South Central Los Angeles

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South Los Angeles, often abbreviated as South L.A., is the official name for a large geographic and cultural portion lying to the southwest and southeast of downtown Los Angeles, California. The area was formerly called South Central Los Angeles, and is still widely known as South Central. It borders the Westside on the northwest, and Downtown LA on the northeast.

In 2003, the city of Los Angeles changed the area's official name from South Central Los Angeles to South Los Angeles, hoping to blur collective memories of violence and blight. The name "South Central" had become almost synonymous with urban decay and street crime. The new name is rather misleading though, since geographically, South Los Angeles would refer to the L.A. Harbor/San Pedro district. Though the city took it upon itself to change street signs and freeway signs with the new name to make it "official", and though media like the Los Angeles Times and L.A. news networks now refer to the area as South Los Angeles, the name is not very widely used. Most residents of the Los Angeles area (including residents of South Los Angeles) still use the old name. Prominent figures from South Los Angeles, such as Ice Cube, also continue to refer to the area as South Central Los Angeles.

Geographic Definition

The name "South Central" originally referred to an area bounded roughly by Main Street on the west and Washington Boulevard on the north, and sharply by Slauson Avenue (which had Santa Fe Railroad track running alongside it) on the south and Alameda Street (including Southern Pacific Railroad track) on the east. The area lies directly south of downtown Los Angeles with Central Avenue bisecting it from north to south. After WWII Police, Fire and City Officials coined the term “South Central” because of its southern proximity from downtown on Central Avenue. Along with Watts several miles to the south, this corridor was the only district-scale area within the city in which African-Americans could purchase property prior to 1948. While some African-Americans rented and sometimes even owned property in other areas of the city, they were generally confined to single streets or small neighborhoods.

Since the 1950s, the definition of "South Central" has gradually expanded to include all of the areas of the city of Los Angeles (and small unincorporated pockets of Los Angeles County) lying south of the Santa Monica Freeway, east of La Brea Avenue and north of the Century Freeway. Some incorporated cities outside of L.A. city limits lying east of Alameda Street are considered identifiable with South L.A. to some extent by their urban or "inner city" characteristics.

The demography of South Los Angeles has been changing since the late 1980s, when Hispanic immigrants from Mexico and Central America arrived in number to buy or rent apartments and homes, some of which were vacated by African-American renters. In the 2000 census, the designate area of South L.A. had a population of 520,461 and 55% of the residents were Latino, while 41% were African American. A large percentage of small stores and shops are owned by Asian-American immigrants, especially Koreans and Indians. Filipinos have also been part of the area and American Indians are a sizable percentage of apartment rental tenants. Prior to the 1990s, the area was predominantly black (80% in 1980). The chief reasons for the population shifts were people moving away from crime and gang violence, and people coming in through immigration. African-Americans remain predominant in certain areas in South Los Angeles such as Leimert Park, Crenshaw, Hyde Park and Baldwin Hills. Together these areas have a population of 114,785 and are roughly 72% African-American making it the largest African-American neighborhood in the Western United States.


19th Century-1948

South LA contains some of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, featuring many spectacular examples of Victorian and Craftsman architecture in West Adams. It is home to the University of Southern California, founded in 1880, as well as the Doheny Campus of Mount St. Mary's College, which was founded in 1920. The 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games took place near the USC campus at neighboring Exposition Park, which hosts the Los Angeles Coliseum. Until the 1920s, West Adams was one of the most desirable areas of the city. Then development of the Wilshire Boulevard corridor drew Los Angeles' development to the west of downtown.


When the Supreme Court banned the legal enforcement of race-oriented restrictive covenants in 1948's Shelley v. Kraemer, blacks began to move into areas outside the increasingly overcrowded Slauson-Alameda-Washington-Main settlement area. For a time in the early 1950s, southern Los Angeles became the site of significant racial violence, with whites bombing, firing into, and burning crosses on the lawns of homes purchased by black families south of Slauson. In an escalation of behavior that began in the 1920s, white gangs in nearby cities such as South Gate and Huntington Park routinely accosted blacks who traveled through white areas. The black mutual protection clubs that formed in response to these assaults became the basis of the region's fearsome street gangs.

