Robert Conot, author of Rivers of Blood, Years of Darkness: The History of the Watts Riot, and contributor to the 1968 Kerner Commission Report, assessed the black community, which became a symbol of urban anger in the 1960s. Here is part of that assessment.

It has been 25 years since the Watts riot flashed across America’s consciousness like a lightening bolt amid a thunderstorm of racial disharmony. Watts made a statement of growing black power in cities of anger at American casuistry in preaching democracy abroad while continuing to practice discrimination at home; of generations of blacks deprived of opportunity through repression and exploitation... Coming near the high-water mark of the great black urban migration that began with World War II, and within a year of passage of civil rights and anti-poverty legislation, Watts is an important benchmark. How does the condition of blacks today compare with then?

De jure segregation is gone. Discrimination in jobs, education, and housing has largely been eliminated. Blacks have moved into higher visibility, role model positions. The number of black officials has multiplied from few than 1,200 in 1969 to 7,200 in 1989. Blacks are or have been mayors of most of America’s largest cities.... Last year, Virginia elected the nation’s first black governor since Reconstruction. Numerous blacks have become instant millionaires: 75% of pro basketball players, 60% of pro football players, and 17% of pro baseball players are black. Some of the most popular and highest paid entertainment figures--Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, Eddie Murphy... are black.

But de facto economic segregation remains in housing and education. The gap between the median family income of whites and blacks has increased, in constant dollars, from $10,400 in 1960 to $14,600 in 1988. The problems of crime, gangs, and drugs are no nearer solution. Blacks are imprisoned at nearly four times their proportion of the population and graduate from college at half the white rate.

Civil rights legislation opened opportunities for blacks equipped with the education necessary to take advantage of them. But in an era of disappearing blue-collar jobs and ever-higher skill requirements for well-paying ones, the masses of poor youth have not been receiving that education. Consequently, the increasing disparity between affluence and poverty in the population in general is even more pronounced among young blacks. Among whites in 1987 (the latest figures available), the top 20% received 42.9% of all income, while the bottom 40% got 16.3%. Among blacks, the top 20% received 47.4%, the bottom 40% only 12%.

There is no mystery about what would offer the most effective attack on poverty; an intensive program to prevent early pregnancy; education for responsible parenthood, together with mechanisms to help promote a stable home life. Head Start programs available to every disadvantaged family anywhere in the United States. If we initiate a policy to establish truly equal opportunity in the early years, we may then let ability and competitiveness take their natural course. We have abandoned one generation of the disadvantaged after Watts, and have seen the United States slip in world standings. With the minority population increasing at more than double the rate of the white, to ignore the problems will only see them get worse. An investment in the neglected human potential, redounding in a more stable and productive society, is by far the best use of capital the nation could make.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, August 5, 1990, P. M1.


The 1970s and 1980s witnessed the rise of Korean merchants in lower middle class neighborhoods throughout the United States. But as a few well-publicized incidents in black communities such as South Central Los Angeles, attest, the emergence of Korean grocers in black communities has prompted growing tension between the two groups. The situation in Los Angeles is described in the article below.

The windows of Jr. Liquor Market are tightly shuttered, the shelves half-empty. Boxes stuffed with canned food, cleaning supplies and liquor bottles litter the floor. Five months after he killed a black man who allegedly was robbing him, Tae Sam Park and his wife are moving out. Anger shut the doors of this tiny grocery in the city's tough South Central section. "We don't know what we're going to do," said Park, whose business buckled under a 110-day boycott by black residents. "How do you think I feel?"

Nine blocks down Western Avenue, past shops with boarded windows and graffiti-marred walls, black customers at Price food Market and Liquor browse through well-stocked shelves and line up a check-out counters. "Over here, Ma'am, this line's open," a girl cheerfully tells an elderly customer. Price Food market is an anomaly in South Central: a prospering Korean-owned store where most of the 40 employees are black or Hispanic. the store brings in $100,000 in slaves a week, says store manager Joe Sanders, who is black. "Treat your customers well. These are the people who are going to pay your bills," Sanders said of the store's success. "If you lose the relationship with the people, then you're going to close."

The June 4 shooting at Jr. Liquor Market and other recent violence between Korean merchants and black residents have brought tensions between the two groups to the boiling point in South Central. Since March, three blacks and two Koreans have been killed in South Central store disputes, according to Mayor Tom Bradley's office. Korean stores have been firebombed, causing thousands of dollars in property damage. Last week, a startled Korean merchant wounded a black man who ran into his store to escape a drive-by shooting. The store owner though he was about to be robbed, police said. Even at Price Food, the emotional undercurrent flares in an instant, said manager Sanders. The previous day, a black customer stuck his hands in the face of the owner, Chong Park, when Park curtly told him the store had run out of an advertised special on sugar, Sanders recalled. "So you're going to shoot me, too?" the man yelled at Park before Sanders intervened. I tell my boss, "Stay out of the picture," Sanders said. "Blacks don't like his face. They just don't like Koreans."

In the latest case to rock the city, Korean grocer Soon Da Ju received probation for the March 16 shooting death of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins inside the Du family store. Mrs. Du had accused Harlins of shoplifting a $1.79 bottle of orange juice. The lenient sentence handed down Nov. 15 stunned black leaders, who accused Superior Court Judge Joyce Harlin of racism and vowed, once again, to take their protest to the streets--this time, in front of Harlin's home. "We demand dignity and respect," said Danny Bakewell Sr., president of the Brotherhood Crusade, an activist black organization which organized the pickets and the Jr. Liquor Market boycott. The crusade call off the market boycott when a Korean merchants' association--whose members had donated more than $20,000 to keep the store afloat--agreed to have it offered for sale to a black buyer. Bakewell said he has a prospective buyer lined up. Said Sanders, "It'd be a miracle if it happened."

