As the curator of History for the California African American Museum, I have the privilege of developing exhibitions and public programs for public enrichment regarding African American history and culture.
No Justice, No Peace: LA 1992
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising, CAAM presents No Justice, No Peace: LA 1992, an exhibition that examines one of the most notorious episodes of urban unrest in American history...
No justice, No Peace: LA 1992
On March 3, 1991, Rodney King led the California Highway Patrol on a high-speed chase that concluded with a struggle, during which some officers beat King with their batons. The brutality in the videotaped arrest sent shockwaves around the world and enraged many in the already-frustrated African American community in LA. On April 29, 1992, when a predominantly white jury acquitted the four officers accused in King’s beating, rage turned to violence.
No Justice, No Peace: LA 1992 looks back at crucial episodes in Los Angeles history that influenced the quality of life for African Americans and other communities of color over the course of fifty years. These include the second wave of the Great Migration of the 1940s, during which African Americans fled the harsh realities of the South, seeking employment and opportunity after World War II; the rising racial tensions between Mexican Americans and law enforcement heightened by the Zoot Suit Riots (1943) and Bloody Christmas (1951); and the legislative achievements of the Civil Rights Movement that shaped African American expectations for equality in the 1960s, but were slighted by the reality of unequal housing practices and discrimination.
The unjust treatment and oppressive conditions created by the overwhelming presence of law enforcement in black communities would create the worst civil rebellion the country had ever seen to date: the Watts Rebellion of 1965. In light of the strained political climate after this cataclysmic event, the City of Los Angeles made efforts to counter negative representations and move toward equality in political representation through the election of its first African American mayor, former police officer Tom Bradley, in 1973.
Despite the presence of a black mayor, communities of color were still left to confront their contentious relationship with law enforcement during the War on Drugs overseen by the Reagan Administration. Throughout the 1980s, Los Angeles saw the hyper-criminalization of black citizens and aggressive responses by the police department, which sought to curb drug possession and dealing. These interactions incited violent drug raids such as 39th and Dalton that highlighted the pervasive nature of the LAPD’s excessive use of force. This continued to lay the groundwork for the compounding animosity towards law enforcement that seeped into the 1990s, leading ultimately to the 1992 Los Angeles Uprisings.
With powerful photographs, videos, historic documents, posters, flyers, and other ephemera, No Justice, No Peace: LA 1992 considers decades of complex socio-political history that have contributed to underlying tensions among Los Angeles’s marginalized groups and communities, and it sheds light on race relations, socioeconomics, and equality in America today.
This exhibition was curated by Tyree Boyd-Pates, History Curator and Program Manager.
Photos: Brian Forrest
Center Stage: African American Women in Silent Race Films
Between 1910 and 1950, parallel to the rise of Hollywood’s Golden Age, a new movie genre — race films — was born. Though their history is largely forgotten, they were made specifically for African American audiences, starred black performers, and were wildly popular in their time...
Center Stage: African American Women in Silent Race Films
In Center Stage: African American Women in Silent Race Films, CAAM highlights five significant race films with female leads by a variety of filmmakers. The first of its kind in Los Angeles, this exhibition emphasizes how particular race films created in the early 20th century afforded black actresses the opportunity to play a range of characters, from heroines to archrivals, that were atypical of Hollywood in the early 1920s.
Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates (1920) is the oldest surviving feature by an African American director and includes the race film genre's "First Lady of the Screen," Evelyn Preer. The actress gives a compelling portrayal of a mixed-race African American woman, determined to do well in a world working against her, who finds strength in her embrace of black pride. Micheaux’s The Symbol of The Unconquered (1920) features Iris Hall as Evon Mason, a young woman who saves the day by alerting her town of an impending Ku Klux Klan attack. Hall’s role was rare for the period and conveys the progressive nature of race films and their highlighting of black women as valiant figures.
Harry Gant’s By Right of Birth (1921) presents Anita Thompson as Juanita Cooper, a young, adopted, educated woman searching for her birthparents and love. Gant’s film achieved enormous success for its time, and it was praised for portraying African Americans — especially women — in a positive light, making a strong statement against the Jim Crow era’s rampant racial stereotyping.
