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Historic Sites That Enlighten Black Heritage

February 06, 1988|EMILY F. GIBSON | Gibson, a free-lance writer, teaches literature at Dominguez High School in Compton. and

For more than half a century Americans have celebrated the first week in February as Black History Week. The idea was conceived in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, the Harvard-educated black scholar and author.

In recent years the celebration of Black History Week has been extended to Black History Month. It is a time when schools, churches, civic organizations and individuals search for ways to acknowledge the accomplishments of Afro-Americans.

There are many black historical points of interest in Los Angeles. For instance, if you've ever driven through South-Central Los Angeles--perhaps on your way to the Sports Arena--and passed by the unpretentious frame house at 1221 East 40th Place, you've seen the childhood home of Ralph Bunche, the first black American to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Bunche lived at this address from 1919 to 1927. He attended John Adams Junior High and was graduated from Jefferson High and UCLA before leaving the city for a Ph.D. at Harvard and a career as a diplomat. His efforts to end Arab-Israeli hostilities made him a Nobel laureate in 1950. A building at UCLA is named for him.

And the downtown plaza in El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park has a large bronze plaque to honor the founding of the city on Sept. 4, 1781. More than half of the 44 founders were black, their racial identities obscured by Spanish surnames.

The Saks Fifth Avenue building on Wilshire Boulevard is the work of local black architect Paul R. Williams. Williams, who died in 1980, also designed a number of posh private homes for Hollywood stars and movie moguls of the 1920s.

These facts and others are available, although they may be housed in some unlikely places, such as the razor-sharp mind of Miriam Matthews, a black octogenarian who is California's first professionally trained librarian.

Mayme Clayton's Black Western Resource Center, 3617 Montclair St., houses rare documents chronicling black American history and culture, including black-produced feature films of the 1920s and '30s.

Golden State Mutual, 1999 W. Adams Blvd., has an array of black art and artifacts tracing the achievements of California's black pioneers. The artworks in the building include bronze busts by Henry Ossawa Tanner, Chinese inks by Charles White and watercolors by Bettye Sarr.

Two large historical murals painted by Hale Woodruff and Charles Alston dominate the lower lobby. They depict the contributions of blacks at every stage of California's development from the time of the Spanish explorations of the 1500s.

Even if you are not a history buff, you may want to attend one of the special events this month:

Sunday--The California Afro-American Museum celebrates Black and Creole heritage with "From Louisiana to Los Angeles" noon to 5 p.m. The museum is in Exposition Park, Exposition Boulevard and Figueroa Street. The free festival offers music, dancing, foods, and folksy Louisiana storytelling. Ethnic dishes include gumbo, jambalaya and sweet-potato pie. New Orleans jazz and documentary films on Baton Rouge blues and the Mardi Gras complete the day. Information: (213) 744-7432.

Feb. 13--A karamu (traditional feast) and an afternoon of entertainment and cultural displays are offered at the ninth annual "Street Scenes of Africa" festival 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. in the Recreation Building at Jesse Owens County Park, Western Avenue and Imperial Highway. Art, jewelry and clothing from Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia and Senegal will be for sale, and African dancers and musicians will perform. Information: Annie Calomee, (213) 294-0376.

Feb. 14--"Remember Me," an award-winning play by James Hawthorne, is at the Lodge Theatre of the Inner City Cultural Center, 1308 S. New Hampshire Ave. The play is an excursion through the lives of two estranged sisters who meet and confront their feelings. Sunday matinee is 3 p.m. Information: (213) 661-0325.

Feb. 20--Children will have a multicultural experience in "From Africa to Los Angeles" at the Los Angeles Children's Museum, 310 N. Main St., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Youngsters may see, feel, touch, and enjoy the various nuances of another culture. Information: (213) 687-8801.

Feb. 21--"A Day in the Life of Black Los Angeles" is explored through the photography exhibit hosted by the Museum of African-American Art, 4005 Crenshaw Blvd. (in the May Co. Building, third floor). This 160-photo collection features the work of 10 prominent photographers. Information: (213) 294-7071.

Feb. 27--A panel of black experts will discuss the past and future of black America 4 to 7 p.m. at Dublin Avenue School, 3875 Dublin Ave. The theme of the evening is "To Secure These Rights." Two discussion topics are the U.S. Constitution and the future of the black church.

"We've linked these two subjects because we're celebrating a dual bicentennial," says Eula Mae Mattox, chairwoman of the event. "Both the American Constitution and the African Methodist Episcopal Church have been here working for us for 200 years." Local authors will read from their works, and a pictorial display on black women will be on view. Information: (213) 382-1074.

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