Black store ownership is a rarity in South Central, where blacks continually complain they are verbally abused and even followed as they shop in stores owned by Koreans many of them recent immigrants to California who live outside the neighborhood. Resentful residents say the Koreans tend to hire their own, take blacks' dollars out of the area and then move on.

David Kim, Southern California president of the National Korean American Grocers Association, acknowledges that some Korean grocers are suspicious of blacks and don't hire their employees from the community. "A husband and wife work 14 to 16 hours a day, 365 days a year," said Kim, a store owner himself, "We are not making the money people think... You cannot hire any employee when there's no room for it." Korean merchants also must contend with robbery and shoplifting attempts in dangerous neighborhoods, he said. Annual store turnover is 30%, said Ron Wakabayashi, executive director of the city Human Relations Commission.

Black resentment of Koreans also stems from years they're being pushed down the economic ladder by yet another immigrant group, said the Rev. Cecil L. Murray, pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles. "Every minority group has benefited by the century-old struggle of African Americans to pry open the doors of opportunity," Murray said. "We open the doors and others walk through them."

Los Angeles' Korean population has grown from 9,000 to 250,000 over the past 20 years. Hispanics now account for 40% of the city's 3.5 million people and are a slight majority in South Central; blacks, are 14% while Asians are 9%.

Source: Portland Oregonian, December 3, 1991, p. A11.


In the following account historian Mike Davis describes the rise of the Los Angeles-based 50,000 member Crips, the nation's largest street gang with "affiliations" in 32 states and 113 cities. His discussion includes an analysis of the historical circumstances including the "managerial revolution" which gave rise to this "mega-gang."

It is time to meet L.A.'s "Viet Cong." Although the study of barrio gangs is a vast cottage industry, dating back to Emory Bogardus's 1926 monograph...The City Boy and His Problems, almost nothing has been written about the history of South central L.A.'s sociologically distinct gang culture. The earliest, repeated references to a "gang problem" in the Black community press, moreover, deal with gangs of white youth who terrorized Black residents along the frontiers of the southward-expanding Central Avenue ghetto.... Indeed, from these newspaper accounts and the recollections of old-timers, it seems probable that the first generation of Black street gangs emerged as a defensive response to white violence in the schools and streets during the late 1940s. The Eagle, for example, records "racial gang wars" at Manual Arts High in 1946, Canoga Park High (in the Valley) in 1947, and John Adams High in 1949, while Blacks at Fremont High were continually assaulted throughout 1946 and 1947. Possibly as a result of their origin in these school integration/transition battles, Black gangs, until the 1970s, tended to be predominantly defined by school-based turfs rather than by the neighborhood territorialities of Chicago gangs.

Aside from defending Black teenagers from racist attacks (which continued through the 1950s under the aegis of such white gangs as the "Spookhunters"), the early South central gangs--the Businessmen, Slausons, Gladiators, Farmers, Parks, Outlaws, Watts, Boot Hill, Rebel Rousers, Roman Twenties, and so forth--were also the architects of social space in new and usually hostile settings. As tens of thousands of 1940s and 1950s Black immigrants crammed into the overcrowded, absentee-landlord-dominated neighborhoods of the ghetto's Eastside, low-rider gangs offered "cool worlds" of urban socialization for poor young newcomers from rural Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Meanwhile, on the other side of Main Street, more affluent Black youngsters from the Westside bungalow belt created an [imitation] white "car club" subculture of Los Angeles in the 1950s...While "rumblin" (usually non-lethally) along this East-West socio-economic divide...the Black gangs of the 1950s also had to confront the implacable (often lethal) racism of Chief Parker's LAPD. In the days when the young Daryl Gates was driver to the great Chief, the policing of the ghetto was becoming simultaneously less corrupt but more militarized and brutal...

Since "wild tribes" and gang perils were its golden geese, it is not surprising that Parker's LAPD looked upon the "rehabilitation" of gang youth in much the same way as the arms industry regarded peace-mongering or disarmament treaties. Vehemently opposed to the extension of constitutional rights to juveniles and loathing "social workers," Chief Parker, a strict Victorian, launched a concerted attack on the Group Guidance Unit of the Probation Department, a small program that had emerged out of the so-called Zoot Suit Riots of 1943. The original sin of Group Guidance, in the Chief's opinion, was that they "gave status to gang activity" by treating gang members as socially transformable individuals. The LAPD in the 1950s and early 1960s dichotomized youth offenders into two groups. On one hand, were mere "delinquents" (mainly white youth) susceptible to the shock treatment of juvenile hall; on the other hand, were "juvenile criminals" (mainly Black and Chicano)...destined to spend their lives within the state prison system. Essential to the LAPD worldview was the assertion that ghetto gang youth were composed of...hardcore criminality. Moreover, as Black nationalist groups, like the Muslims, began to appear in the ghetto in the late 1950s, Parker, like [J. Edgar] Hoover, began to see the gang problem and the "militant threat" as forming a single, overarching structure of Black menace...

