Los Angeles: Unsettled Ashes

an exploration of rebellions, urban landscapes in film, and the narratives within art & music bonding them together

March 2016


The Second Great Migration


The Great Migration of the 1920s that saw major populations of the Black South move to Northern cities like Detroit, Chicago and New York largely bypassed Los Angeles. It was instead what scholars refer to as "The Second Great Migration" in the 1940s that made the most significant shifts in the city. As World War II commenced, defense production skyrocketed in Los Angeles with more than $11 billion in war contracts, which called for labor in the automobile, rubber and, steel industries.

Excerpt from KCET.org - The Great Migration: Creating a New Black Identity in Los Angeles (2012)


Little Tokyo in Los Angeles was dubbed "Bronzeville" during World War II, as African American families and workers moved into the empty homes and businesses of the relocated Japanese American community. Photography via the UCLA Library Specials Collection (1943)


Black Americans migrated West in response. 

Excerpt from KCET.org - The Great Migration: Creating a New Black Identity in Los Angeles (2012)


Photograph by Russell Lee (1939)

Photograph by Russell Lee (1939)

Photograph by Arthur Rothstein (1935)

Photograph by Arthur Rothstein (1935)


Photograph by Dorothea Lange (1939)

 

 

 

Most of the migrants to California came from Southwestern and Central states like Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Almost three times as many African Americans left this region between 1940 and 1950 as had done so during the previous thirty years. The South Atlantic states, however, remained the most frequent point of origin for migrants, accounting for some 30 to 40 percent of those leaving the South in each decade. 

Excerpt from The Second Great Migration


Watts, Los Angeles: California


Rastus Henderson and wife Marsha (1965) via the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive , UCLA Library

Rastus Henderson and wife Marsha (1965) via the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive , UCLA Library

 

 

 

Watts did not become predominantly black until the 1940′s, during World War II, the city built several large housing projects (including Imperial Courts, Jordan Downs and Nickerson Gardens) for the thousands of new workers in war industries. By the early 1960′s, these housing developments had become nearly 100 percent black, as whites moved on to new suburbs outside the central city. As industrial jobs disappeared from the area, these developments housed many poor families than they had traditionally.

Excerpt from The History of Watts

 


In 1964, insult was added to injury. Proposition 14 was a ballot initiative to repeal the new California Fair Housing Act, a hard-won legislative effort to end racial discrimination in public and private housing. The conservative view held that property rights trump civil rights. "If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house," declared budding L.A. political star Ronald Reagan, "he has the right to do so."The ballot measure passed by a 2-to-1 margin, grabbing 70% of the L.A. County vote. Later ruled unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court, the proposition and its passage nonetheless landed as a civic gut-punch. 

Excerpt from L.A. Times: Critic's Notebook Noah Purifoy's smoldering work of art, Watts Riot,' is a powerful reminder on the 50th anniversary by Christopher Knight (2015)



Audience at a Martin Luther King Jr. Rally, Los Angeles. Photograph by Joseph Schwartz (1963)

Audience at a Martin Luther King Jr. Rally, Los Angeles. Photograph by Joseph Schwartz (1963)

Audience at a Martin Luther King Jr. Rally, Los Angeles. Photograph by Joseph Schwartz (1963)

Audience at a Martin Luther King Jr. Rally, Los Angeles. Photograph by Joseph Schwartz (1963)


Longstanding resentment by Los Angeles’ working-class black community over discriminatory treatment by police and inadequate public services, (especially schools and hospitals), exploded on August 11, 1965 into what were commonly known as the Watts Riots

Excerpt from The History of Watts


Although law and order have been re-established in the strife-torn Watts district of Los Angeles, this sign remains as a terrifying symbol of the events that passed. As a further sign of peace, Governor Edmund G. Brown ended 8/17 the curfew forbidding people from being on the streets after dark. Bettmann/CORBIS (1965)

Although law and order have been re-established in the strife-torn Watts district of Los Angeles, this sign remains as a terrifying symbol of the events that passed. As a further sign of peace, Governor Edmund G. Brown ended 8/17 the curfew forbidding people from being on the streets after dark. Bettmann/CORBIS (1965)

Move In On Sniper. a policeman aims his revolver at building from which a sniper was taking potshots at passing cars during rioting early Aug. 15th in the Negro community of Watts. Across the street, fellow officers crouch behind cars as they move in closer. Moments later National Guardsmen arrived on the scene and reported they had hit the sniper with return fire. Bettmann/CORBIS (1965)

Move In On Sniper. a policeman aims his revolver at building from which a sniper was taking potshots at passing cars during rioting early Aug. 15th in the Negro community of Watts. Across the street, fellow officers crouch behind cars as they move in closer. Moments later National Guardsmen arrived on the scene and reported they had hit the sniper with return fire. Bettmann/CORBIS (1965)

Three stores burn to the ground on Avalon Blvd. Bettmann/CORBIS (1965)

Three stores burn to the ground on Avalon Blvd. Bettmann/CORBIS (1965)


Attorney A. L. Wirin, left, with Mrs. Rena Frye, accused of interfering with officers who arrested her sons, Ronald, center, and Marquette, right. Photograph via L.A. Times (1965)

Attorney A. L. Wirin, left, with Mrs. Rena Frye, accused of interfering with officers who arrested her sons, Ronald, center, and Marquette, right. Photograph via L.A. Times (1965)

On Aug. 11, 1965, California Highway Patrol Officer Lee Minikus responded to a report of a reckless driver in the Watts section of Los Angeles. Shortly after 7 p.m., he pulled over 21-year-old Marquette Frye near 116th Street and Avalon Boulevard. Frye failed sobriety tests as a crowd of about 50 people began to gather nearby.

Police were going to tow Frye’s car, so his older stepbrother, Ronald, brought their mother, Rena, to the scene to claim the vehicle. When she got there, Rena Frye began berating her son for drinking and driving, according to police and witness accounts. With tensions rising, the CHP officers attempted to handcuff Marquette Frye, but he resisted. His mother jumped onto an officer’s back.

An officer swung his baton at Marquette Frye’s shoulder, according to the state report, but missed and struck him in the head. Frye was bleeding. Witnesses told others in the crowd that police had abused Rena Frye (who later told The Times that was not true). The crowd soon swelled to nearly 1,000, as Marquette, Ronald and Rena Frye were all taken away in handcuffs. 

Excerpt from L.A. Times Watts Riots: Traffic stop was the spark that ignited days of destruction in L.A. by James Queally (2015)


WATTS REBELLION '65


Photograph by Don Cormier LA Times (1965)

Photograph by Don Cormier LA Times (1965)

Hulton Archive/Getty Images (1965)

Hulton Archive/Getty Images (1965)


Accounts of exactly what happened differ, but only a small spark is needed to ignite a massive conflagration. 

