El Segundo used to be a sundown town. ‘Black in Mayberry’ confronts its racist past and present

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El Segundo, a city by the beach, has roughly 16,000 residents, and nearly three-fourths of them are white, according to the 2019 Census. That number used to be even higher.

It was once a sundown town, where signs made people of color know they were not welcome after dark. Even those who worked within city limits were not permitted to be there once the sun went down.

A new documentary called “Black in Mayberry” confronts the racist past and present of the city, through the personal stories of more than a dozen Black residents.

The film is produced by Tanya Taylor, who moved to El Segundo in 2020. Taylor grew up in the U.K., and says she’s all too familiar with being one of the very few Black people in her community. She was struck, however, by the number of people she’s encountered in El Segundo who want the community to stay white.

Tanya Taylor moved to El Segundo in 2020 and is the producer of “Black in Mayberry.” Courtesy of Tanya Taylor.

The title references the fictional town of Mayberry, the setting for “The Andy Griffith Show” from the 1960s. Similar to El Segundo, the show had a reputation for its overwhelming whiteness.

“The show and El Segundo itself has the reputation for being practically all white, and being this idyllic by-the-sea quaint little town where everything’s all fluffy bunnies and butterflies,” Taylor says. “It has never been a place where … recognition for Black residents has been provided. So to put the word Black in front of Mayberry is actually quite a contrast. It may as well be Black and white together.”

Violet Gonzales-Baird is featured in the documentary and at just 13 years old, she already feels compelled to educate people on systemic issues.

Gonzales-Baird says she knows a lot of progressive people in El Segundo who want to see more diversity and inclusion, but she acknowledges that many want to keep it white.

“What I really want is for people to start understanding each other, and to listen, and to understand that there are real things going on in the world.  And just because you don't acknowledge them, that doesn't mean that they're fake, or they're not really going on,” says Gonzales-Baird. “

Taylor says the murder of George Floyd really forced a lot of people — both Black and white — to rethink their experiences. She also says Black people are often trying to escape the “nightmare” of racism.

“So we try to live in a world where we don't have to think of ourselves through the lens of racism,” says Taylor. “However … if we all look closely, moments that happen to someone like George Floyd or Breonna Taylor do make you rethink the type of society that you're living in. And it makes you rethink things that you thought were once innocent, that may not have been so innocent.”

You can watch the film here.