South central gang youth, coming under the influence of the Muslims and the long-distance charisma of Malcolm X, began to reflect the generational awakening of Black Power. As Obatala describes the "New Breed" of the 1960s, "their perceptions were changing: those who formerly had seen things in terms of East and West were now beginning to see many of the same things in Black and White." As the gangs began to become politicized, they became 'al fresco' churches whose ministers brought the gospel (of Black power) out into the streets.

Veteran civil rights activists can recall one memorable instance, during a protest at a local whites-only drive-in restaurant, when the timely arrival of Black gang members saved them from a mauling by white hot rodders. The gang was the legendary Slausons, based in the Fremont High area, and they became a crucial social base for the rise of the local Black Liberation movement. The turning-point, of course, was the festival of the oppressed in August 1965 that the Black community called a rebellion and the white media a riot. Although the riot commission headed by old-guard Republicans John McCone and Asa Call supported Chief Parker's so-called "riff-raff theory" that the August events were the work of a small criminal minority, subsequent research, using the McCone Commission's own data, proved that up to 75,000 people took part in the uprising, mostly from the stolid Black working class. For gang members it was "The Last Great Rumble," as formerly hostile groups forgot old grudges and cheered each other on against the hated LAPD and the National Guard. Old enemies, like the Slausons and the Gladiators (from the 54th Street area), flash[ed] smiles and high signs as they broke through Parker's invincible "blue line."

This ecumenical movement...lasted three or four years. Community workers, and even the LAPD themselves, were astonished by the virtual cessation of gang hostilities as the gang leadership joined the Revolution. Two leading Slausons, Apprentice "Bunchy" Carter (a famous warlord) and Jon Huggins became the local organizers of the Black Panther Party, while a third, Brother Crook (aka Ron Wilkins) created the Community Alert Patrol to monitor police abuse. Meanwhile an old Watts gang hangout near Jordan Downs, the "parking lot," became a recruiting center for the Sons of Watts who organized and guarded the annual Watts Festival.

It is not really surprising, therefore, that in the late 1960s the doo-ragged, hardcore street brothers and sisters, who for an extraordinary week in 1965 had actually driven the police out of the ghetto, were visualized by Black Power theorists as the strategic reserve of Black Liberation, if not its vanguard. (A similar fantasy of a Warriors-like unification of the gangs was popular amongst sections of the Chicano Left). There was a potent moment in this period, around 1968-9, when the Panthers--their following soaring in the streets and high schools--looked as if they might become the ultimate revolutionary gang. Teenagers, who today flock to hear Eazy-E rap, "It ain't about color, it's about the color of money. I love the green" -- then filled the Sports Arena to listen to Stokely Carmichael, H.Rap Brown, Bobby Seale and James Forman adumbrate the unity program of SNCC and the Panthers. The Black Congress and the People’s Tribunal (convened to try the LAPD for the murder of Gregory Clark) were other expressions of the same aspiration for unity and militancy.

But the combined efforts of the FBI'S notorious COINTELPRO program and the LAPD's Public Disorder Intelligence Division (a super-Red Squad that until 1982 maintained surveillance on every suspicious group from the Panthers to the National Council of Churches) were concentrated upon destroying Los Angeles's Black power vanguards. The February 1969 murders of Panther leaders Carter and Huggins on the UCLA campus by members of a rival nationalist group (which Panther veterans still insist was actually police-instigated) was followed a year later by the debut of LAPD's SWAT team in a day-long siege of the Panthers' South central headquarters. Although a general massacre of the Panthers cadre was narrowly averted by an angry community outpouring into the streets, the Party was effectively destroyed.

As even the [Los Angeles] Times recognized, the decemination of the Panthers led directly to a recrudescence of gangs in the early 1970s. "Crippin,'" the most extraordinary new gang phenomenon, was a bastard offspring of the Panthers' former charisma... There are various legends about the original Crips, but they agree on certain particulars. As Donald Bakeer, a teacher at Manual Arts High, explains in his self-published novel about the Crips, the first "set" was incubated in the social wasteland created by the clearances for the Century Freeway--a traumatic removal of housing and destruction of neighborhood ties that was the equivalent of a natural disaster. His protagonist, a second-generation Crip, boasts to his "homeboys": "My daddy was a member of the original 107 Hoover Crip Gang, the original Crips in Los Angeles, O.G. (original gangster) to the max." Secondly, as journalist Bob Baker has determined, the real "O.G." number one of the 107 (who split away from an older gang called the Avenues) was a young man powerfully influenced by the Panthers in their late sixties heyday:

He was Raymond Washington, a Fremont High School student
who had been too young to be a Black Panther but had
soaked up some of the Panther rhetoric about community
control of neighborhoods. After Washington was kicked out
of Fremont, he wound up at Washington High, and something
began to jell in the neighborhood where he lived, around
107th and Hoover streets.

Although it is usually surmised that the name Crip is derived from the 107 Hoovers' "crippled" style of walking, Bakeer was told by one O.G. that it originally stood for "Continuous Revolution in Progress." However apocryphal this translation may be, it best describes the phenomenal spread of Crip sets across the ghetto between 1970 and 1972. A 1972 gang map, released by the LAPD's 77th Street Division, shows a quiltwork of blue-ragged Crips, both Eastside and Westside, as well as miscellany of other gangs, some descended from the pre-Watts generation. Under incessant Crip pressure, these independent gangs--the Brims, Bounty Hunters, Denver Lanes, Athens Park Gang, the Bishops, and, especially, the powerful Pirus--federated as the red-handkerchiefed Bloods. Particularly strong in Black communities peripheral to the South central core, like Compton, Pacoima, Pasadena and Pomona, the Bloods have been primarily a defensive reaction-formation to the aggressive emergence of the Crips.

