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Huntington Library marks Harlem Renaissance in L.A.

'Central Avenue' illustrates the way black culture flourished into the 1950s, using a rich collection of movie and music memorabilia and literary papers.

October 25, 2009|Karen Wada

"Central Avenue and Beyond: The Harlem Renaissance in Los Angeles" focuses on life along the storied thoroughfare that once was the heart of black L.A. But the exhibit's organizers couldn't resist illustrating ways African American culture flourished in other parts of the city as well.

"We hope to open people's eyes a little," says Sue Hodson, curator of literary manuscripts at the Huntington Library in San Marino, where the show opens this weekend. "Everyone tends to think the Harlem Renaissance took place in one spot, however, Los Angeles was among many urban centers teeming with activity." Central Avenue, she adds, "was ground zero for African Americans for years -- not just for jazz, which was a huge force, but for every kind of artistic and cultural enterprise. We wanted to take a longer view and look at all this and also what was happening elsewhere in town, not just during the '20s and '30s but into the '50s."

The nearly 80 items include movie and music memorabilia, periodicals and literary treasures, manuscripts by Langston Hughes and papers from civil rights attorney and newspaper publisher Loren Miller.

"Central Avenue" also will serve as a coming-out party for the Huntington's co-presenter, the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum -- which owns what is considered to be the largest independent collection of African American historical material. Clayton, a college librarian, amassed hundreds of thousands of pieces before she died in 2006. She spent much of her life combing through attics and used bookstores. Her son, Avery, has been working to prepare his mother's trove for viewing at the library-museum in Culver City.

Hodson, who co-curated "Central Avenue" with Clayton, acknowledges the exhibit represents only a small part of "the renaissance experience" and the holdings of the institutions.

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'Central Avenue and Beyond'

Where: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino

When: Saturday though Feb. 8

Price: Free with admission to the museum ($6 to $20)

Contact: (626) 405-2100 or www.huntington.org

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