Statement Apologizing to Santa Monica’s African American Residents and Their Descendants
November 16, 2022 10:53 AM
by Sue Himmelrich
On November 15, 2022, the Santa Monica City Council adopted a Statement Apologizing to Santa Monica's African American Residents and Their Descendants. The apology was unanimously adopted and can be found below.
As part of their motion, Council directed the City Manager to commit to programs, policies, and investments that can educate the public about this history of discrimination and its ongoing consequences, and to ferreting out and overturning systemically racist policies to ensure that the pain caused by several decades of racial injustice and discrimination against blacks and other people of color is mitigated to the extent possible.
To learn more about the City of Santa Monica’s commitment to equity and inclusion, visit santamonica.gov/equity. View the video of the statement being read at the City Council meeting on November 29, 2022, here.
STATEMENT APOLOGIZING TO SANTA MONICA’S AFRICAN AMERICAN RESIDENTS AND THEIR DESCENDANTS
The City of Santa Monica acknowledges over a century of racial injustice and discrimination against African Americans that have resulted in systemically racist policies that continue to exclude and discriminate against African Americans:
Beginning in the 1880s, African Americans migrated from the southern United States to Santa Monica to escape Jim Crow racial restrictions lured by advertisements promoting the benefits of Southern California, which included employment, good climate, health, beautiful landscapes, and a more liberated lifestyle.
Santa Monica's first African American residents settled near the railroad tracks on the edge of Santa Monica's original townsite, which is adjacent to the freeway in downtown today, and established their own church in Santa Monica at Fourth and Bay Streets in 1908, leading to a migration south as far as Strand Street and including the area known as the Belmar Triangle, where the Santa Monica Civic Center and parts of Santa Monica High School are today.
Santa Monica is believed to have been the first African American settlement in any seaside community in the region. Due to racism and de facto segregation, African Americans could only enjoy the sand and sun at Bay Street Beach, also known as "The Ink Well," a place of celebration and pain for the Black community.
In 1922, Santa Monica created its first zoning ordinance, and rushed its adoption before it could be completed for the purpose of denying building permits to a group of wealthy African Americans who wished to establish a bathhouse on a Santa Monica Beach; and further weaponized the new ordinance to close down a popular Black-owned jazz club in the Belmar Triangle.
Public meetings reported in Santa Monica papers in the 1920s presented how zoning could ensure that white wealthy and middle-class residents could keep people of color out of their neighborhoods without violating United States Constitutional provisions for equal rights by rationalizing exclusionary provisions in the name of safety and protection of property value.
Single-unit residential zones referred to today as R1 did not permit additional units on site to bring in income to support the property, ensuring that only the wealthiest could move in; and for the same reason, commercial uses of any kind were barred from residential districts.
The industrial zone, up the middle of the city adjacent to the railroad tracks where noxious uses of all kinds were permitted, also allowed single and multi-family residential uses; establishing the only area in the city where Blacks and other people of color were permitted to live and establish businesses.
Unabashedly racist realtors of the 1920s who wanted to ensure the new zoning provisions were successful at segregating races in the city committed to the insertion of a Caucasians-only clause in every deed they wrote for a Santa Monica property from that point forward.
The 1920's was a time of enormous population growth in California, which included a surge of new African American migrants to Santa Monica, resulting in a new Black neighborhood that thrived east of Fourteenth Street between Santa Monica Boulevard and Pico Boulevard with new churches and a commercial corridor to serve it along Broadway.
To boost recovery from the Great Depression in the 1930s, the Federal Housing Authority began to offer mortgage insurance for homeowners on 30-year amortized loans that allowed the purchase of a home for what it would cost to rent, but in order to "protect" the government from risk, loan requirements included a compulsory Caucasians-only deed restriction resulting in a federal-government-subsidized, nation-wide racial segregation program that created new, all-white neighborhoods in Santa Monica.
The Homeowner's Loan Corporation created maps that marked neighborhoods where people of color lived and worked in red to indicate they were poor loan risks, barring African Americans and other people of color from home improvement or business loans for property they already owned, forcing responsible, employed homeowners of color to endure decades of deferred maintenance as they watched their property values fall.