Excerpt from Excerpt from L.A. Times: Critic's Notebook Noah Purifoy's smoldering work of art, Watts Riot,' is a powerful reminder on the 50th anniversary by Christopher Knight (2015)


National Guard troops secure a stretch of 103rd Street, dubbed Charcoal Alley, during the Watts riots. This photo was published on the front page of the Aug. 14, 1965, edition of the Los Angeles Times. (John Malmin / Los Angeles Times)

National Guard troops secure a stretch of 103rd Street, dubbed Charcoal Alley, during the Watts riots. This photo was published on the front page of the Aug. 14, 1965, edition of the Los Angeles Times. (John Malmin / Los Angeles Times)

A girl injured carried into Oak Park Hospital. (John Malmin / Los Angeles Times) 1965

A girl injured carried into Oak Park Hospital. (John Malmin / Los Angeles Times) 1965

Local residents and journalists converge on California Gov.Pat Brown, under arrow, as he arrives at Jacob Riis High School to have lunch with high-ranking National Guard officers. (Bill Murphy / Los Angeles Times) 1965

Local residents and journalists converge on California Gov.Pat Brown, under arrow, as he arrives at Jacob Riis High School to have lunch with high-ranking National Guard officers. (Bill Murphy / Los Angeles Times) 1965

Debris litters Avalon Boulevard near 105th Street as pedestrians watch smoke rise from a building at 108th Street. (John Malmin / Los Angeles Times) 1965

Debris litters Avalon Boulevard near 105th Street as pedestrians watch smoke rise from a building at 108th Street. (John Malmin / Los Angeles Times) 1965

Dave Cicero for the Herald-Examiner (1965)

Dave Cicero for the Herald-Examiner (1965)

Photograph via Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society (1965)

Photograph via Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society (1965)


The chaos that enveloped South L.A. left 34 people dead and 1,032 injured. The vast majority of those who were killed or hurt were civilians. Of those who died in the riots, 23 were killed by LAPD officers or National Guardsmen.At least 600 buildings were damaged by fires or looting. Two hundred buildings were destroyed. Almost 3,500 people were arrested, the majority on charges of burglary or theft.

Excerpt from L.A. Times Watts Riots: Traffic stop was the spark that ignited days of destruction in L.A. by James Queally (2015)


                                                                             Photography via Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society (1965)

                                                                             Photography via Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society (1965)


Watts set the tone where the summer riots were concerned. It was both "the most destructive riot in US history" and "arson and street war," the front cover of Life announced in August 1965; there had been "wild plundering" but, at the same time, the riot "became a war." Specifically, there was a frightening undercurrent of race war -- which, in this context, designated black people as the adversaries of "civilization": "Get Whitey!" was the "The War Cry That Terrorized Los Angeles." 

Excerpt from The Long, Hot Summer of 1967: Urban Rebellion in America by Malcolm McLaughlin (2014)



"The power of the story was brought home with pages of lavish photographs..." As Russell Weigly observed, US martial culture had long condoned the use of excessive force against civilians to subdue the hostile people of wild lands -- especially when those people where identified as racial others.

Excerpt from The Long, Hot Summer of 1967: Urban Rebellion in America by Malcolm McLaughlin (2014)



A year after the flames were put out and the smoke cleared from the southern California sky, LIFE revisited the scene of the devastation for a “special section” in its July 15, 1966, issue that the magazine called “Watts: Still Seething.” A good part of that special section featured a series of color photos made by Bill Ray on the streets of Watts: pictures of stylish, even dapper, young men making and hurling Molotov cocktails; of children at play in torched streets and rubble-strewn lots; of wary police and warier residents; of a community struggling to save itself from drugs, gangs, guns, idleness and an enduring, corrosive despair.

Excerpt from TIME: The Fire Last Time: Life in Watts; 1966 by Liz Ronk (2014)


Bill Ray—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Bill Ray—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images


The August 1965 Watts Riots (or Watts Rebellion, depending on one’s perspective and politics), were among the bloodiest, costliest and — in the five decades since they erupted — most analyzed uprisings of the notoriously unsettled mid-1960s. Ostensibly sparked by an aggressive traffic stop of a black motorist by white cops — but, in fact, the combustive result of decades of institutional racism and profound neglect on the part of the city’s power brokers.

Excerpt from BillyRay.com - Personal Reflection on His Assignment in Watts


Bill Ray—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images


Bill Ray—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images


“We know it don’t do no good to burn Watts again,” a young Negro says. “Maybe next time we go up to Beverly Hills.”

Excerpt from TIME: The Fire Last Time: Life in Watts; 1966 by Liz Ronk (2014)


 

 

 

"I shot two major assignments for LIFE in southern California, one after the other, that involved working with young men who were volatile and dangerous. One group was the Hells Angels of San Bernardino — the early, hard-core San Berdoo chapter of the gang — and the other were the young men who had taken part in the Watts riots the year before.

The main thing was to convince them that I had no connection with the police. The thing that surprised me the most was that, in both cases, as I spent more time with them and got to know them better, I got to like and respect many of them quite a lot. There was a humanity there that we all have inside us.

Two big differences in the assignments, though, was that I shot the Hells Angels in black and white — which was perfect for their gritty world — and “Watts: A Year Later” was in color. Also perfect, because Watts had a lot of color, on the walls, the graffiti, the way people dressed — and, of course, my group of bombers who liked to practice making and throwing Molotov cocktails." - Photographer, Billy Ray

Excerpt from TIME: The Fire Last Time: Life in Watts; 1966 by Liz Ronk (2014)

Bill Ray—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images


Watts seethes with resentments. There is anger toward the paternalism of many job programs and the neglect of Watts needs. There is no public hospital within eight miles and last month Los Angeles voters rejected a proposed $12.3 million bond issue to construct one. When a 6-month-old baby died not long ago because of inadequate medical facilities, the mother’s grief was echoed by a crowd’s outrage. “If it was your baby,” said a Negro confronting a white, “you’d have an ambulance in five minutes.”

Excerpt from TIME: The Fire Last Time: Life in Watts; 1966 by Liz Ronk (2014)


Bill Ray—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images


Unemployment and public assistance figures invite disbelief in prosperous California. In Watts 24% of the residents were on some form of relief a year ago — and that percentage still stands. In Los Angeles the figure is 5%.

Excerpt from TIME: The Fire Last Time: Life in Watts; 1966 by Liz Ronk (2014)


Bill Ray—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images




 

'WATTS RIOT' BY NOAH PURIFOY 


Watts Riot (1966)

Watts Riot (1966)

 

 

"Watts Riot" is a smoldering work of art, made from materials scavenged from the momentous 1965 uprising in South Los Angeles. Sculptor Noah Purifoy (1917-2004) cobbled together charred fragments of wood, plaster, paint and signage to assemble an exquisite wall relief of murmuring power.

At roughly 3 feet wide and 4 feet high, it's relatively modest in physical size. For art of the last 50 years, however, "Watts Riot" looms large.

After the smoke cleared, Purifoy and his friend Judson Powell gathered up tons of riot salvage — not knowing exactly why, they later said, but compelled to do it.

Noah Purifoy's rainbow sign came in the fires of August 1965. Transforming an actual chunk of local real estate, it blossomed in the iridescent, melancholy beauty of "Watts Riot."

Excerpt from Excerpt from L.A. Times: Critic's Notebook Noah Purifoy's smoldering work of art, Watts Riot,' is a powerful reminder on the 50th anniversary by Christopher Knight (2015)

 
 

KILLER OF SHEEP


Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett’s thesis film for UCLA, which he wrote, directed, shot, edited and produced, won prizes at the Berlin Film Festival and Sundance (then called the USA Film Festival) in the early ’80s, was labeled one of the “100 Essential Films” by the National Society of Film Critics in 2002 and declared a “national treasure” by the Library of Congress.

