Profiles in Accomplishment, Black History Month
When I learned that eighty years ago at the Berlin Olympics of 1936, Jesse Owens won four Olympic gold medals in the face of Hitler’s rhetoric, I became to appreciate his courage in the face of adversity and oppression. He won gold medals in the 100 and 200 meter sprint, relay and long jump. That piqued my interest in Black History month and compelled me to read further.
Of the 44 people who set out from Spanish Colonial Mexico to establish a pueblo between the missions in San Gabriel and Santa Barbara in February 1781, 26 were of African descent. They had descended from the estimated 100,000 to 200,000 Africans brought to New Spain by the Spanish as slaves and laborers in the 1500s and 1600s. They were free subjects of New Spain by 1700 and had integrated with the local Indian tribes and mestizo population and helped to colonize Alta (North) California. The 11 families that arrived here on September 4, 1781 are commemorated on a plaque near the gazebo in El Pueblo de Los Angeles.
In the next century, Bridget “Biddy” Mason walked to California from Mississippi behind her master’s wagon. Although she was born a slave, she went to court and won her freedom in 1856. After saving her wages from jobs as a midwife and nurse to buy property near 4th and Spring streets in downtown L.A., she established “Biddy Mason’s Place” that would serve as a daycare center and orphanage. In 1872, Mason founded the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles with 11 other people.
In 1940, Tom Bradley was sworn in as one of the 100 black officers on the 4,000 member LAPD force. After leaving the force, Bradley went to law school and became active in politics. He joined the Crenshaw Democratic Club and later became the club’s president.
By 1963, Bradley was the first African-American elected to the Los Angeles City Council representing the Crenshaw district. In 1969, he ran for mayor but lost to conservative Sam Yorty. Bradley ran for mayor again in 1973 and won, serving in that capacity until 1993, thus becoming the first African-American mayor of Los Angeles.
Although Ryan Coogler is best known for his directorial work in “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed” films, he is also known for co- founding Blackout for Human Rights. This is comprised of a network of filmmakers, entertainers and everyman pooling their resources to address human rights violations in the US. In 2014, the group spearheaded Blackout Black Friday, a national call to boycott Black Friday shopping following the racial unrest in Ferguson, Mo. Notable members of Blackout include Ava DuVernay, Jesse Williams, Nate Parker, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and David Oyelowo.