It needs to be emphasized that this was not merely a gang revival, but a radical permutation of Black gang culture. The Crips, however perversely, inherited the Panther aura of fearlessness and transmitted the ideology of armed vanguardism (shorn of its program). In some instances, Crip insignia continued to denote Black Power, as during the Monrovia riots in 1972 or the L.A. Schools bussing crisis of 1977-9. But too often Crippin' came to represent an escalation of intra-ghetto violence to Clockwork Orange levels (murder as a status symbol, and so on) that was unknown in the days of the Slausons and anathema to everything that the Panthers had stood for.

Moreover the Crips blended a penchant for ultra-violence with an overweening ambition to dominate the entire ghetto. Although, as Bakeer subtly sketches in his novel, Eastside versus Westside tensions persist, the Crips, as the Panthers before them, attempted to hegemonize as an entire generation. In this regard, they achieved, like the contemporary Black P-Stone Nation in Chicago, a managerial revolution in gang organization. If they began as a teenage substitute for the fallen Panthers, they evolved through the 1970s into a hybrid of teen cult and proto-Mafia. At a time when economic opportunity was draining away from South central Los Angeles, the Crips were becoming the power resource of last resort for thousands of abandoned youth...

Source: Mike Davis, City of Quartz, (New York, 1990), pp. 293-300.


The following is an account of the impact of the 1992 Los Angeles Riot on one block in the South-Central ghetto. But it also illustrates the tensions and rivalries among people of color in contemporary urban America.

Before Doomsday, The Block pulsed with life. Palm trees shaded the tidy little houses that stretched....from the intersection of Vermont and Vernon Avenues. Behind waist-high fences old folks puttered in their gardens.... Around the corner "Fish Man" Taylor was flipping catfish at the All Seas fish shop, and the smell of fried chicken wafted out of Julia Harris's fast food place.... Farther on, the chatter of Korean peddlers hawking everything from nachos to gold chains spilled out of the Sunny Swap Meet, mixing with a lilt of reggae from Sea Blize Records. Surveying this funky empire, Willie, the homeless man, peered out from a vacant TV-repair shop. The landlord had given him a key in return for odd jobs. Willie kept an eye on things....

"They're robbing the market!" The news seared along The Block. A hundred maniac looters surged past Vermont Square Shopping Center. Some swung axes, others crowbars, some had lock cutters....They snapped the lock at Sunny Swap Meet. They piled into a pickup and tried to bash through the steel shutters at the Best Discount house wares store. Then they plunged into Tong's Tropical Fish store and ran out with boa constrictors, fish--even the turtles. When it was all over, Willie, eyes glinting, walked up to a Korean merchant studying the ruins. "Get out of here, motherf---," he shouted. "I'll burn your motherf--ass. I'll bring 'em back to burn your ass a second time."

What possessed everyone? With the shudder of a worn-out furnace, The Block transformed itself. People cut loose, scaring everyone, including themselves. The center didn't hold. At the peak of the frenzy, there was one certainty: this catastrophe didn't just happen....The Block lay within one of the country's worst zones of crime and economic blight. In the neighborhood of Vermont and Vernon last year, there was about one murder every other day, along with 655 robberies each year and 255 rapes. The median income was $17,410, a gasp above the official U.S. poverty line. In the area of South-Central where The Block resides, almost 44% of the black teens are unemployed. Still, if The Block offered hardship to its residents, it offered an opportunity, of sorts, to its small business people. "All the talk about ghettos not having any money is a myth," says Wendell Ryan, a partner in the shopping strip that included the Pioneer Chicken franchise and Sea Blize Records. "As soon as somebody moves out, we have three or four people waiting to get in."

Ryan's waiting list was a tribute to a spirit of rugged entrepreneurship that persisted in spite of the odds. Eight years ago Julia Harris spent 12 weeks negotiating a $100,000 small-business loan, which she put together with $50,000 of her own to buy the Pioneer Chicken franchise. She paid $1,540 each month in rent and turned over one fifth of her take to the Pioneer chain; but she made enough to live outside the neighborhood on the more prosperous black turf of Baldwin Hills. For this, she paid the price The Block regularly exacted; punks robbed Pioneer Chicken 14 times; in 1985 they hit her shop four times in one week. At one point, crack dealers used her restaurant tables to cut their coke.

While the working woman behind the fast fry was an African American, Robert Castillo, who owned the All Seas fish shop, came from Mexico. He came to the U.S. in 1973, worked for years as store manager, saved his pay and bought the place for $350,000 five years ago--$40,000 down and $3,100 a month for mortgage. He hired four black countermen, put up a photograph of Martin Luther King Jr., commissioned a mural showing a dark-skinned cowboy riding a huge fish across a lake. He worked hard, doubled the store's take. To succeed, he told friends, you had to get along with the community. When two Korean businessmen offered him $500,000 for All Seas, he turned them down. "I told them to get the hell out of there," he recalls. "If I sold to them I'd make money, but all my family would be out of work--they don't hire Hispanics."