"It was a time in the ’70s when there wasn’t distribution like there is now. This was made as a demonstration to show the working class who they were. There were a lot of student films about the working class and the poor that had no connection. A lot of people were making films where they said if you do ABC, then D will happen; there will be some sort of resolution. But life just isn’t like that." - Filmmaker, Charles Burnett reflecting on his expectations for Killer of Sheep

Excerpt from Filmmaker Magazine - Charles Burnett, "Killer of Sheep" by James Ponsoldt (2010)



"I think you can see the seeds of some of the future in the film. The Watts riots were in ’65, and we filmed in the early ’70s, and you can see that little was done to help the community. In a way, you look back and it’s even worse now in many ways. Then, to some degree, you could get a job doing manual labor, but now everything is so technical. Then you could at least pick up a trade from your family, who were carpenters, or plumbers, and now you have to go to school for it. In the film there’s an anti-Southern thing, like the son calling his mother “my dear,” which is like a country code-word, and she tells him not to say that. There was a rejection of certain values, but you sort of need those foundations." - Filmmaker, Charles Burnett reflecting on his film, Killer of Sheep

Excerpt from Filmmaker Magazine - Charles Burnett, "Killer of Sheep" by James Ponsoldt (2010)



"I see myself as a person who makes films about people, their conflicts, their condition, their failures and successes, the things that resonate — things that seem simple, but have universal meaning. To share experiences — that’s what art is for. I see film as more of an art form than a commercial thing. I think because I come from a segregated experience, there’s a need to tell stories other than mainstream stories. You could say, “The stories you’re doing are about predominately black subject matter,” but they are still about the American experience. " - Filmmaker, Charles Burnett reflecting on his film, Killer of Sheep

Excerpt from Filmmaker Magazine - Charles Burnett, "Killer of Sheep" by James Ponsoldt (2010)

 



MUSIC AS THE FABRIC



Stan and his wife dance to a Dinah Washington record next to an open window and join friends to go bet on a horse race. All the while, the neighborhood children wander in and out of frame, tormenting and teasing one another, singing Earth, Wind & Fire songs to their dolls, and in a scene of astonishing beauty, jumping from rooftop to rooftop just over the grown-ups' heads, like birds learning to fly. 

Excerpt from Slate - Black Sheep: A legendary film from 1977 gets its due by Dana Stevens (2007)


A clip from Charles Burnett's classic film KILLER OF SHEEP. A Milestone Film and Steven Soderbergh presentation. See www.killerofsheep.com for details.



L.A. WATTS SUMMER GAMES


It was 1967. The Watts riots were two years passed but still fresh in everyone's memories. You can rebuild a store, but the images of burning and looting and killing last long after commerce's grand reopening.

That was on a lot of minds as Bill Sims sat around a table brainstorming with other members of the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce. Out of that was born the L.A. Watts Summer Games, which began in 1968 with 152 boys competing in basketball, volleyball and track and field at Locke High. The games have grown into 14 sports involving 12,000 boys and girls from high schools all over Southern California.

Excerpt from L.A. Times: L.A. Watts Summer Games - Rebuilding Image is Purpose Again by Jim Hodges (1992)


Found Photo from Zun Lee's project, Fade Resistance "We are enough as we are."

Found Photo from Zun Lee's project, Fade Resistance "We are enough as we are."

 

Jordan Downs 


Jordan Downs is among the city's oldest housing projects. It was built as a temporary shelter for factory workers during World War II and became public housing for the poor in the 1950s. In later years, the Grape Street Crips claimed the project as their turf. Police and residents now say crime is down and conditions are much better than a few years ago, but many people living there have lost someone they know to violence. On a recent day, a makeshift shrine, with candles and liquor bottles, sat not far from the project's community center.

Even so, with so many long-term residents, the project also has the feel of a close-knit small town. People often care for one another's children.Previous efforts to redevelop Jordan Downs have left residents disappointed. One effort in 1989 fell apart. Another smaller modernization project a decade ago was plagued by allegations of misspending. In the wake of that, housing officials were fired or forced to resign.

Excerpt from L.A. Times - Developers chosen to replace Watts' Jordan Downs by Jessica Garrison (2012)

Photography Featuring Some of the Grape Street Crips by Axel Koester/Corbis (1988)  


Jordan Downs is one of California’s top 5 percent most polluted regions where more than 2,500 low-income residents, including many children and pregnant women, face a cluster of environmental and health risks. The vacant land and walled-off industrial site that lies adjacent to residential homes known as the “factory” was once used for trucking operations, steel manufacturing and waste storage that contaminated the soil with pollutants such as engine oil, diesel, gasoline and paint thinner.

Excerpt from Liberation News - Watts housing project one of state's stop 5 percent most polluted areas by Yohana De Leon (2015)


 

 

So why is the community being undermined by authorities who knew about the lead and arsenic contamination at the “factory” in 2010 as it continues to impede a deep cleaning of the whole area to eliminate toxins?

Excerpt from Liberation News - Watts housing project one of state's stop 5 percent most polluted areas by Yohana De Leon (2015)

Jordan Downs Housing Project in Watts, Calif., 1989 Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive , UCLA Library

Jordan Downs Housing Project in Watts, Calif., 1989 Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive , UCLA Library


African-American and Latino people in low-income communities are more likely to suffer because racism plays a big role. Residents and activists have asked for a deep clean up of these harmful toxins of the whole area since 2010, but have been ignored. The state turns its back on communities like these as they see no political or economic benefit in helping an impoverished non-white community. Concerned families have witnessed for many years their children climbing through a hole leading to the vacant lot where they would play and inadvertently become exposed to poisonous heavy metal in the dirt.

Excerpt from Liberation News - Watts housing project one of state's stop 5 percent most polluted areas by Yohana De Leon (2015)


Sherika Simms holds the last photo taken of her brother, Maurio Proctor, outside one of their childhood apartments in Jordan Downs. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Sherika Simms holds the last photo taken of her brother, Maurio Proctor, outside one of their childhood apartments in Jordan Downs. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Sherika stands outside the Jordan Downs recreation center where residents held a press conference in 2008, calling for peace. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Sherika stands outside the Jordan Downs recreation center where residents held a press conference in 2008, calling for peace. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The front step where Maurio was shot in 2008. Sherika says she found him slumped over, halfway off the porch and partially in the bushes. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog - View more of Sherika's story here. 

The front step where Maurio was shot in 2008. Sherika says she found him slumped over, halfway off the porch and partially in the bushes. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog - View more of Sherika's story here. 

 

Jordan Downs has become a multi-generational village that celebrates together and mourns together. The complex has been the site of both gang warfare and truce.

Excerpt from L.A. Times - Building a better Jordan Downs via Open Editorial (2015)

 

Photograph by A. Abbas 

Photograph by A. Abbas 

From left: Natarsha Blackmon, Shanell Blackmon, Darnell Jeffrey, Imani Earl and My’king Clayton sit outside the Blackmons’ home in Jordan Downs housing project. LA Times

From left: Natarsha Blackmon, Shanell Blackmon, Darnell Jeffrey, Imani Earl and My’king Clayton sit outside the Blackmons’ home in Jordan Downs housing project. LA Times

Natarsha Blackmon aspires to be a fashion designer in hopes of making enough money to one day own her own home and move away from the Jordan Downs. LA Times

Natarsha Blackmon aspires to be a fashion designer in hopes of making enough money to one day own her own home and move away from the Jordan Downs. LA Times



Florence Griffith-Joyner



Florence Griffith Joyner, who died Monday at the age of 38, was like a cheetah when she ran: strong, sleek, powerfully muscled, incredibly beautiful. She gave the phrase "fast girl'' an entirely new definition. Her women's world records for the 100- and 200-meter have yet to be matched, let alone surpassed.

The crowds screaming her name in Seoul, South Korea, at the 1988 Olympics didn't bother with her official name.

Excerpt from Philly.com: Farewell to the Strength, the Speed, the Spirit of Flojo by Karen Grisby Bates (1998)



To them, the colorful blur that sped around the track - the diva in the outrageously long fingernails, hair flying like a banner, and provocative running gear - was simply FloJo.Florence Delorez Griffith was born in the Watts district of Los Angeles, the seventh of 11 children, and grew up in the Jordan Downs housing projects. Her mother was a teacher.

