This story originally ran in 1982 as part of Black LA: Looking at Diversity. We have received the original text to give an accurate representation of the work in print.
Congratulations on your articles on black people in Los Angeles. You are to be commended!
As a middle-aged white man who has lived in Southern California for most of my life, the articles have been very interesting and hopefully illuminating for people who have not experienced bigotry and prejudice in person.
I graduated from Long Beach Polytechnic High School in 1944 and can remember when a black friend of mine was one of the few black people in our school. You and I have had some pretty difficult experiences due to corporate discrimination against blacks in the area. In fact, she and I found it quite “funny” going into these business premises just to irritate them. We were too young to take this bigotry seriously and we weren’t “activists” as we know them today.
It seems that circumstances have improved a bit, at least if you read the differences between the three generations in your article (August 22nd). However, we still have a very long way to go, and it seems to me that this type of reporting can help to raise awareness and educate some people so that black people will not suffer as much in the future.
– Purple M. Maples
Your article (August 22nd) about Anna and Henry Laws and their successful efforts against the hateful Racist Restrictions Association was of particular interest to me. I represented her in the final stages of her struggle for life in her own home.
When they came to our office, the injunction prohibiting them from living in the house they had built was final and all legal remedies against the verdict had been exhausted. They sought advice on whether they could take further steps to resist this restraining order and end the unjust practice of non-whites enforcing “alliances” against property owners.
We have pointed out to them that, in our opinion, the injunction is a state measure that deprives them of the same protection of the law, violates the 14th Amendment and also violates good public order. We also advised them that in order to address these issues, they would not have to obey the injunction, which would result in a disregard charge that could result in fines and imprisonment. Satisfied that this was an opportunity to continue the struggle against racial segregation in residential areas, they chose this course with a quiet determination that I found most moving.
At short notice, the procedure was initiated for disregard. It came on trial before then Supreme Court Justice Allen W. Ashburn after the first judge to whom it was assigned disqualified himself in public by saying he did not understand why people insisted in places to live in which they were not wanted. In the trial before Judge Ashburn, ample evidence was presented showing that the racially restrictive agreement had resulted in severely restricted areas in which blacks were allowed to live and that population pressures in these areas had led to overcrowding and unhealthy living conditions for people who, due to living in poverty from discrimination in the workplace. We also argued that the judicial enforcement of the “private agreement” to restrict housing on racial grounds was a “state measure” that could not be better illustrated than the very process of using the powers of the courts to enforce the laws for put life in jail if the court said they could not do so because of their race alone.
The taking of evidence was completed by the end of a court day, and the next morning the argument took place in front of the court. After the argument ended, Judge Ashburn ostentatiously lifted the writing pad from his desk, took a written report that needed to be prepared prior to the hearing, and read out his reasons for finding the law guilty and sentencing her to prison and fine they couldn’t pay and serve extra time.
We secured their release through a habeas corpus criterion issued by the California Supreme Court. When I went to the prison to ensure their freedom, I was asked to wait in a large holding cell where the prisoners would be taken for final inspection. Henry appeared first. When Anna came in, he greeted her with “Hello, prison bird”. There was something in their eyes and voices that betrayed an extremely touching intimacy and empathy – as well as a sense of mutual pride and dignity, for they could sense that victory was almost theirs. It came in a couple of months. Cases that raised the same legal issues were tried in the US Supreme Court, and after its decision, the California Court made its own. The Laws had their family home on 92nd Street for good.
Acquiring this property is itself an interesting study in terms of frugality and perseverance. The laws bought the vacant lot during the Depression for around $ 500 under a sales contract that required them to pay “no less than $ 8 a month.” Once they owned the property vacant and vacant, they were able, with the help of the FHA, to get a loan to build the house that the courts had until then said could be excluded by the “private arrangement” of other property owners, who still had the laws never seen. As for the FHA loan guarantee, I suppose the Reaganomics would not allow this use of public funds to help a hard working, determined family determined to provide their children with better lives than their parents ever knew .
– John T. McTernan
Anyone interested in the history or future of human relationships should keep a copy of each section of the series of articles on black Los Angeles!
Charlotte and I started using clips to save her. Such an effort should not be necessary.
The quality and importance of the series are such that it is intended to be published in book form and made available to libraries, schools, bookstores and the general public.
It is more than the story of an important part of the local population. It’s an overdue representation of our society. It is an ongoing story that we are all involved in.
– J. Walter Cobb
After reading the article about the black family who have lived in Los Angeles since 1910, I was inspired to write you a thank you letter.
A native of Los Angeles, I grew up in the San Fernando Valley with a middle-class family of five. I only remember two black schoolmates during my entire school days. We have never been exposed to blacks, so we are very naive about urban poverty.
Los Angeles has always been described as a liberal-minded population where the deep roots of prejudice that originated in the South have never fully touched us. But the fact is, they did, and are strongly felt, but are hidden in the subtle way that Los Angeles hides many of its true opinions under a fog of half-truths and psychological manipulations that result in you never realizing the truth knows.
It reminds me of a friend from Puerto Rico who recently moved to Los Angeles from New York and said that the hardest adjustment of moving came from dealing with the people of Los Angeles. If someone in New York didn’t like you because of a prejudice, they would know immediately and directly from the source. But in Los Angeles there are walls built to cover up true thoughts and stifle honesty, all in the name of “maintaining the image.”
When you speak to a large segment of the Los Angeles population, you get the “outside” opinions that express how liberal we think and that “blacks have it no harder than whites.” They have “all the options and more than the average whites” in our city. Why should we feel sorry for them when we hear about the unemployment rate among blacks, they “take jobs away from whites that can do the job better” anyway.
But the sad truth that much of the white middle class in LA cannot and will not face is that they are just as biased as the “fanatics” who criticize them in the south.
Prejudices have no gray area – they are there or not. If you can feel it easily, if you can feel it strongly, it is still there in all its ugliness. The black person who operates under the cloud of subtle prejudice that is outwardly denied in Los Angeles did not have the same opportunities as the white person in our community.
It is time for Los Angeles to awaken to the truth, and the publication of this article on the front page of the Times makes me delighted to have the black voice heard so loudly.
– Debra Booker
I’m tired of reading your articles about poor minorities in Los Angeles. Today’s article (23 Aug) was the final straw – you made sure no one overlooks it. I couldn’t read it after reading the opening paragraph, “The legacy … of the blacks who live in Los Angeles is forged … in sweat, suffering, compassion, laughter, tears and sometimes blood.”
Oh the poor blacks. What about the poor whites who sweat at work every day just to get a good chunk of their salary on government programs that help all of these minorities?
I’m tired of hearing from unhappy minorities. As far as I’m concerned, the working whites are the unhappy people.
– Caryn Boyle