The result of deed restrictions, prohibitive zoning, and racist realtor practices, African Americans only found homes to rent or purchase in certain integrated sections of Santa Monica between Santa Monica Boulevard and Pico Boulevard, at the edge of downtown, in the Belmar Triangle, and in a discreet section of Ocean Park through the 1950s.
Participating enthusiastically in a nationwide program of urban renewal in the 1950s, City of Santa Monica targeted neighborhoods of color for condemnation; Santa Monica African Americans who were thriving in the Belmar Triangle had homes and businesses condemned and taken away by eminent domain to make way for the city's new Civic Auditorium and Santa Monica High School expansion; and some structures that had been owned or occupied by African Americans were burned down on site.
In the 1960s the new Santa Monica Freeway cut through the heart of the city predominantly occupied by African Americans and people of Mexican descent, depriving 550 families of long-time investments in homes and businesses; and cutting off Black-owned businesses on the Broadway commercial corridor from the community they served so they dwindled away.
Santa Monica Blacks endured laws and policies that enforced racial inequities and selective access to rights including choice of profession, choice of housing, and opportunities for land ownership by a well-organized movement both nationwide and in Santa Monica in particular, the dreams and aspirations of Santa Monica's Black families were thwarted; in 1948 the Supreme Court declared restrictive covenants to be unconstitutional, but redlining and other forms of discrimination continued until the Civil Rights Act of 1968 made them illegal.
The effectiveness of racial deed covenants and zoning kept Santa Monica's African American population at only 2% through the 1930s, much lower than the national average that ranged from 11-13% and has crept up to only about 4% today.
Throughout the history of the City of Santa Monica African Americans showed resilience and strength by establishing a strong community with structures to support each other as they endured the onslaughts of racism including numerous churches, a local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., clubs and organizations including the Philomatheans and a chapter of the Masons, and the wisdom and leadership of African Americans from Santa Monica who broke through discriminatory structures to become educators, doctors, real estate brokers, postal workers, union organizers, and more.
The legacy of racial discrimination and exclusion through single-family R1 zoning which covers significant land area in Santa Monica, prohibits apartments or multi-family housing in certain areas continues to embed racist and exclusionary mechanisms in our laws.
The legacy of restrictive covenants still mars the Santa Monica landscape today with patterns of racial segregation in that the city's highest resource neighborhoods remain disproportionately populated with white people.
The legacy of racist policies and systems in Santa Monica has resulted in a number of families who have generations of history with the city but were forced to leave and cannot afford to return.
The legacy of racist policies and systems that were rationalized as ways to promote safety and protection of property value in Santa Monica is a conviction that those polices actually do promote safety and protection, when in fact they are the tools of segregation and exclusion.
In the recent years, across the country, we are witnessing a national movement of grassroots leaders pushing and advocating for all levels of Government to demonstrate commitment to the systematic change necessary to dismantle structures responsible for racial disparities and white supremacist policy.
Cities all over the country are realizing that communities lose their character when they lose their socio-economic and racial diversity and are taking time to reflect on the municipal and state-level decisions from the past that had the impact of significantly reducing the communities of color and Black people.
THEREFORE, THE CITY OF SANTA MONICA:
Apologizes to all African Americans who have lived in the city and endured racism engendered through government codes and racism tolerated by city policies.
Understands that real change will occur when all people recognize the impacts of systemic discrimination in the City of Santa Monica and recognizes and takes responsibility for personal and direct contributions to discrimination whether intentional or inadvertent, culminating with an apology that comes from both the City of Santa Monica, as well as every citizen enjoying her advantages.
Acknowledges over a century of racial injustice and discrimination against African Americans that have resulted in systemically racist policies that continue to exclude and discriminate against African Americans.
Recognizes the contributions and resilience of the African American community and its commitment to fostering reconciliation and friendship, and to protecting civil rights for all.
Resolves to rectify the lingering consequences of discriminatory city policies, and to use this Statement of Apology as a teaching moment for the public to move forward towards justice for all.
Commits to programs, policies, and investments that can educate the public about this history of discrimination and its ongoing consequences, and to ferreting out and overturning systemically racist policies to ensure that the pain caused by several decades of racial injustice and discrimination against African Americans and other people of color is mitigated to the extent possible.