Excerpt from Philly.com: Farewell to the Strength, the Speed, the Spirit of Flojo by Karen Grisby Bates (1998)


US Olympic gold medalist Florence Griffith-Joyner Neal Preston (1992)

US Olympic gold medalist Florence Griffith-Joyner Neal Preston (1992)

US Olympic gold medalist Florence Griffith-Joyner with her young daughter.Neal Preston (1992)

US Olympic gold medalist Florence Griffith-Joyner with her young daughter.Neal Preston (1992)


Asked how she (Flojo's mother) managed as a single woman to instill values in 11 kids in a Watts housing project, she recalled fondly the “family pow-wows.” They were held every Thursday and each week a different child was tasked to pick a Bible verse to speak on.  Also, each child got a chance to confess their wrongdoing that week as well as what Griffith had done wrong.

Excerpt from L.A. Watts Times: The Mother Behind the Olympian Reveals the Spirit that was Flo Jo by Joy Childs (2012)

 



Her father, an electrician. The Griffiths divorced early on, but both were active in their children's lives.

Even as a young child, Dee Dee, as she was then nicknamed, liked a challenge. Family lore has it that she coached herself to catch a jack rabbit on a dare from her father when, at 5, she stayed with him for a year in the Mojave Desert. Once she actually did it, she moved on to other goals. Been there, done that.

Excerpt from L.A. Watts Times: The Mother Behind the Olympian Reveals the Spirit that was Flo Jo by Joy Childs (2012)


 
 

Boyz n the Hood


 

In the original trailer for John Singleton's 1991 film Boyz N The Hood, violent images play over a thudding drum track, as voice over introduces viewers to the hard heart of South Central Los Angeles. "This is Los Angeles, gang capital of the nation." Then, "In South Central L.A., it's tough to beat the streets."

Even before the strain between police and the black community became symbolized by the videotaped beating of Rodney King at the hands of LAPD officers, the city was becoming synonymous with crack cocaine and gang violence. In particular, South Central was notorious for gang colors and drive-by shootings.

Singleton's film exploded off the screen, challenging the tabloid stereotypes of urban life and chipping away at notions of who could and should be making movies in Hollywood.

Stephanie Allain, who worked at Columbia Pictures at the time, was one of the few female executives — and one of the few executives of color — at a major Hollywood studio. In May of 1990, Allain says, she was looking for an assistant who would read scripts for the studio.

Excerpt from NPR: 'Boyz N The Hood' Rings Out, 20 Years Later by John Ridley (2011)



 

"I heard about a kid who was still in school who was interested in the job," Allain says. "So I called him up. Little John shows up in my office and he starts telling me about the script he wrote. And he's telling me how he's gonna direct it, and he's not even out of school and he has an agent. And I'm thinking, 'Okay, this kid's not really a reader, he's a writer. Let me read the script."

Excerpt from NPR: 'Boyz N The Hood' Rings Out, 20 Years Later by John Ridley (2011)

 

Allain pushed the studio to buy it. Singleton agreed to sell it only if he was allowed to direct.

Excerpt from America's Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry  by Daniel Eagan (2010)

John Singleton. Photograph by Aaron Rapoport (1991)

John Singleton. Photograph by Aaron Rapoport (1991)


The conventional wisdom in Hollywood is that if you want to have a film about minorities, there need to be white actors in the lead roles.John Singleton proved that a movie with no white faces as major characters, about the dicey topic of black-on-black crime, could win over critics and audiences of all colors.

Press coverage of violence attributed to its opening made it controversial, while rave reviews made it one of the most critically acclaimed of the year. Later, the Motion Picture Academy nominated Singleton for writing and directing Oscars, making him not only the youngest filmmaker nominated for directing but also the first African American.

Excerpt from The Atlantic: 'Boyz n the Hood' , 20 Years Later: The Making of a Movie that did Race Right by Sean Coons (2011)


Photograph by Ferdinando Scianna (1985)

Photograph by Ferdinando Scianna (1985)

Photograph by Dennis Stock (1968)

Photograph by Dennis Stock (1968)


"I said, 'A-ha, it's contemporary, it's not period. It's a black story, but I believe there's a chance to pull in a white audience, too,'" Price remembers -- that executive, Frank Price, was chairman of Columbia Pictures. 

Excerpt from The Atlantic: 'Boyz n the Hood' , 20 Years Later: The Making of a Movie that did Race Right by Sean Coons (2011)


Photography by Kirk McKoy

Photography by Kirk McKoy

Photography by Kirk McKoy

Photography by Kirk McKoy

Photography by Kirk McKoy

Photography by Kirk McKoy

Photography by Kirk McKoy

Photography by Kirk McKoy


The L.A. riots of 1992 arrived with its soundtrack in place. Sanctioned police brutality, a grim job market, gang life, a decimated school system, the toll of crack on poor neighborhoods and racial tensions were all being documented by West Coast rappers long before Rodney King's beating by Los Angeles Police Department officers was documented on tape. Inner-city kids were infusing hip-hop — a genre that arose out of the Bronx in the last '70s — with hard-core, L.A.-centric rhymes about gangs and the crack-addled neighborhoods around them.

"Even before the riots … voices in L.A. hip-hop were foretelling what was to come," said director John Singleton, whose 1991 film "Boyz n the Hood" was one of the first empathetic looks at South L.A. life for many Americans. "So many people who didn't grow up black and poor couldn't understand why it happened. You can live in a different part of L.A. and never understand that frustration. But if you listen to 'F— tha Police,' you hear where they're coming from."

Excerpt from L.A. Times: Los Angeles Riots: Gangsta Rap Foretold Them and Grew after Them by Ernest Hardy and August Brown (2012)


Photograph by Peter Turnley (1992)

Photograph by Peter Turnley (1992)

 

Eli Reed (1992)

Eli Reed (1992)

Eli Reed (1992)

Eli Reed (1992)

 

Jason 'Furious' Styles 



The dystopia evoked by the movie has its sole saving grace in the form of the poignant relationship that exists between Laurence Fishburne’s character, Furious Styles, and his ex-wife Reva, played by Angela Bassett. In addition to the love they have for their son Tre, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., Reva and Furious share a sometimes adversarial yet affectionate connection. With the overwhelming majority of black families being headed by single mothers, the dynamic between Furious and Reva underscore how the next best thing to a nuclear family is having both a mother and father who are at least on speaking terms. 

Excerpt from the Grio: How 'Boyz n the Hood' remains relevant 20 years later by Javier E. David (2011)



Furious is an intense man who lives up to his name, but at the same time is a refreshing black male role model willing to take an active role in his son’s rearing. Furious raises Tre with something of an iron fist in a velvet glove.

Fishburne plays the character with a force of nature that, as one of Tre’s friends aptly describes, is a hybrid between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, Furious has a little Booker T Washington thrown in for good measure, as at one point he delivers an impromptu soliloquy on black self-sufficiency to a reluctant audience (I can’t confirm, but I’m willing to bet Furious’s speech marked the first use of the word “gentrification” in an urban drama).

Excerpt from the Grio: How 'Boyz n the Hood' remains relevant 20 years later by Javier E. David (2011)


Photograph by Dennis Stock, Watts (1968)

Photograph by Dennis Stock, Watts (1968)


"Either they don’t know, don't show, or don’t care about what's going on in the hood."

