Black Lives Matter, Martin Luther King Jr., and Civil Rights in Los Angeles

In the summer of 2020, nationwide protests erupted in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Floyd’s death and the callus nature of the police officer who killed him ignited anger in many as it showcased yet another example of the unfair treatment marginalized people face at the hands of law enforcement. The Black Lives Matter Movement is a continuance of the larger struggle towards true racial equality and justice in America. Nearly sixty years prior, Martin Luther King Jr. and many other activists took up the mantle, fighting for equality under the law during the 1950’s and 60’s.

Martin Luther King Jr. traveled the country, speaking and engaging with the public, bringing the struggles that black people faced in the south to light on the east and west coast. King recognize the importance of uniting the entirety of the nation against racial discrimination, as this discrimination was not exclusive to the south.

And the city of Los Angeles is no stranger to this fight. During the early 20th century, many African Americans began to migrate to Los Angeles in search of economic opportunity. During that time Los Angeles was a growing city with seemingly endless opportunities for those who moved there. But moving to Los Angeles came with its own set of problems including new forms of discrimination in the form of housing covenants that prevent racial minorities form moving to certain neighborhoods, attending certain schools, and setting up businesses. On top of this, many African Americans also faced prejudice and violence from law enforcement.

Martin Luther King spent a lot of time in Los Angeles, where he attended black churches and synagogues as well as spent time at public schools, using his time to speak out against the discrimination black people faced in the city. He also attended marches rally’s against businesses who discriminated against residents of color. He gave lecture series on resistance and racial progress in America. King spoke at many well-known venues in the city, including at UCLA, Wrigley Field, and LAX. King’s message electrified the public and people from all walks of life attended his speeches, including well known celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Rita Moreno, and Sammy Davis Jr. 

King inspired young people to get involved in the Civil Rights movement. In 1958, students at USC held an integration ball where students could donate to others in other parts of the country fighting for full integration such as the Youth March for Integrated Schools in Washington D.C. They also held freedom rallies in support of the Freedom Riders, who traveled throughout the south to challenge racist laws such as the Jim Crow era separate but equal laws that prevented black people from eating at white lunch counters among other things.

King meant a lot the city and his legacy of resistance and fight for true justice continues today. You can find iconography dedicated to the civil rights figure and even streets named after him on the westside of Los Angeles.

Maria is a writer at Enki Tech, a Downtown Santa Monica technology company that specializes in the development of high-quality, user-friendly software, web platforms, and mobile apps.