The Scar of Shame (1927), written by David Starkman, follows the troubled path of Louise Howard (played by Lucia Lynn Moses). The young step-daughter of an alcoholic, she is rescued from the poor influence of her father, a budding concert pianist portrayed by Alvin Hillyard. Louise's role explores and scrutinizes the socio-economic caste system in place among African American communities during the early 20th century and often reproduced on film.
Finally, Spencer Williams’s The Blood of Jesus (1941) introduces modern viewers to religious and feminine subjects in a way that highlights the centrality of Christianity within the black community, particularly for black women. The character of Martha, played by Cathryn Caviness, finds herself in purgatory after an accident. While there, she faces temptation from Lucifer but defeats him and finds solace at the foot of the Cross. Striking for its images of a leering Satan and a literal blood baptismal, The Blood of Jesus and Caviness’s performance provide audiences insight into the spiritual undertones of this era’s race films, especially with the advent of sound.
Through film screenings and original posters, Center Stage illuminates how African American women—inside an industry of their own, and despite Hollywood's subservient roles—delivered nuanced and exemplary portrayals of black femininity that resonate with audiences to this day. As conversations surrounding diversity in Hollywood continue to dominate public discourse, these films provide historical insight into the modern quest for three-dimensional representations of black womanhood.
This exhibition was curated by Tyree Boyd-Pates, History Curator and Program Manager, CAAM, and the UCLA Digital Humanities Department.
Photos: Brian Forrest
How Sweet The Sound: Gospel Music in Los Angeles
How Sweet the Sound is a dynamic interdisciplinary exhibition exploring the history, innovators, and critical events of gospel music in Los Angeles..
With roots in African American religious traditions, gospel is a genre of Christian music. The term “gospel,” first used in the late nineteenth century to refer to traditional sacred music, became widespread among African Americans after the publishing of the songbook “Gospel Pearls” by the National Baptist Convention in 1921. Many African Americans have utilized gospel as a way to edify, uplift, and catalyze their communities.
The exhibition begins in 1872, tracing the early religious development of African Americans from Biddy Mason’s establishment of First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles to the religious renaissance of the Azusa Street Revival, founded by preacher William J. Seymour in 1906, and the subsequent spreading of the Pentecostal movement across the country in the 1920s and 1930s. As African Americans became more involved in jazz and blues during the Great Migration, figures such as Thomas Dorsey and Sallie Martin merged secular and sacred music in Chicago and other cities. As African Americans began moving west in the 1940s, they brought gospel with them to Los Angeles.
Los Angeles’s African American population increased dramatically in the 1940s and 1950s, and leaders began establishing and organizing churches in South Los Angeles. Churches such as Victory Baptist, St. Paul Baptist, Mount Moriah Baptist, Opportunity Baptist, and Grace Memorial Church of God in Christ became significant points for community building, musical innovation, and civic engagement. They were also prime destinations for traditional gospel singers such as Mahalia Jackson and Bessie Griffin.
Alongside national desegregation efforts in the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. routinely visited local African American churches in Los Angeles to rally support for black civil rights. As gospel music became synonymous with the sound of the Civil Rights Movement, it simultaneously gained rising commercial popularity with acts such as Clara Ward and The Famous Ward Singers, Doris Akers’s Sky Pilots Choir, and the Soul Stirrers, featuring Sam Cooke. In Los Angeles, Andraé Crouch and Reverend James Cleveland opened commercial opportunities for the genre, both inside and outside the church. In particular, Cleveland’s composing, arranging, and recording for large choirs helped solidify Los Angeles as the central place for gospel music stardom. Aretha Franklin’s album Amazing Grace, recorded in 1972 in South Central Los Angeles, became the best-selling gospel album of all time and is still Franklin’s best-selling album to this day.
With vintage artifacts, photographs, memorabilia, and ephemera, How Sweet the Sound is one of the few museum exhibitions to explore how Southern California’s rich religious history, African American migrations, and subsequent musical innovation inside local black churches made Los Angeles an epicenter of gospel music in the twentieth century and redefined the genre for years to come.
This exhibition is curated by Tyree Boyd-Pates, history curator and program manager, CAAM, in conjunction with historian Dr. Daniel E. Walker from the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture.
Photos: Brian Forrest