- Doughboy, played by Ice Cube in the film, Boyz n the Hood


Eli Reed, Los Angeles (1985)

Eli Reed, Los Angeles (1985)


The singer, guitarist and songwriter Clarence Burke Jr., who died on 25 May at the age of 62, was a mainstay of the Five Stairsteps, the “First Family of Soul” group best known for the sublime 1970 US hit “O-o-h Child”

Formed by Clarence Burke Sr., a Chicago Police Department detective, they comprised his daughter, Alohe Jean, alongside his teenage sons James, Clarence Jr., Dennis and Keni. Their mother remarked that, when they lined up according to their age, their heights resembled a staircase – and the name stuck, even if it was sometimes shortened to the Stairsteps.

Composed by producer Stan Vincent, “O-o-h Child” featured Alohe Jean and Clarence Jr. on lead, and conveyed an uplifting, enduring message through its recurring “things are gonna get easier” motif. Many of the Stairsteps singles had crossed from the R&B charts to the lower reaches of the Hot 100, but “O-o-h Child” reached No 8 on the US pop listings.

It remains a touchstone of African-American culture, sampled by filmmakers John Singleton (1991’s Boyz n the Hood) and Spike Lee (1994’s Crooklyn). The song was also included amongst Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Excerpt from Independent: Clarence Burke Jr. - Singer with the Five Stairsteps, the ' First Family of Soul' by Pierre Perrone (2013)



A Year Later, South Central Debuts


In one of the more fortuitous strokes of fate, "South Central," the latest film set in the largely black and Hispanic section of Los Angeles, has a title people almost anywhere in the world with access to CNN could relate to after the riots last spring.

But Warner Bros., which acquired the film for theatrical distribution from the now-defunct RCA-Columbia home video unit, opened "South Central" where last Friday? Baltimore, Washington, and Chicago. (The studio) felt the title could be construed to be incendiary," said writer-director Steve Anderson. "If the movie is given a platform to build outside the city, fine!"

Excerpt from L.A. Times: Off-Centerpiece: A: "South Central" (Q: What Movie Didn't Open in L.A.?) by Jane Galbraith (1992)

 

Actually, the movie has nothing to do with the riots. Adapted from L.A. high school teacher Donald Bakeer's book "Crips," the film concerns one father's attempt to reverse for his 8-year-old son the inner-city criminal cycle of gangs, murder and prison that the lead character, Bobby, has already experienced by his early 20s. Glenn Plummer plays Bobby and Bryon Keith Minns is Ray Ray, a manipulative gang leader; Carl Lumbly plays Ali, a Muslim fellow prisoner who turns Bobby's life around.

Excerpt from L.A. Times: Off-Centerpiece: A: "South Central" (Q: What Movie Didn't Open in L.A.?) by Jane Galbraith (1992)


"Pick a reason. We heard them all. Some people had some fears about a black film being made by a white director, that there might be a conflict with another project and maybe some incidents at theaters."

Excerpt from L.A. Times: Off-Centerpiece: A: "South Central" (Q: What Movie Didn't Open in L.A.?) by Jane Galbraith (1992)



It wasn't lost on Anderson that recent films set in South-Central L.A.--notably "Boyz N the Hood" and "House Party"--were directed by black men. While shooting "South Central" on location in and around Los Angeles, Anderson cast Crips as extras and, more importantly for the film, solicited the input of his all-black cast to the film's dialogue."I do not profess that this is a great film," he said. "But it has heart and I hope that's what audiences will respond to."

Excerpt from L.A. Times: Off-Centerpiece: A: "South Central" (Q: What Movie Didn't Open in L.A.?) by Jane Galbraith (1992



If 1991 was a breakthrough year for black-oriented movies, 1992 has been a comedown so far. Last year, about 20 major films dealing with African-American themes were released out of the roughly 140 films distributed by the major film companies.

There are varying opinions among African-American filmmakers about why 1992 hasn't been a more notable year for films by and about blacks. They range from obstacles for minority filmmakers in a white-dominated industry to the fact that many of the filmmakers whose films were released in 1991 are busy this year making movies for next year.

In my view, it's not like Hollywood is losing interest in black movies," said Matty Rich, who directed "Straight Out of Brooklyn." "The filmmakers from last year are getting ready for next year. The problem is the door is already closing. Those (filmmakers) from last year are in. But it's not open for many newcomers. There can't be too many of us. The system is not designed for us to be very dominant."

Excerpt from L.A. Times: A Slimmer Year for Black Films: Movies: Some blame the industry, others say the major black filmmakers are workin on '93 films by David J. Fox (1992)


still-of-byron-minns,-glenn-plummer-and-larita-shelby-in-south-central-(1992)-large-picture.jpg

 

 

Producer Doug McHenry, who with his partner George Jackson made last year's popular "New Jack City" as well as "House Party 2," attributed the small response to "Class Act" to "little black involvement" on the production side. "It can be argued that the sensibility they brought to the films lacked a correct philosophy of what the target audience (blacks) wanted to see. As a result, blacks didn't support the film.

Excerpt from L.A. Times: A Slimmer Year for Black Films: Movies: Some blame the industry, others say the major black filmmakers are workin on '93 films by David J. Fox (1992)

 

"I'm not saying a white filmmaker can't make a fine film about blacks. But the probability is that many of the proven black filmmakers are better able to do that than novice white filmmakers."

Excerpt from L.A. Times: A Slimmer Year for Black Films: Movies: Some blame the industry, others say the major black filmmakers are workin on '93 films by David J. Fox (1992)


McHenry believes part of the problem is that the studio executives "we're selling to . . . have an insensitivity to the black market. There's also a lack of prerogatives for African-American filmmakers, whereas white filmmakers have a lot more access to more material and distributors and resources." He contended that the issue actually goes to a "greater issue of institutional racism. Why black entrepreneurs don't have access to capital in the first place."

Excerpt from L.A. Times: A Slimmer Year for Black Films: Movies: Some blame the industry, others say the major black filmmakers are workin on '93 films by David J. Fox (1992)


"Black Power" advocate Stokely Carmichael was repeatedly cheered as he addressed a crowd of about 2,500 persons at a rally in Will Rogers Park in Watts. He spoke from a flatbed of a truck and urged Watts citizens to form their own city, their own police force and their own schools. 1966 Bettmann/CORBIS

"Black Power" advocate Stokely Carmichael was repeatedly cheered as he addressed a crowd of about 2,500 persons at a rally in Will Rogers Park in Watts. He spoke from a flatbed of a truck and urged Watts citizens to form their own city, their own police force and their own schools. 1966 Bettmann/CORBIS


 

The Launch of Vibe Magazine


When VIBE Magazine dropped its iconic black and white debut issue in September of 1993—featuring a ridiculously fresh faced Snoop Doggy Dogg gracing the landmark cover—it was yet another reminder how ubiquitous urban culture had become.

But it was all in the music. With no hint of over-the-top, fervent hyperbole, 1993 was a historically transformative period for hip-hop and rhythm and blues. “I was always good at rap, but I never really had no study habits because I didn’t think nobody would put no money into me or see my talent…my true talent,” Snoop confessed in his first mainstream cover story. 

Excerpt from Vibe - 1993: The Year Hip-Hop And R&B Conquered The World by Keith Murphy (2016)


The 10-issues-a-year mag, a co-venture between Quincy Jones and Time Warner, is described by editor Jonathan Van Meter as "Rolling Stone for the post-rock 'n' roll generation." 

Excerpt from L.A. Times - Rockers Ned Not Subscribe by Bill Higgins (1993)

Snoop’s family – like most black families on the West Coast – migrated to California from the Deep South after World War II in search of work and better economic opportunities. Snoop’s parents were never married and none of the three boys share the same father. Nicknamed “Snoop” when he was a youngster – perhaps because his long face, thin lips, and wide ears resemble those of a cartoon canine – he refuses to tell me his real name.

