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School Board Approves Celebration of Black History Month (02-05-19)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution today recognizing February as Black History Month. This annual commemoration of African-American achievements also celebrates their central role throughout U.S. history since before the Mayflower.

Board Member George J. McKenna III said, “While the month of February is only 28 days, Black History Month guarantees a time to bring attention to the robust contributions of African Americans, which have shaped the foundation, landmarks, history and culture of America and Los Angeles.” Dr. McKenna sponsored the resolution, which all board members co-sponsored.

Superintendent Austin Beutner said, “Black History Month is a time to celebrate and commemorate the role African Americans have played in the history of our country and in our communities. At Los Angeles Unified, we are working hard to help educate and inspire the next generation of leaders.”

Black migrations, the theme of the 2019 African American History Month, focuses on “The Great Migration,” a mass exodus largely from the rural South. From 1910 to 1970, millions fled rigid discrimination, brutality and work that paid neither a fair nor living wage. Sharecroppers, washerwomen, teachers and doctors from all occupations sought equal treatment, good jobs, decent housing and better schools; including law schools, medical schools and graduate schools that did not ban students based on their race. They forged ahead on segregated trains, buses and in crowded cars, traveling to New York, Chicago and any city that promised opportunity.

Board President Mónica García said, “This February, we honor the stories of past and present African Americans who have left a huge imprint on both our city and our country. We are grateful for the lessons learned about resilience, sacrifice and the fight for equity that serve as great reminders – for all of us at Los Angeles Unified – of how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.”

During the first wave of the migration to Los Angeles, a family of poor sharecroppers left rural Texas for Arizona where they picked cotton. The parents wanted better for their children so they headed here in 1924. The father worked as a railroad porter, the mother worked as a maid. Their son, Tom Bradley, attended school in Los Angeles Unified. He would become the first and only black mayor of Los Angeles.

Board Vice President Nick Melvoin said, “Black history is American history, from the beginning of this country until today. It is wonderful for our students to learn about that history and commemorate its importance in February, but a quick glance at the news reminds us that these are conversations that need to be had all twelve months of the year. In addition, one of the best ways to honor the contributions of black Americans is to ensure that today’s students get an excellent education in our public schools. Only then can we truly overcome this country’s history of slavery, segregation and structural racism.”

In Los Angeles, African Americans come primarily from Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. Congregating along Central Avenue, the majority worked manual labor digging ditches, hauling logs or service jobs as chauffeurs and housekeepers that paid better wages compared to the 35 cents per day back on the farm. Many began to prosper, buying property, opening businesses, stores, restaurants, jazz clubs and churches. Black-owned newspapers spread the good news along with family, friends and porters on the trains. The African-American population grew from 7,600 in 1910 to almost 64,000 in 1940, and Watts became a predominantly black, working class neighborhood. During World War II, a much larger number came to Los Angeles for defense jobs. By 1950, more than 170,000 lived here including an entrenched professional and middle class. By 1970, when the Great Migration ended, Los Angeles was home to more than a half-million African Americans.

Board Member Scott Schmerelson said, “Now, more than ever, our school communities need to joyfully celebrate Black History Month, and continue to learn from the struggles, resistance, contributions and dedication to public education by our African American brothers and sisters.”

Board Member Kelly Gonez said, “We are thrilled to celebrate the immeasurable contributions of African Americans to our history and culture in February and all year long. Throughout Board District 6, we will be holding events and programs to honor the legacy of the African-American community. This Black History Month, in particular, we remember the leadership of Dr. Michelle King, one of our own trailblazers who became the District’s first female African-American Superintendent and whom we all miss dearly.”

Board Member Dr. Richard Vladovic said, “It is important every year that we mark the contributions of the African-American community to our nation and to the District. As noted in the Board Resolution commemorating this special month: over the past century and a half, black American life, history, and culture have become major influences throughout America in music, art, literature, politics, athletics, education, military service and diplomacy.”

He added, “This year, as we mark Black History Month, it is important that we also celebrate the life and contributions of our former Superintendent Dr. Michelle King. She was a true product of the District. She attended its schools, taught in its classrooms and sent her kids through the same systems that gave her the education she took full advantage of. She lived and breathed Los Angeles Unified, and it’s a shame her tenure was cut short by her tragic illness. Her legacy will live on as a part of the celebrations of the next month and through her life and works.”