The fires of race superheated the pressures of class. The Koreans weren't all rich. When Byongkok Kim, 57, arrived in America six years ago, he had a family but no security for any loans. He used $10,000 in savings, scratched up $35,000 from Korean moneylenders, at 30% interest and bought the C & C Market on Vermont and Vernon. By working seven days a week, 14 hours a day, he and his family made $6,000 a month. Far above them stood Young Jin Kim whom The Block call "a ghetto merchant"--a prince of poverty. Kim moved from Seoul to Los Angeles eight years ago. He worked 18 hour days, splitting his time among a liquor store, a gas station and a tennis club. With his savings and family money, he bought a clothing boutique in downtown Los Angeles. The business prospered. In 1987 he put together $120,000 in family money and a $200,000 loan form the California Korea Bank, the state's largest Korean-owned lender, to buy a building on Vermont Square from a Jewish landlord. He turned the building into a bazaar, subletting stands to 28 small dealers who paid him between $500 and $1,000 a month in rent. After meeting his mortgage payment, his utility bills and the payroll for his security guards, he still made a tidy profit.

Relations between the Koreans and the rest of The Block were uneasy. Although the stands in the Sunny Swap Meet changed hands every year or two, local blacks didn't have the $10,000 to $15,000 needed to start up. Kim says none ever applied for a stall. New renters were predominately Koreans. Kim did hire four African Americans as security guards and sweepers. But the mom-and-pop stands were small and poor; they gave no jobs to anyone from The Block....The Block's drug and crime rates surged upwards. Koreans, suspicious, padded down the aisles after blacks as they shopped. "The Swap Meet was one of the best businesses around," remembers Harris. "But I tried to tell the Koreans all the time, 'You can't think you're better that we are'." They ignored her. They would sit in Pioneer Chicken, take up all the tables for the meeting--and order one Coke. Tensions escalated last year when a Korean shopkeeper shot and killed Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old black girl who she had accused of shoplifting. A judge sentenced the shopkeeper to probation. The Block swelled with rage.... Then a jury acquitted four white policemen of stomping Rodney King. On Vermont Avenue.... people were home watching TV when the verdict was announced. They poured into the street. Brad Long, 24, heard teens screaming, "We're not gonna take this!" "Before long, everybody was outside," he says. "Babies, mothers--it was like some kind of revolution."

A week later Jeeps filled with M-16-toting troops were cruising The Block. Next door to the Swap Meet, Harris stood in the waterlogged ruins of Pioneer Chicken with plastic bags wrapped around her feet. "This is a hard place," she said, clutching a flashlight in the blackness of her burned-out store. "But I'm staying." The C & C liquor store didn't burn that night. But the Kim family lost $85,000 in stolen merchandise and structural damage. The psychic damage was worse. John Kim, a son, said, "We were good to the people here. We had friends. We gave them credit." As he spoke, his mother bent down in the rubble to pick up a piece of dirty paper. She used it to wipe her eyes. "We won't come back here," he said. "We are going back to Korea or another state like Hawaii, where there is justice for all."

Source: Newsweek, May 18, 1992, pp. 40-44.


On a chilly February night, a tall young man named Ron sits in MacArthur Park, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his thin red jacket. In an interview with Los Angeles Times staff writer Darrell Dawsey, he tells a story that is familiar in the netherworld of drug abuse. The second passage is part of a speech by California’s State Senator Diane Watson who represents “Ron’s” district to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Ron: I’m from a small town in Louisiana, but the fast life got me. I wanted to hang out with the fast people. I had a job at Southern California Gas Co. I had a job paying $30,000 a year. I had two years of college at Southern University [in Baton Rouge]. I lost it all because I got hooked on dope, crack. That s--- is a double edged sword. It makes you feel so good but it will tear your life apart. I've met every challenge in my life, man, and won. But I was not able to beat this drug thing.

I started off selling it. I was making a little money, but then I started getting high too much. Pretty soon, I was smoking more than I was selling. My company paid $20,000 for me to spend 30 days at a rehabilitation clinic, $29,000 for the next 30. But they got tired of me going to rehab. I wasn't making any improvement. I was still smoking and messing up my life. So they fired me. That’s why I’m living like I do. I can’t get a job.

I heard they were trying to legalize drugs. That would be the worst thing. Think about it. If they got better cocaine, everyone would try it. You won’t have anybody in this country who isn't on their way to getting strung out. That’s a lie, when people tell you that you won’t have crime [with decriminalization]. I had a heart operation, had a valve replaced. And I’m still smoking. Coke is a cruel mistress. She don’t care who she takes from. And she doesn't give anything back.

These kids who sell it, they'll tell you. They don’t sell it because they are bad people. They sell it to stay alive. How else are people going to make money? Nobody wants to hire too many black people. So they think we are supposed to starve because they won’t give us jobs? Naw. People are going to try to stay alive, any way they can. That doesn't make you a villain. [The drug epidemic] is a tough problem. I really can’t say what the solution is. I think you need more education. Enforcement doesn't work. People need jobs. I think that’s one of the main things: jobs. I blew mine, but that doesn't mean I don’t know how important a job is. After the jobs, though, I don’t know. It’s tough.

* * *

Watson: Since the mid-1960s, American blacks have been fighting not a legal war against segregation, nor an insurmountable economic war against discrimination, but a profound psychological war for our own sense of self-worth. We are fighting to free ourselves of the psychological bondage to which Africans were subjected in this country. It is the damage that results when you distort a people’s belief in the cause-and-effect principle of the universe. It is the faith in this principle that motivates achievement and enables self-respect. It is the belief that effort produces results. It is the notion that “I can get what I want if I work hard enough, smart enough, long enough.” It is what teaches a human being to believe in productive labor. It is self-discipline.

Source: Los Angeles Times, March 12, 19, 1990.