“That’s my real name,” he says, amused at the secret he is keeping from the public. “That’s the key to my life, Snoop Dogg. I snoop. I don’t like nobody snoopin’ on me. I snoop on them youknowhumsayin?”

Excerpt from Vibe - Snoop Dogg VIBE Cover Story by Kevin Powell (in Sept. 1993) 2012


And I do know what Snoop is saying. Ghetto life creates its own terms for survival, its own names, its own heroes. Nicknames like “Mook” and “Pop” and ”Smoky” populate every inner city in America, each moniker attached to a body that is repelling the constraints both real and imagined, placed on that world. In Snoop’s case, yeah, he may have grown up a lil ghetto boy – fatherless, poor, more a student of the streets than of school – bit at the very least his name debunks the myth that you know him. You may know his type but you don’t know him.

His childhood was rough, he says, though early on Snoop had a passion for sports and his mother took him and his older brother to church every Sunday, where he sang in the choir. Instinctively, Snoop leans into my tape recorder: “I want to thank my momma for putting me in the church.”

Vibe - Snoop Dogg VIBE Cover Story by Kevin Powell (in Sept. 1993) 2012


Photograph by Lisa Leone Snoop on the set of his first video, “What’s My Name,” directed by Fab 5 Freddy, Long Beach, Calif., 1993

Photograph by Lisa Leone Snoop on the set of his first video, “What’s My Name,” directed by Fab 5 Freddy, Long Beach, Calif., 1993

 

Imperial Courts and Dana Lixenberg


 

In March 1993, after traveling to South Central Los Angeles on assignment for the Dutch weekly magazine Vrij Nederland to document a story on the “destruction and rebuilding” of the vicinity in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict, photographer Dana Lixenberg was moved to develop what became a 22-year effort capturing in portraits, members of the community at the Imperial Courts housing project in Watts, Los Angeles.

Enabled first through meeting The Black Carpenters association, a group of contractors and activists, and through them, a more auspicious meeting with the late Tony Bogard, leader of the Imperial Courts PJ Watts Crips, Lixenberg was introduced to a neighborhood, the Imperial Courts projects, and a community of people, who gradually became the subjects of her striking volume.

Excerpt from TIME: Photographing a Los Angeles Community for 22 Years by George Pitts (2015)

 



A photo essay of her earliest portraits from Imperial Courts, accompanied by a poem, People of Watts, by playwright Ntozake Shange, was first published in the November 1993 edition of Vibe magazine when I served as photography director.

 Excerpt from TIME: Photographing a Los Angeles Community for 22 Years by George Pitts (2015)




Lixenberg’s tough non-pandering aesthetic assisted Vibe in establishing its visual tone and often poignant photographic vocabulary, which complemented and contradicted the slicker celebrity and fashion-oriented content. Lixenberg’s volume can also be construed as a conceptual effort that draws simultaneous attention to the race of the subjects and the race, and perhaps gender, of the photographer.

Excerpt from TIME: Photographing a Los Angeles Community for 22 Years by George Pitts (2015)


Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 10.21.01 PM.jpg

Returning to Los Angeles, Ms. Lixenberg enlisted the help of Tony Bogard, a community activist who was involved in negotiating a truce between the Crips and the Bloods gangs. (He was murdered in January 1994 by a member of the P.J. Watts Crips.)

''Tony asked me if this was some kind of sociological project, and he wanted to know what they were going to get out of it,'' Ms. Lixenberg recalled. She had no idea how the project would evolve, but she assured her interrogators that she was determined to produce photographs that would challenge the prevailing view of a daily life made up solely of one violent act after another.

In the ensuing weeks, Ms. Lixenberg drove to the Imperial Courts every afternoon, parked her car in the same small lot across 115th street, set up her camera and took portraits.

Excerpt from NY Times: Art/Architecture; Bringing Out the Gravitas  In a Tough Housing Project by David Hay (1999)



''Of course, I felt like 'the other,' '' she recalled. ''I was this white girl, and I represented a group of people that they didn't view in such a positive light, but I didn't feel any negative attitude toward me.''

Excerpt from NY Times: Art/Architecture; Bringing Out the Gravitas  In a Tough Housing Project by David Hay (1999)



Serving a life sentence for Spider's (see further below) murder. 

Serving a life sentence for Spider's (see further below) murder. 

 

 

 

She added that ''not being a white American certainly made a difference.'' This not only helped her gain acceptance but influenced her own perceptions. ''I was not weighed down by certain preconceptions that a photographer from some other part of Los Angeles might have,'' she said.

Before beginning in Watts, Ms. Lixenberg decided to abandon what was then the staple of the documentary photographer, the 35-millimeter single-lens reflex camera. She wanted to work with the larger format 4-by-5-inch field camera, which meant using a tripod. The time involved in composing each picture insured that everyone would be a full participant in the process.

Excerpt from NY Times: Art/Architecture; Bringing Out the Gravitas  In a Tough Housing Project by David Hay (1999)

 

 


 

 

 

'With a 35-millimeter camera, people never know when they are being photographed,'' Ms. Lixenberg said. ''This can make a great picture, but it might not have anything much to do with the person.''

Ms. Lixenberg avoided placing her subjects against backdrops laden with meaning -- a graffiti-covered wall, for example. ''I didn't want to use the environment to illustrate a point,'' she said. ''I wanted to cut everything away and focus on the person. And I hoped that viewers, even if they didn't know anything about Watts, would see these photographs simply as portraits and then take the time to really look at the people in them.''

Excerpt from NY Times: Art/Architecture; Bringing Out the Gravitas  In a Tough Housing Project by David Hay (1999)


"I'm from a place,
where death is right around the corner.
Get caught in the wrong spot,
they put the wrong charge on ya.
A gun and a white Tee,
is a everyday thing."

 

From Life in the Imperial Courts by Kenneth Cox, aka Floss (2015)

 



 

Not that time has stood still in Watts. When, on her return visit, Ms. Lixenberg showed Wyking West his portrait, he was a startled. Taken during a period of high gang tension, the photograph shows Mr. West, known by his neighbors as Lee-Capone, wearing an unbuttoned black shirt that exposed a silver chain and ring of large beads.

But on this Sunday afternoon, Mr. West, who now works the night shift at a bookbinder, was more casually dressed in a short-sleeved checked shirt, a golf hat pulled low and baggy blue jeans. As he examined his own portrait, he remarked, ''I look better now than then.''

Excerpt from NY Times: Art/Architecture; Bringing Out the Gravitas  In a Tough Housing Project by David Hay (1999)


 

 

 

LATER, Ms. Lixenberg approached a group of young men washing a car. Looking through the portraits, they reacted, often humorously, to the superficial changes, especially weight gain or loss and the passing of gang fashion.

But like everyone else encountered this day, they asked Ms. Lixenberg for one particular photograph, that of Spider, fatally wounded some years before. This image of an almost smiling young man, wearing a shower cap and taking a drag from a cigarette, is how they wanted to remember their friend.

Excerpt from NY Times: Art/Architecture; Bringing Out the Gravitas  In a Tough Housing Project by David Hay (1999)

Spider, murdered by DJ in 1997 

Spider, murdered by DJ in 1997 


Raising Caine


In the riveting opening scene of "Menace II Society," a tense transaction between a Korean grocer and two young black men in South-Central Los Angeles explodes into lethal violence.What is clear, however, is that "Menace II Society," which was directed by the Hughes Brothers, 21-year-old twins who were born in Detroit and whose previous credits include music videos for Digital Underground and KRS-One, is a very flashy debut. 

