Home in what they call South-Central

creditIn Sunday's LAT, West magazine staff writer Lynell George revisits the large swath of traditional Los Angeles neighborhoods that came to be lumped together as South-Central after they turned African American. She grew up there and offers some of her memories mixed with the lore of photographers like One Shot Harry Adams, who chronicled black Los Angeles for the Los Angeles Sentinel and the California Eagle. The period pictures accompanying the piece are part of an exhibit called "Intersections of South Central: People and Places in Historic and Contemporary Photographs," that opens Nov. 16 at the California African American Museum as a collaboration with the Automobile Club of Southern California. George was also heard in a story about the exhibit and South-Central (the name was officially changed to South Los Angeles in 2003) that aired on NPR's News and Notes on Friday. Excerpt from the West piece:

To the outside world, "South-Central" is a blur, a haphazard arrangement of neighborhoods, streets and cities persistently out of focus. It is not a singular, boundary-bound place at all, but many things—a blank spot, a no man's land, a scapegoat, a demilitarized zone.

I'm not sure when I first heard the term "South-Central Los Angeles." It came long after "Watts" was a catchall, swapped for the equally freighted "inner city." But what I do know is that it has always felt artificial, like a straining-to-be-polite place holder for something better left unsaid, in mixed company, anyway.

"South-Central" was more than just a vague place name; it was vernacular. It was a shape-shifter; it was quick and wily; it had legs. It moved east. It moved west, north. For a long time, it was code for wherever it was in the city that black people kept their houses, conducted their business, kicked up their mess—where they happened to pop into frame. I will never forget returning home late one night, tired and despondent after reporting on the '92 "civil unrest"/"uprisings"/"riots"/"insurrection" (like everyone else, I was searching for something precise, something to call not just the chaos but the rage), and tuning in to a TV reporter doing a stand-up at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, right in front of the May Co. department store. All my life I knew this intersection to be in the Miracle Mile, yet the graphic marked the spot: "South-Central L.A."

"South-Central" was "down there"—a wave of the hand, south of Olympic, certainly south of the 10 Freeway. Someplace many Angelenos didn't venture into because, well, what was really there?

This wasn't the language that people I knew used to describe their neighborhoods—those we lived in, visited in, went to church in, got our hair done in or simply passed through on a sentimental Sunday drive. We said "Hyde Park" or "View Park" or "Morningside" or "Leimert Park." There was Baldwin Hills. There was the Crenshaw district. There was West Adams or "near SC." There was Compton, and Watts proper. And there was "right off Denker." Or "over there near Imperial." Or "I live near Second Baptist." "Oh, he still lives over there on the Eastside."

Sunday's West magazine also publishes writer Emory Holmes II's appreciation of Joseph Gober Nazel Jr., "an editor and author of incalculable importance to L.A.'s African American community," who died in August at age 62 of brain cancer.

He bore, discreetly but proudly, the scar from a bullet that passed through his neck in combat. The philosophical and emotional wounds he routinely sustained throughout his tumultuous stints as an editor of our city's most important black publications—the Wave, the Sentinel, the Watts Times and Players magazine—troubled him far more than bullets. His public feuds and violent spats with publishers, editors and other writers, both famous and obscure, are legend throughout the newsrooms of South L.A.

Photo at 43rd and Central, 1964: Harry Adams/Center for Photojournalism & Visual History, California State University, Northridge.

More by Kevin Roderick:
Standing up to Harvey Weinstein
The Media
LA Times gets a top editor with nothing but questions
LA Observed Notes: Harvey Weinstein stripped bare
LA Observed Notes: Photos of the homeless, photos that found homes
Recent South stories on LA Observed:
Rendon fights for neglected Southeast
Jordan Downs redevelopment
Did someone mention a lake?
Taking in Locol, Roy Choi's new Watts restaurant
Loco'l Grand Opening
Jefferson Branch Library
The 'Fences' that led to "Riot/Rebellion' in Watts
Remembering Watts, 1965: A birthday story


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