In this account from the Los Angeles Times, two black men, Judge David W. Williams and Richard Winrow, who grew up in the same South Central neighborhood although in different eras, face each other in court. Their experience reflects the intersection of race and class in America.

U.S. District Court Judge David W. Williams, 79, grew up poor on 109th Street in South Central Los Angeles, raised in an era when it was still not allowed for blacks to buy homes west of Western Ave. Richard Winrow, 22, until Wednesday lived on 118th Street in South Central, a little more than a mile away from where the judge was raised. An A student before dropping out of high school from “sheer boredom,” Winrow was the youngest in a poor family of nine children. He was born in an era when blacks could move anywhere they liked, but few, including Winrow, could escape the poverty that surrounded them.

On Wednesday, the two men, separated by two generations but sharing similar roots, were brought together in Department 23 of U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles. In his courtroom, Williams--bound by a federal multiple offense law that forced his hand--dispatched Winrow to prison for the rest of his life, without the possibility of parole.

While of judicial interest as the first use of the mandatory sentence law in California, the courtroom paradox also raised fundamental and troubling questions about who fails in society, who succeeds, and why.

Named a student of the year in 8th grade at Ralph Bunche Junior High, Winrow was known as “the smartest kid in the neighborhood”--a child who it seems could easily have attended college and followed a career. Winrow’s family, which emotionally insisted upon his innocence Wednesday, said he had a chance to make it in life, but circumstances were always running against him. Relatives, reacting to the harshness of the sentence, found it hard to believe that the judge was a product of South Central himself.

“If that judge had ever been on this street, then he’d know what it was like,” said Vincent Scott, one of Richard’s six brothers. “[Williams] didn't grow up here. If he grew up in this neighborhood, how could he judge my brother?”

Today, East 118th Street and 109th Street mirror one another; both are lined with trees and modest homes. And children in both neighborhoods today have a high school dropout rate of nearly 50%. Gang graffiti mars industrial buildings that stand where grassy fields once were. Williams, long a resident of Bel-Air, is intimately familiar with South Central’s troubles, having presided over 4,000 criminal cases arising from the Watts riots of 1965, and watching jobs move out and crime go up in the area in more recent times. But he remembers a more nostalgic time, when he practiced law on Central Avenue and “people could stroll down the street without any premonition of danger.”

As Williams recalls, “the whole society was different” in South Central in the 1920s and 1930s. Social pressure was so great that if a boy got in trouble with the law, his family would pack up and move away.

“The neighborhoods were good, and if a kid was arrested, the shame of it would drive a family out,” he said in an interview. “Now the question [in the South Central area] is which families have not had a son arrested.”

No matter how bad the environment, Williams said, it does not provide an excuse for criminal behavior. “I blame the young people of my own race for not getting an education and for taking the easy way and for trafficking in drugs and joining gangs,” Williams said. “But there is blame to share, because our young people were not denied a chance for a job like they are today.”

At Winrow’s house on Wednesday, such sociological musings seemed off the mark. A member of the family had been sent off to prison for a long, long time, and those left behind did not seem to understand why. The family, so emotionally distraught over the sentence handed down by Williams, did not clearly understand that their brightest star would spend the rest of his life in prison. His mother, Lavern, believed the sentence would last only 20 years.

“I think it’s too stiff a penalty for a young man,” she said, speaking softly and holding back tears. If Winrow was guilty, then he should get “time to think about it, yes. But not 20 years.” Winrow had three prior narcotics violations when he was arrested last December in a raid on his East 118th Street home and charged with possessing 5.5 ounces of cocaine. Prosecutors identified him as a member of the Mona Park Crips. But family and friends all claimed he did not sell drugs and had never joined a gang. “Richard was not a dangerous person,” said Renee Scott, 28, his sister. “He was not a bad boy. These [gang members] around her, true, he knows them, but he was never a gangbanger.”... “They’re trying to use him as an example for all these other guys around here,” Renee said angrily. “They didn't do him right.

But Williams said Winrow’s gang and drug activities had been clearly proven. He also noted that Winrow’s attorney’s--two from Las Vegas and one from the Los Angeles area are “high priced lawyers... who handle large drug cases. No little kid from Watts is going to come up here with that kind of representation without a lot of financing behind him.” The sentence he handed down Wednesday nevertheless troubled Williams, who said he hopes the case will prompt a review by Congress of mandatory sentencing laws that preempt a judge’s ability to decide for themselves, but this is the law, and it’s my job and it’s up to Congress to do something about it...,” said Williams. “Let’s put it this way: today was the first time in 35 years as a judge that I have had to give anyone a life sentence.”
Winrow’s grieving family and friends couldn't fathom that he will not be coming home again. “Life without parole?,” said Betty Williams, a family friend and former neighbor. “That’s his whole life wasted.”

Source: Los Angeles Times, December 7, 1989.


In an article titled “African Americans Can Play Major Roles in Forming Stronger Ties Between Nations,” Oregonian reporter Osker Spicer describes the attempts by Portland blacks to promote economic Pan-Africanism.

What do Africa and African Americans mean to each other? And subsequently, what should Africa and the United States mean to each other? How best to strengthen ties between the world’s most prosperous country and its poorest continent was emotionally addressed--and productively answered--during a historic meeting this April between 1,000 African and African American leaders in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

But even closer to home, the Portland-based American African Trade Relations Association founded last year, is launching similar world wide efforts to promote healthy commercial, cultural, and educational U.S. African connections. George Amadi Ejim, president and founder of the Portland group, said that while the Abidjan summit meeting primarily rallied black African and African Americans, “we are going beyond that to more actively include African friends here and in Africa who are white. We want to see all of us come together.” “But no mater what we say about links between Africa and the United States, without African American entrepreneurs and organizations, it can’t work,” Ejim insisted. “I see African Americans as the bride. As Americans and as Africans they share both cultures. We need that connection. An African American can negotiate better in America for Africans and in Africa for Americans....”