Excerpt from NY Times Movie Review: Menace II Society (1993) by Stephanie Holden (1993)


m2s2.jpeg

Ranging throughout South Los Angeles but set primarily in and around the Jordan Downs housing projects in Watts, Menace II Society tells the story of Caine "KD" Lawson.

The film tracks two narrative themes: quotidian patterns of life in South Central and the impossibility of escape.

Excerpt from Black Arts West: Culture and Struggle in Postwar Los Angeles by Daniel Widener (2009) 



 

A violent exposition of inner-city life release in the aftermath of the Rodney King riots, Menace II Society was arguably one of the most successful among a group of mostly young black director during the early 1990s. These films emerged from a particular social and filmmaking context, with the successes of Spike Lee, a slump in the financial fortunes of Hollywood, and a broader sense of urban crisis combining to open doors previously shut to black directors. As had been the case with the independent and blaxploitation films of the 1970s, the "hood" films of the early 1990s shared a set of aesthetic, contextual, and narrative aspects. These included a general orientation toward coming-of-age stories, the extensive use of hip-hop music, and the inclusion of the urban landscape as part of their storytelling fabric. 

Excerpt from Black Arts West: Culture and Struggle in Postwar Los Angeles by Daniel Widener (2009) 




Justice in (South Central L.A.)


This is the L.A. environment Singleton used so well in "Boyz," where alliances are cagey and love seems impossible. It's where we find  (Janet) Jackson, as a poetry-writing beautician named Justice, numbly trying to recover from the murder of her lover.

Excerpt from Chicago Tribune - 'Poetic Justice' John Singleton Combines Realism and Romance in His Second Film by Johanna Steinmetz (1993)


Poetic Justice film stills via J. Baptista - 24kblk.com

 


In the film, Justice (played by Janet jackson) lives alone in South-Central, L.A in a big, roomy, well-furnished middle-class house, left to her by her grandmother. When someone asks about her name, she says her mother named her Justice because she became pregnant with Justice in law school. 

(As a Poet) not only the individual words are comprehensible, but also enough of their meanings so that we are aware of the singular disparity between the speaker and her musings. Although these are supposed to be poems dashed off by Justice to ease her pain, they are, in fact, the work of the celebrated Maya Angelou, poet and earth mother. 

Excerpt from NY Times: Review/Film: Poetic Justice; On the Road to Redemption by Vincent Canby (1993)


Courtesy Everett Collection/Columbia Pictures

Courtesy Everett Collection/Columbia Pictures


I contacted her when I was doing 1993's Poetic Justice with Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur because I was having problems writing the poetry. I thought, "I'm reading these poems by Maya Angelou; why not use her poems?" But I had to get her permission. So I met her for lunch, and we bonded and she also agreed to be in the movie. I had her improv most of her dialogue because, how am I going to write the way she speaks? She speaks so beautifully. I tried to push her to do four or five takes. And after four takes, she said, "Mr. Singleton, I will not be doing any more improv." She was very supportive of me with Poetic Justice, though -- even with all the cursing in that movie. Later, after she'd seen my movie Rosewood [about a real-life racial incident], she said, "Baby, now you've done it, you've really done it." You know, in that voice.

She was the grandmother most of us had never met. My daughter is actually named after her: Justice Maya Singleton.

Excerpt from The Hollywood Reporter: John Singleton on Maya Angelou by Gregg Kilday (2014)



In January 1993, Tupac Shakur was 21 years old. He was about to drop his second album, and the first feature film he starred in had been a success. He was on the cusp of superstardom. Kevin Powell, a young journalist at Vibe magazine, was trying to talk his editors into taking a story."I explained to them, 'Look, there's this young man who is the son of a Black Panther party member, Afeni Shakur. He already has one album out called 2pacalypse Now and he's in this really controversial hit film called Juice. He's someone we should really be paying attention to,' " Powell remembers.

Excerpt from NPR: 20 Years ago, Tupac Broke Through by Sami Yenigun (2013)



When he (John Singleton) saw Tupac on TV giving an interview, "My attitude was I wanna work with him,"Singleton says. "That's the dude I wanna work with."

Excerpt from NPR: 20 Years ago, Tupac Broke Through by Sami Yenigun (2013)


John Singleton in Los Angeles. Photograph by Eli Reed (1992)

John Singleton in Los Angeles. Photograph by Eli Reed (1992)

John Singleton in Los Angeles. Photograph by Eli Reed (1992)

John Singleton in Los Angeles. Photograph by Eli Reed (1992)


One of the most crucial scenes that showcased Jackson's acting talent was when Justice, all alone in her apartment, puts on a 45 of Stevie Wonder's, "I Never Dream You'd Leave in Summer," and stares at herself in the mirror with various emotions - from happiness, to sadness, to anger to tears flowing, wrapping her braids around her neck as if she were about to strangle herself. Jackson truly went inside Justice to get to the character's inner core.

Excerpt from Soul Train: Classic Soul Cinema Presents: ' Poetic Justice' by Stephen McMillian (2013)



At Michael Jackson’s public memorial on Tuesday, many may have expected Stevie Wonder to perform one of Michael Jackson’s — or his own — many global hits. But instead, Wonder opted for a medley of two of his lesser-known classics that are lyrically relevant to Jackson’s sudden passing earlier this month: 1971’s “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer” and 1974’s “They Won’t Go When I Go.”

“Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer,” from Wonder’s Where I’m Coming From album, was co-written with Wonder’s then-wife Syreeta Wright and uses the seasons to address a failed relationship. But on Tuesday, Wonder added his friend’s name to the lyric to alter the meaning ---

Excerpt from MTV - Stevie Wonder Gives Heartfelt Performance at Michael Jackson Memorial by Jem Aswad (2009)



“Michael, why didn’t you stay?” 

Excerpt from MTV - Stevie Wonder Gives Heartfelt Performance at Michael Jackson Memorial by Jem Aswad (2009)


 

Nickerson Gardens

 


When William Nickerson, a founder of Golden State Mutual Insurance Company, died in 1945 he was described by the Chicago Defender as a man who “Made good … a top businessman ... yet, human to the core.”  Soon after his death the California State Association of Colored Women and the Los Angeles Urban League began campaigning to create a permanent monument in his memory embodying his personal qualities of “friendliness, love of children, young people, enthusiasm, and deep concern for others.” In March 1954 a housing project named after Nickerson and designed by Paul Revere Williams opened in Watts with much fanfare. Intended as a planned environment where families would live “not just side by side, but profitably with each other,” Nickerson Gardens eventually became identified with everything wrong with public housing.

While Nickerson Gardens was a large 1110-unit development on 55 acres, Williams created the impression of smaller neighborhoods with his design. By placing the community center at the hub with curved streets radiating out from the center, visitors and residents saw only small sections of the project from any one point. Extensive landscaping, gardens, and the use of concrete block walls at the end of the two-story apartment buildings created a feeling of privacy for the tenants.

Excerpt from Paul Revere Williams Project - Nickerson Gardens Housing Project, Los Angeles, California


Nickerson Gardens Housing Project, 1979. UCLA, Charles E. Young Research Library, Department of Special Collections, Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive

Nickerson Gardens Housing Project, 1979. UCLA, Charles E. Young Research Library, Department of Special Collections, Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive

Nickerson Gardens Housing Project, 1979. UCLA, Charles E. Young Research Library, Department of Special Collections, Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive

Nickerson Gardens Housing Project, 1979. UCLA, Charles E. Young Research Library, Department of Special Collections, Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive


He often collaborated with important regional landscape architects on his many public projects and signed Ralph D. Cornell, an experienced public works landscaper, for Nickerson Gardens. Together they focused on simplicity and function, ongoing maintenance issues and providing meaningful private space for each household. Instead of frills, their design highlighted making "every tree and shrub count to its utmost." The use of "Gardens" in the name of this particular housing project was important to the aesthetic outcome of the Williams design for Nickerson. In spite of the challenges imposed by government restrictions, Williams still believed in the value of providing quality of life to residents. 

