1947: When History Shouldn’t Be Segregated

Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and is one of my first comments on the 1947project blog, begun by Kim Cooper and Nathan Marsak. At that point, the Sentinel was not online.

Where are the black people?

I realize your project is devoted to savoring the “found objects” of history, so I went down to the city archives at Piper Tech and pulled the LAPD annual report for 1947.

Here’s a few numbers:

Whites killed in the city of Los Angeles in 1947—50

Blacks killed in the city of Los Angeles in 1947—53

(Bonus factoid, out of a city population of 1.9 million, blacks constituted 150,000, up from 67,000 in 1940).

I don’t think their absence in your project is intentional but the result of your source material, the daily newspapers, specifically the Los Angeles Times (disclosure: I work there) which virtually ignored the black community. On the rare occasions when the papers actually wrote about blacks, they were always referred to as “John Jones, Negro.”

As I’m sure you know, Los Angeles was a segregated city at the time, with restrictive deed covenants and a segregated Police Department.

I applaud your enthusiasm–this has probably turned out to be far more work than you ever imagined. But while L.A. was segregated at the time, its history shouldn’t be.

Kim replied:

You’re not wrong, Larry, but you could just as well ask where the black people are today. Are their experiences being reported in any meaningful way by the daily (or weekly) citywide papers?

With this project, we’re attempting to replicate (in microcosm) the experience of daily newspaper readers in 1947. We choose a story each day that, ideally:

1) evokes the time, and is of the time
2) puts a pin into the lost “memory map” of a neighborhood, again marking the spot where something happened that had people talking

We would love someday to delve into the archives of smaller community papers and find stories from under-reported neighborhoods and demographics, but we don’t have the resources right now.

Thanks for those interesting statistics. It was a dangerous city for black people. Still is.

And I said:

I appreciate the enormity of your project and frankly, even though I was aware of the numbers I was stunned. The fact that less than 8% of the population suffered nearly half the murders (53 out of 119) is all the more appalling because the local papers ignored it. One reason I posed the question now is that you have more than six months to go. 🙂

For those interested, the Los Angeles Sentinel is available on microfilm at the downtown branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.

In the meantime, you might consider the May 27, 1947, Board of Education election, especially the candidacy of Dr. H. Claude Hudson (a dentist with offices at 4266 S. Central and a home at 224 E. Jefferson). The son of slaves, Hudson was arrested in 1925 for wading into the ocean in an attempt to desegregate Manhattan Beach, graduated from Howard University and was the first black to receive a law degree from Loyola.

He was, of course, roundly attacked in the daily press for his subversive leanings (including many stories by “The Watchman” in The Times) and was defeated in the 1947 election. He died in 1989 at the age of 102.

Keep up the good work (and it is work, I know).


Sorry, but I was slightly off in my crime statistics:

Ethnic breakdown of 119 homicides in the city of L.A. in 1947

whites = 53 (44.5%)

blacks = 52 (43.6%)

Latinos = 13(10.9%)

Asians = 1 (0.8%)


About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1947, 2005, African Americans, LAPD and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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