Visit the first and only California town founded by Black Americans. Plus what to do in South LA

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A barn at Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. Allensworth is “the first and only California town to be founded, financed and governed by Black Americans,” says Danielle Dorsey. Photo by Shutterstock.

With California's coronavirus restrictions largely lifted, residents may be itching for a change of scenery. How about a day trip to discover vibrant Black history and culture? Head north to a little-known town called Allensworth in Tulare County. That’s the recommendation from  Danielle Dorsey, LA Editor at Thrillist

Founded in 1908 by Colonel Allen Allensworth, Dorsey says Allensworth is “the first and only California town to be founded, financed and governed by Black Americans.”

Born into slavery in 1842, Colonel Allensworth was the highest-ranking Black officer in the U.S. Army. After Reconstruction, Allensworth searched far and wide to find a place for those trying to escape the Jim Crow South.

 

Colonel Allen Allensworth. Photo by New York Public Library (Public Domain)

“The town is a very, very small town. It only has a little bit over 400 residents,” says Dorsey. It has now been designated as a California state park. 

“There you can find — restored and reconstructed — a school house, a Baptist Church. You can even see the colonel's house and a library. You can take a tour that really goes into all of the history about the town, like who Allen Allensworth was, who were some of the other towns founders.”

In a typical year, the park hosts a grand Juneteenth celebration, but this year it is virtual. The park reopened on June 15, so you can go on a self-guided trip. Dorsey says the next in-person event will take place in October to celebrate the annual re-dedication, which affirms the park’s rich history. 

Juneteenth at Leimert Park

For those who don’t want to trek over to Allensworth, Dorsey suggests, “When it comes to Juneteenth and LA, there's honestly no better place to celebrate than Leimert Park Village.”

The area has an annual celebration that has been going on for years called Leimert Park Rising. This year it takes place on June 19 and 20. There will be two days of art, music, dancing, as well as discussion with community leaders. 

“The intention is to build a more cooperative neighborhood,” Dorsey explains. 

Black historic landmarks

She says LA is flush with options to check out historic Black landmarks, including designs from celebrated Black architect Paul R. Williams.

Dorsey recommends stopping by the First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME). “That church was actually founded in 1872 by former slave Biddy Mason, and Paul Williams was actually a lifetime member.” she says.


The African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E. church) was born in protest against slavery and against dehumanization of African people who were brought to the American continent as free labor. This church is located at 655 W. 70th St. Credit: Los Angeles Photographers Photo Collection/LAPL.

Williams also designed the Golden State Life Insurance Company building, which was once the largest Black-owned insurance company in the West. You may want to add Williams’ own residence in Lafayette Square to your list too. 

Another accessible trip is to drive down the Central Avenue corridor.  “This used to be an area that was essentially the heartbeat of Black Los Angeles from 1920 to about the mid-1950s. And there were booming jazz and blues scenes.” 

Some musical legends born in that scene include Charles Mingus, Etta James, Dinah Washington, and Toni Harper

“A lot of these people, when they would come to LA, they would stay and perform at the Dunbar Hotel, which is now a historic cultural landmark. So you can visit the Dunbar Hotel, and it's actually an affordable housing [option] for senior citizens now.”

Black art and history

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The Watts Towers survived the 1960s Watts Riots. Photo by Amy Ta.

South LA has many icons of art and activism, several of which are connected to the 1965 Watts Riots. You can visit both the Watts Station and Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers. “These are both landmarks that survived the Watts Riots in the 1960s. And so they really symbolize resilience and hope for the community and can be easily visited,” says Dorsey.

She also recommends stopping by the California African American Museum. “[It] is a great resource for learning more about African Americans in California and the western United States.  … And the cherry on top: The museum is actually completely free. All you have to do is register ahead of time.”

Beyond South LA, Dorsey says you shouldn’t forget about visiting the tons of Kobe Bryant murals all over the city. “He was such an important figure to us.” You can find a map of all the murals featuring Kobe and his daughter Gianna at kobemural.com.


This mural in Venice shows Kobe Bryant with his daughter Gianna. Photo by Amy Ta. 


This mural of Kobe Bryant was found by a basketball court near Culver City. Photo by Amy Ta.  

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This mural shows Kobe Bryant in action, Melrose Arts District. Photo by Amy Ta. 

Food

If you get hungry, stop by Hotville Chicken. Dorsey recommends trying the Nashville Hot Chicken. She says the woman who owns the restaurant, Kim Prince, is a descendant of the family that “invented the recipe for Nashville Hot Chicken almost 100 years ago.” 

“You can eat and you can also learn a little bit more about Black history. … Two birds, one stone.”

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Hotville Chicken sits next to the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall. Photo by Amy Ta. 

Credits

Host:

Larry Perel

Producer:

Tara Atrian