Excerpt from Paul Revere Williams Project - Nickerson Gardens Housing Project, Los Angeles, California


The Wall


Nickerson Gardens resident Jon Perkins, 21, and his 1-year-old son L.A. Times

Nickerson Gardens resident Jon Perkins, 21, and his 1-year-old son L.A. Times

Eddie Williams, 44, left, and Louis Smith, 31, at 'the wall' L.A. Times

Eddie Williams, 44, left, and Louis Smith, 31, at 'the wall' L.A. Times


Nickerson Gardens, Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive , UCLA Library (1985)

Nickerson Gardens, Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive , UCLA Library (1985)

(Help created by Brian "Loaf" McLucas) here in the Nickerson Gardens public housing project in Watts, it's simply called "the wall." On it, written in black in Old English script, are the names of the dead. The first names to grace the wall were those killed in gang violence, but there are also names of people who meant something to the community. The wall started as a mural on the front of the recreation center gym in the early 1980s. Clifford Baynes Jr. painted figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rep. Maxine Waters, said Greg Brown, who grew up in Watts and was one of the mural's founders. As time went on, the list of names replaced the artwork. Now, they're painted in rows. A yellow banner reads, "Keep the future alive." Another says, "Gone but not forgotten." 

 

As word spread, more people wanted names to be added."The wall is there for everybody," Brown said. In a community plagued by unemployment, poverty and gangs, the wall is sacred ground. Everyone, from children to adults, knows not to lean against the wall or put their feet up on it. The taggers stay away from it.

"You can come here any time of day, any time of night," said Donny Joubert, who mentors young people here and whose mother's name adorns the wall. "I don't care what's going on. They respect this wall." Eddie Williams, who has lived in the development since 1983, said his two brothers are on the wall. Derrick Jennings died in a walk-up shooting in 1992, and Ricky "Slick" Jubert died three years ago in an accident.

Excerpt from L.A. Times - At Nickerson Gardens, 'the wall' of names is sacred ground by Nicole Santa Cruz (2015)


"I walk by, I put my hands on it and I kiss up to the sky," Williams said.

Excerpt from L.A. Times - At Nickerson Gardens, 'the wall' of names is sacred ground by Nicole Santa Cruz (2015)


 

The oblique narrative created by this film sequence underlines how closely death dwells with life - and tragedy with ecstatic joy - under the constant reminder of police helicopters as ubiquitous as the summer sky over L.A.'s Nickerson Gardens projects. Boys running through a wide-open field with the type of abandon that you only have when you're too young to think about the end of summer.

Excerpt from OpenSpaceSFMoMA - Khalil Joseph's 'Until the Quiet Comes,' The Afriscape Ghost Dance on Film Part II by Duane Deterville - Flying Lotus(2013)



Kerry James Marshall 

 

In a big old brick building at 13th and Michigan, up at the top of three flights of stairs, behind a closed door in a quiet room speckled with dried paint, Kerry James Marshall does what he has been doing since he was 5--paint. The room is his studio, his private getaway, a place where he can think, or, as he puts it, "where I can expand. Once I got here I could explore things on the scale they need to be." Marshall began his life in Birmingham, Ala., where he was born and raised, living with his family in a low-rise housing project."To me," says Marshall, "living in the projects wasn't any different than being in a house, except we paid less rent."

Excerpt from Chicago Tribune: An Artist's Vision, Kerry James Marshall's 'Garden Project' is Opening Eyes by Anne Keegan (1995)


Our Town Acrylic and collage on unstretched canvas, 100 x 124 inches (1995)

Our Town Acrylic and collage on unstretched canvas, 100 x 124 inches (1995)


For Marshall, it was not a grim experience or an unhappy one. When he was 8, the family moved to Los Angeles and found housing in the Watts section at the Nickerson Gardens housing project."It had a huge gymnasium and a large field where we flew kites. There was a toy library and you checked out the toys for the day like you do books and returned them the next day." 

Like many families back in the '60s, his moved on and out of public housing, eventually buying their own house, and Marshall, ever determined to be an artist and create magical pictures, finished high school, city college and the Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles. It is perhaps those early memories of growing up in housing projects that sparked his latest series of works--five large canvases he calls the Garden Project--that have the nation's art world sitting up and taking notice of him. 

"I was getting off the Dan Ryan one day at Stateway Gardens (a CHA housing project at 36th Street and Federal) and saw the sign and thought they looked like everything else but a garden. I lived in a project called Nickerson Gardens. 

Excerpt from Chicago Tribune: An Artist's Vision, Kerry James Marshall's 'Garden Project' is Opening Eyes by Anne Keegan (1995)


Many Mansions Acrylic and collage on unstretched canvas, 114 x 135 inches (1994)

Many Mansions Acrylic and collage on unstretched canvas, 114 x 135 inches (1994)


"Was there a trend once to name housing projects as garden spots? Isn't there an irony there?"

Excerpt from Chicago Tribune: An Artist's Vision, Kerry James Marshall's 'Garden Project' is Opening Eyes by Anne Keegan (1995)


Better Homes, Better Gardens 8.3ft x 11.8ft (1994)

Better Homes, Better Gardens 8.3ft x 11.8ft (1994)


"I recall reading a government study that said 8 of the 15 poorest neighborhoods in this country are in Chicago and 7 of those 8 are CHA housing developments."So I began five individual pieces of artwork based on garden-named housing projects. Four of them, Rockwell Gardens, Altgeld Gardens, Stateway Gardens and Wentworth Gardens, are in Chicago. The fifth is Nickerson Gardens

In these paintings of public housing life, there are no abandoned cars, litter, rubble, ripped-out playgrounds or forlorn window frames. There are bluebirds, tailored bushes, well-kept trees. But there is a mystery to them, as if each painting portrays a haunted or enchanted castle and things are not as they seem. There is more--hidden somewhere. About to be unlocked.


Watts1963 Acrylic and collage on unstretched canvas 114 x 135 inches (1995)

Watts1963 Acrylic and collage on unstretched canvas 114 x 135 inches (1995)

 

"These pictures are meant to represent what is complicated about life in the projects. We think of projects as places of utter despair. All we hear of is the incredible poverty, abuse, violence and misery that exists there but there is also a great deal of hopefulness, joy, pleasure and fun, " Marshall says.

Marshall, who came to Chicago in 1987 and lived at the Y at 50th and Indiana, had a long road to travel to be able, as he does now, to concentrate only on his art. "They have a picture in their mind created by the news media. The picture comes in conflict with what I've presented. Now you can reject my representation or you can find out there is a more complex reality than the one they have taken for granted."

Excerpt from Chicago Tribune: An Artist's Vision, Kerry James Marshall's 'Garden Project' is Opening Eyes by Anne Keegan (1995)


Watts Towers by Ferdinando Scianna (1985)

Watts Towers by Ferdinando Scianna (1985)

Watts Towers by Ferdinando Scianna (1985)

Watts Towers by Ferdinando Scianna (1985)

Found Photo from Zun Lee's project, Fade Resistance "We are enough as we are."

Found Photo from Zun Lee's project, Fade Resistance "We are enough as we are."