LOS ANGELES - Founded in 1885, the Second Baptist Church has been a pioneer in the struggle for civil rights in Los Angeles. Located near Central Avenue, the Church was designed by Paul Williams, a renowned African American architect. Home congregation to pioneering activist Charlotta Bass, during the civil rights movement, the Church co-hosted two NAACP national conventions and Martin Luther King, Jr. regularly preached from its pulpit.
In the last several decades, the neighborhood around the church has changed dramatically. The new residents, largely immigrant Latinos, often struggle with issues of both working poverty and achieving a voice in civic affairs – exactly the challenges that faced an earlier generation of African American migrants who came from the South to Los Angeles to find new opportunities.
This is, of course, the story of much of South LA. And while the combination of rapid demographic change and ongoing economic stress has sometimes provoked conflicts around economic, political and cultural issues, it has also triggered a series of community-based efforts to build new relationships and work together for a more sustainable and inclusive Los Angeles.
Commissioned by Second Baptist, funded in part by the California Community Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, and the James Irvine Foundation, and conducted by USC’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration and Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, this report is another step in this process of relationship-building. The report seeks to acquaint Second Baptist with its neighbors’ needs and to lay out a series of potential actions and strategies for the church.
By collaborating to define its most productive role in a changing neighborhood, Second Baptist is demonstrating leadership not just for the community in which it is located but for other communities going through similar transitions and tribulations. But this is no surprise: with the civil rights movement in its institutional DNA, Second Baptist is now working to address the social justice and community building imperatives of the 21st century.