The question of black America’s connections to Africa--commonly termed Pan Africanism--harks back to the early 1800s and to the first slaves. They, according to African scholar Ali Mazrui, were violently “dis-Africanized” with varied versions of the refrain, “forget that you are African, remember that you are black! Forget that you are African, remember that you are black!” Consequently, there is much to be learned and relearned; many blacks, just as most other Americans, are woefully uninformed about Africa. While the black consciousness movement of the 1960s and 1970s and recent political and social changes in Africa and the world have led to vast improvements, the Western media and educational system continue to distort and disregard vital African images and information.

However, it appears that the “First African and African American Summit”--at least the “first” for the current era--will help reconnect links and bear abundant fruit. The meetings--which included five African heads of state and representatives of nine other nations, as well as political, educational, and business leaders--was well planned and charted vital, realistic goals. Among the goals are improving African agriculture for domestic and foreign consumption and battling massive health problems, such as AIDS and river blindness, which afflict 40 million Africans. The summit also hopes to develop a massive educational program, including student-exchange fellowships, and to push for a policy of US support for Africa and for substantial increases in foreign aid for the continent.

On the other hand, [Rev. Leon] Sullivan emphasized Africa could be a “new frontier” for thousands of black Americans who are either underemployed, or merely interested in the challenges and rewards that helping Africa could bring. Such ventures, Sullivan projected, will generate new jobs and enterprises both in Africa and the United States.

In Portland, Ejim said that the American African Trade Relations Association already has established representatives in eight other US cities--Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, New York, Baltimore, Houston, Atlanta, and New Orleans--and if officially involved with at least 10 African nations: Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt, Zambia, Ivory Coast, Swaziland, and South Africa (via the anti-apartheid African National Congress). Ejim, a Nigerian citizen who has resided in the United States for 15 years, said that Portland will remain ATRA’s international headquarters....

“We should look beyond the distance,” Ejim said.... “Africans already trade extensively with Japan, Taiwan, Korea, China; they even trade with the Soviet Union...,” adding that it would be natural to expand such Pacific Rim trade into Oregon and other parts of the Northwest. “Right now there are from 44 to 50 businesses in Oregon doing business in Africa. Ejim and Gresham Mayor Gussie McRobert, who is also on the ATRA’s advisory board, will represent the region at a trade conference in Lagos, Nigeria, in July. The association helped coordinate the signing of a friendship pact between Mayor Enoch S. Msabaeka of Mutare, Zimbabwe, and Portland Mayor Bud Clark during its recent African trade forum in Portland.

The idea of stimulating US African trade and cultural bonds is not new. Such concepts and concerns were presented by many early 19th century black leaders, such as Dr. Martin R. Delaney, a Harvard-educated physician who, during the Civil War, became the first black major in the US Army. But before that, he led an expedition into the Niger Valley in West Africa, later publishing an official report of his explorations in a study that called for black investments in Africa.

And there was Paul Cuffee, a well known abolitionist and shipbuilder who carried 38 blacks to Africa in 1815 at his own expense and helped colonize the African nation of Liberia. In this century, sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois was dubbed the father of Pan Africanism. Du Bois, who also co-founded the NAACP in 1909, organized five Pan African Congresses, including sessions attended by attorney Beatrice Morrow Cannady, a pioneering Portland black newspaper editor and community activist... And the related Pan African conferences held in Ghana and Ethiopia in 1958 and 1963 produced the current Organization of African Unity. Predictably, efforts such as the recent Abidjan summit and the activities of the Portland-based ATRA will help bring to reality the dreams of countless sages past and present for not just stronger but mutually nurturing US-African ties.

Source: Portland Oregonian, June 9, 1991, p. C1, C4.


In an essay describing my 1991 visit to the University of Colorado, Bill Hornby, senior editor of the Denver Post, discusses the growing recognition of the multiracial and multicultural Western half of the United States.

Dr. Quintard Taylor, professor of history at the University of Oregon, will deliver the Robert Athearn Memorial Lecture at the University of Colorado, Tuesday night... His topic, “From ‘Freedom Now’ to ‘Black Power’: The Civil Rights Movement in Seattle, 1960-1970,” will cover ethnic relations in a significant Western city as “minority” groups move nearer to becoming “majority,” at least in political affairs. The Athearn Lecture is Colorado’s most prestigious forum for injecting new historical scholarship into the regional policy dialogue, and Taylor’s insights emphasize the West’s increasing congruence with an emerging world society. What do we mean by the grandiose term “world society”? In the October issue of American Demographics magazine, Martha Riche of the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C., puts it this way: “During the 1990s, the United States will shift from a society dominated by whites and rooted in Western (European) culture to a world society characterized by three large racial and ethnic minorities.”