As in most urban areas, 1950s freeway construction radically altered the geography of southern Los Angeles. Freeway routes tended to reinforce traditional segregation lines...[citation needed] The Harbor Freeway ran just to the west of Main Street, and the Santa Monica Freeway just to the north of Washington Boulevard. The Marina Freeway was originally to run near Slauson Avenue all the way to the Orange County line, but was deemed redundant and went unbuilt except for its westernmost portions.

However well the freeways worked in moving cars around, they were decidedly unsuccessful as instruments of segregation. The explosive growth of suburbs, most of which barred blacks by a variety of methods, provided the opportunity for whites in neighborhoods bordering black districts to leave en masse. The spread of blacks throughout the area was achieved in large part through "blockbusting," a technique whereby real estate speculators would buy a home on an all-white street, sell or rent it to a black family, and then buy up the remaining homes from whites at cut-rate prices and sell them at a hefty profit to housing-hungry blacks.

This process accelerated after the Watts Riots of 1965. The riots resulted in an abandonment of southern Los Angeles by white residents and merchants. Middle-class blacks also left the area, moving to the north and west. By the late 1960s most of Los Angeles south of Pico Boulevard and east of La Brea Avenue had become overwhelmingly black. Areas wealthy (Baldwin Hills, West Adams) and impoverished (Watts) alike were referred to by the media as "South Central," even if they were 10 miles from the intersection of Vernon and Central Avenues. The Santa Monica Freeway formed the northern boundary of the "new" South Central, primarily dividing the middle-class blacks of Mid-Wilshire from the poor and working-class blacks to the south.


Beginning in the 1970s, the precipitous decline of the area's manufacturing base resulted in a loss of the jobs that had allowed skilled union workers to have a middle class life. The downtown Los Angeles' service sector, which had long been dominated by unionized African Americans earning relatively high wages, replaced most black workers with newly arrived Central American immigrants.

Widespread unemployment, poverty and street crime resulted in South Central. Street gangs, such as the Crips and Bloods, rose to great notoriety. They became even more powerful with money from drugs, especially the crack cocaine trade, dominated by gangs in the 1980s. By the time of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which began in South Central and spread throughout the city, South Central had become a byword for urban decay. Its bad reputation was broadcast by movies such as Colors, South Central, Menace II Society, Friday, and in particular, South Central native John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood. The rap group N.W.A.'s album Straight Outta Compton also promoted South Central's bad image.


Despite the improvements in the local economy thanks to financial assistance to introduce new retail stores and other employment development to the area, South Los Angeles remains known for its notorious gangs. In recent news, the tension between Black and Latino gangs have led to increased racially-motivated gang violence since the early-1990s. The percentage of African-American residents in South Los Angeles is about half of what it was in 1990, as Latin American (i.e. Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Honduran, and even more Mexican) immigrants became the majority alike much of the older sections of Los Angeles. However, violent crime in this region, although still high, has been decreasing since 1992. In recent years, there's been in influx of white and Asian families moving in some communities of South Los Angeles due to the process of gentrification and revitalization.

People from South Los Angeles

Aceyalone (Leimert Park), Arthur Lee (Crenshaw), B-Real (South Gate), Barry White (Watts), Big Syke (Inglewood), Bishop Lamont (Inglewood), Charles Mingus (Watts), Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band (Watts), Cypress Hill (South Gate), Da Lench Mob (Crenshaw), DJ Pooh (Crenshaw), Eldon "E-9" Peters (Inglewood), Eric Dolphy (Watts), Esther Williams (Inglewood), Faint (South Central District), Glasses Malone (Watts), Hampton Hawes (South Central District), Howard E. Scott (Compton)- Member of War (band), Ice Cube (Crenshaw), Ice-T (Crenshaw), John Singleton (South Central District), Johnny "J" (South Central), Kurupt (Crenshaw), Macadoshis (Crenshaw), Mack 10 (Inglewood), Marques Houston (Inglewood), Montell Jordan (Crenshaw), Omarion (Inglewood), Regina King (Windsor Hills), Saaphyri Windsor (Crenshaw), Scott Shaw (South Central District), Shade Sheist (South Central District), South Central Cartel (South Central District), Too Short (Crenshaw) - Moved to East Oakland at age 14., Tom Araya (South Gate), Tyra Banks (Inglewood), Tyrese Gibson (Watts), "Weird Al" Yankovic (Lynwood), Theo and Isaac Hayes