This year’s Venice Black History Month celebration at the library was held on Saturday, February 8, 2020. The Abbot Kinney Branch library event was enjoyed by both original Venice residents and visitors alike. The regular Venice Black History photo exhibit in the lobby display case was complemented by the photos and historical materials on view in the meeting room. And prominent Venice residents discussed the significance of the legacy of Venice Black History.
Venice Activist Mike Bravo introduced the speakers for the day. He talked about the importance of the space where this celebration was held, and how a meeting for listeners to hear the testimonies of Venice elders needs more than the three hours allotted for the event. He called for more events like this one. And he reminded everyone that the Save Venice team had just recently come from the battlefield where they had fought against the City of L.A.’s “political crime bosses”.
The Save Venice team has, for over two years now, been fighting to save an historical African-American church, the First Baptist Church of Venice, from being gutted and converted into a private mega-mansion. Mr. Bravo referred to our so-called “allies” in local politics. He contrasted the image of Venice as “liberal and diverse”, with the way the politicians address the Black and Brown population of Venice. They promise racial and social justice but they work for the opposite. He spoke of the determination to get more people involved.
Venice Elder Jataun Valentine told of her experiences as an eighth generation Venetian. Ms. Valentine is a member of the Tabor family, one of the preeminent Black families of Venice. Irving Tabor was the chauffeur and friend of Venice Founder Abbot Kinney, and many Venice locations bear the Tabor name. Ms. Valentine spoke of her grandparents’ struggles in the early 1900s. She talked about the time when White neighbors burned a cross in front of her grandparents’ home, where she herself now lives. She talked about the city’s “broken window policy” and selective code enforcement to get rid of People of Color, and how she observed city inspectors as they attempted to single out the homes of Black and Brown residents. Jataun Valentine called for Justice. She reminded everyone that People of Color are not represented on the Venice Neighborhood Council. She emphasized that the celebration of Black History means “not letting it disappear”, and how the Black Community has roots here worth fighting for.
Dr. Naomi Nightingale spoke of her family in Venice in the 1950s. She talked about building a community during the time of the restrictive covenants, when Black residents were relegated to one neighborhood in the heart of Venice. As a self-contained community, a barter economy thrived. Painters would trade services with mechanics. And many would refer to others in the community as their “aunties” and “uncles”. And she told of a time when Black people had to sit in the back rows of the Fox Venice movie theater. Dr. Nightingale said that nothing happens by happenstance. The gentrification of today started thirty years ago with police detectives arresting Black and Brown people, long before the “gang injunction”. The gang injunction had turned misdemeanors into felonies, with high bail amounts. It targeted a specific area, for the elimination of a specific race of people, to get ready for gentrification.
The group, Project Action opened an office in Venice in 1966 and Dr. Nightingale was a member. Project Action promoted peace in the community. They offered job assistance and went door to door surveying people. They ran a drug treatment program. They owned a gas station and a childcare center. They had a store that sold items on consignment. When an infusion of money came to the community, they were able to establish fifteen low-income apartment buildings in Venice. The buildings were built within the area that was confined by the restrictive covenants. But they were designed to not look like housing projects.
Since 1970, no low-income housing has been built in Venice, while many multi-unit and single family dwellings have been destroyed to make way for concrete, two-story, glass front single family dwellings. Dr. Nightingale described the practice of newcomers who build ten foot high fences around their houses. They claim to be afraid and need protection. They install combination locks on their doors. They keep themselves locked away until the process of gentrification is complete. Dr. Nightingale declared that, in spite of desegregation, “We have never been integrated in this society.” She talked about the great effort that it took to even get this day’s event into the library.
Dr. Nightingale addressed the loss of diversity in Venice, and called upon people to fight it. She expressed her ire at the historical surveyors in the city who say that there is no Black History in Venice. They claim that they wish to save the culture here but it was they who worked to destroy it. Still, she encouraged everyone that it’s not too late. Through social justice, education, and jobs, the culture can continue.
She reminded everyone that the fight to save the First Baptist Church of Venice is in its third year. Dr. Nightingale spoke about the First Baptist Church of Venice as an historical African-American church that was established for the Venice Black Community to worship when they couldn’t worship in White churches. This church hosted W.E.B. Dubois and Adam Clayton Powell during its history in Venice. Over the past few years, the fight to save the church has been waged without the help of lawyers.
The people in the community meet on the steps of the church on Sundays until justice is served. Dr. Nightingale called for more political pressure on the elected representatives in the community. She remembered a time when people participated. Back then, the Venice Neighborhood Council was the “Grass Roots” Venice Neighborhood Council, and not the current version stacked by developers. She encouraged people to cut through the corruption and to put people in office who have our voice.
This Venice Black History Month celebration brought more issues to light than any previous years’ events. The struggles facing the People of Venice are real. They require commitment from Venetians who care. Anyone can join the fight. And everyone should.
The future of Venice will be won by the person who gets involved. That’s you.
For more information go to: https://savexvenice.com