Exhibition in Santa Monica Park sheds light on the history of black people

Santa Monica’s newest park includes a 3.5-acre multi-sports field, but if Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson walks around, she sees something that most do not see – a hidden story.

“That area, where we’re on the edge of the Civic Center campus, was a neighborhood until the 1950s,” she said.

What you need to know

  • The Belmar History and Art Project was first presented in February during Black History Month
  • It has 16 interpretive signs along a 0.4-mile trail and a sculpture by artist April Banks, all of which surround a 3.5-acre multi-purpose sports field
  • The exhibition sheds light on the hidden history of the Belmar district, which was erased in the 1950s when the city wanted to expand the civic center
  • The Santa Monica Conservancy recently awarded the exhibition a conservation award

The neighborhood was known as the Belmar Triangle and was founded in the early 20th century. It was home to a vibrant black community that was wiped out by a significant domain.

“In the 1950s they demolished the neighborhood to expand the Civic Center,” said Rose Jefferson.

Two years ago she approached the California Coastal Commission with a proposal. If they wanted the city to build a sports park, they urged them to embark on an educational program that recognized the African American experience in the city.

“This African American community in Santa Monica is the oldest on the coastal beachfront,” she said.

The result was the Belmar History and Art Project – a nearly 800 meter long path around the field with 16 interpretive signs that Rose Jefferson helped develop and put together.

They highlight the accomplishments and contributions of ordinary African American people.

“It’s a story of migration. It’s a story of economic development. It’s a story of people and their dreams,” she said.

The project also includes a public art installation near the entrance to the field by artist April Banks, entitled “A Resurrection in Four Stanzas”.

It pays homage to the shotgun houses of that time with poetry built into the sculpture.

Buried underneath is a time capsule slated to open in 2070 with letters, poetry, and artwork from students at Santa Monica High School and Crossroads School to preserve this chapter of Santa Monica history for future generations.

“Sometimes people just see the black experience as something that is depressing, but it’s not depressing. Black people have been resilient,” said Rose Jefferson.

She hopes these stories will inspire others to make change in their neighborhood and pave the way for tolerance.

“American identity is much broader than just the whites who came to California,” she said.

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