One can drown swiftly in the sea of statistics supporting this assertion, but its truth is obvious in Colorado whose largest city is now run by a black mayor following on two terms of a Hispanic mayor. In our schools the growth of formerly “minority” populations is exploding.... By the end of the 21st century one-third of the nation’s school and college-age population will be non-white or Latino. As both Taylor and the Population Bureau’s research make clear, this coming population multiculturalism will by no means be unified politically, or lead to domination by any given group. Simplistically put, the ... Latino groups are split in political objectives between Americans who have Mexican roots in the Southwest, Cubans in Florida, and Puerto Ricans in the Northeast. The Clarence Thomas situation indicates the many differences of opinion in the black American community. Similar news is emerging from the Asian and Native America “blocs,” and indeed the supposed past unity and domination of whites is somewhat mythical; I seem to recall something about a Civil War.... The fact is that every major population group in our country is now a “minority,” as far as the percentage share of the population they represent.

What this means is that...we are in a transition to a multicultural society, in which the term minority will lose its meaning... Without fully realizing it, we have left the time when the nonwhite, non-Western (European) part of our population could be expected to assimilate to the dominant majority. In the future, the white Western majority will have to do some assimilation of its own. Government will find that as minority groups grow in size relative to one another... no single group will command the power to dictate solutions... Reaching consensus will require more cooperation than it has in the past. Historians have been slow to pick up on this shift of the nation a world multicultural society, particularly as relates to the American West where the John Wayne School dealt on Anglo glories. As modern historians such as Quintard Taylor attest, the West has always been one of the most multicultural, just as it has been one of the most international, regions of the nation. We are a charter member of the world society, but only lately, thanks to such as Taylor, are we remembering that.

Source: Denver Post, October 13, 1991


Washington Population Totals by Race/Ethnicity

(one Race or in Combination)

Total Pop.        White          Black           Asian        American Indian         Latino  

          5,894,121        5,003,180     238,398       395,741    158,940               441,509

Population by Race/Ethnicity of Ten Largest Cities in Washington, 2000

(One Race or in Combination)

Actual Population

                             Total Pop.*   White        Black        Asian        American    Latino


 1. Seattle               563,374      413,396      55,611     84,694     11,869        29,719

 2. Spokane             195,629      181,072        5,834       5,910       5,966         5,857

 3. Tacoma              193,556      143,426      26,461       7,043     18,731        13,262

 4. Vancouver          143,560      126,605        4,727       2,952       8,034         9,035

 5. Bellevue             109,569        84,329        2,860          924     20,841          5,827

 6. Everett                91,488        77,476        3,909       2,557       6,991         6,539

 7. Federal Way          83,259        60,930        8,012       1,758     11,919          6,266

 8. Kent                    79,524        59,617        7,869       1,749       9,074         6,466

 9. Yakima                 71,845        51,854        1,916       2,207       1,246       24,213

10. Bellingham            67,171        60,832        1,092       1,668       3,658         3,111

Percentage of Population by Race/Ethnicity of Ten Largest Cities in Washington, 2000

(One Race or in Combination)

                             Total Pop.   White        Black        Asian        American    Latino


 1. Seattle               100           73.4             9.9       15.0           2.1            5.3

 2. Spokane             100           92.6             3.0          3.0          3.0            3.3

 3. Tacoma              100           74.1          13.7           3.6          9.7            6.9

 4. Vancouver          100           88.2             3.3          2.1          5.6            6.3

 5. Bellevue             100           77.0             2.6          0.8       19.0            5.3

 6. Everett              100           84.7             4.3          2.8          7.6            7.1

 7. Federal Way        100           73.2             9.6          2.1       14.3            7.5

 8. Kent                   100           75.0             9.9          2.2       11.4            8.1

 9. Yakima                100           72.2             2.7          3.1          1.7          33.7

10. Bellingham          100           90.6             1.6          2.5          5.4            4.6

Source: U.S. Census, 2000

Western Black Population Growth, 1990-2000

                  1990                                        2000                    

                             Black Pop.    Total Pop.    Black Pop.  Total Pop. Black%                                                                                  

Alaska                      22,415           550,043        27,147            626,932    17.3

Arizona                  110,524        3,665,228        185,599        5,130,632    40.5

California            2,208,801      29,760,021     2,513,041      33,871,648     12.1

Colorado                133,146        3,294,394        190,717        4,301,261    30.2

Hawaii                      27,195        1,108,229          33,343        1,211,537    18.4

Idaho                         3,370        1,006,749            8,127       1,293,953    58.5

Kansas                   143,076        2,477,574        170,610         2,688,418   16.1

Montana                    2,381           799,065           4,441           902,195   46.4

Nebraska                 57,404        1,578,385          75,833         1,711,263   24.3

Nevada                    78,771        1,201,833        150,508         1,998,257   47.6

New Mexico            30,210       1,515,069           42,412         1,819,046   28.7

North Dakota            3,542          638,800             5,372           642,200   34.4

Oklahoma              233,801        3,145,585        284,766         3,450,654   17.9

Oregon                     46,178        2,842,321          72,647         3,421,399   36.4

South Dakota            3,258           696,004           6,687           754,844   57.2

Texas                  2,021,632      16,986,510     2,493,057      20,851,820    19.0

Utah                         11,576        1,722,850          24,382         2,233,169   52.5

Washington          149,801        4,866,692        238,398         4,866,692   37.1

Wyoming                   3,606           453,588           4,863           493,782   25.8

Totals:             5,290,687   78,308,940  6,531,950     90,350,216              19.0

                                       6.7%                                 7.2%   

Total black regional population increase: 19.1%

Total regional population increase: 16.5%

          Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000, Black or African American Population for the U.S., Regions, and States, and for Puerto Rico: 1990-2000, Table 2, www.census.gov/prod/cen2000/docp194-171.