Black Power

Posted on March 26, 2012 by

Next month’s 20th anniversary of L.A.’s civil “uprising” and recent maneuverings in city hall offer a glimpse into the political problems facing Southern California’s African Americans.

The Rodney King riots – triggered by the acquittal of four LAPD cops who mercilessly beat King – exposed the outrage, frustration and lack of opportunity in South Central and other black neighborhoods.

Though the episode led to police reform, the region’s economic picture was going from bad to worse for many black working-class residents, as manufacturing jobs in auto, aviation and other unionized industries dropped away.

Twenty years ago also marked the end of the reign of Tom Bradley, the first African-American mayor of a (then) majority white city (an iconic political figure whose legacy seems almost lost to history).

An LAPD police lieutenant who went on to earn a law degree, he transformed Los Angeles politics, defeating incumbent mayor Sam Yorty in 1973.  Bradley mobilized the city’s growing liberal constituencies (including blacks, Latinos, Jews, west-siders and assorted bohemians) and then held that job for 20 years.

Jump ahead 20 years years to the city’s first black Council President,  Herb Wesson, who recently triggered a major brawl by breaking up the districts of two African American rivals.

Wesson whipped up a 13-2 redistricting vote against Bernie Parks and Jan Perry, potentially diluting black voting power. (The new plan also ticked off Koreatown investors, merchants and residents by splitting their district in half).

African American political clout has been in steady decline,  partly because of the region’s changing demographics, especially a dramatic increase in the Latino vote in previously black dominated communities.

The activities surrounding the anniversary of those frightening, flame-filled nights in 1992 will likely point to a more inclusive civic culture as well as some gains made by low-income groups.  But much of the focus will be on our failure to build an economy which lifts people out of poverty.

Another topic for discussion will certainly be the political machinations in the city which could jeopardize an already-shrinking African American political base.

Comments (3)


  1. Wendel says:

    ….the lotus opens and the Brahman awakes, the lotus closes and the Brahman sleeps…the lotus opens and a new Brahman awakes……

  2. John Connolly says:

    The Parable and Paradigm of Rightist Rough Equivalence:

    Rodney King 1992 = Treyvan Williams 2012
    …. Driving While black=Walking While Black.

    Tom Bradley = Barack Obama
    … Exec-ing While Black.

    Herb Wesson = Willie Brown
    … Two Decades, Two Cynics, Two Empty Suits;
    … Two Cities, Two Speakers, Two Traitors.

  3. Danny Feld says:

    I had the pleasure of working with Tom Bradley on his
    campaign as a volunteer photographer. I did so because I admired him so greatly. He was truly an exceptional leader who brought divergent interests together and made us all proud that he represented all of us in Los Angeles. I am very proud to have known him. He was a great inspiration to me as the finest that human beings have to offer.

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