Academic journal article The Journal of African American History

"The Newest Religious Sect Has Started in Los Angeles": Race, Class, Ethnicity, and the Origins of the Pentecostal Movement, 1906-1913

Academic journal article The Journal of African American History

"The Newest Religious Sect Has Started in Los Angeles": Race, Class, Ethnicity, and the Origins of the Pentecostal Movement, 1906-1913

Article excerpt

When the well-respected scholar and editor W. E. B. Du Bois arrived in Los Angeles, California, in May 1913 as the guest of African Wesley Chapel, one of the elite African American churches in the city, it was estimated that more than two thousand people--African Americans, other people of color, and even some whites--were there to greet him; and over the next week they showed him westerners' grand hospitality. Subsequently, he published in The Crisis magazine a detailed account of his visit to various parts of the "Golden State." Du Bois was greatly impressed by the accomplishments of the African Americans he met, and he believed he had found in the City of Angels something unique and special about the nature of race relations: "One never forgets Los Angeles and Pasadena: the sensuous beauty of roses and orange blossoms, the air and the sunlight and the hospitality of all its races linger on." Du Bois deemed Los Angeles among the best places for African Americans to live in the entire nation because of the relative freedom from overt discrimination in housing, employment, and the political arena. (1)

Du Bois arrived in the city on the eve of World War I and observed certain differences between black Angelenos and African Americans across the country. The city's vibrant social and political environment was comprised of not just black--white interactions, but a range of multiethnic relations involving Anglo and African Americans, Native and Mexican Americans, and European and Asian immigrants. (2) Race relations in the South were bifurcated, but Du Bois found African Americans in Los Angeles working and living alongside Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, and European immigrants, and other people from all over the world. Du Bois traveled throughout California and conducted an unofficial field study that many researchers believe was the first sociological study of African Americans in that state by an African American scholar. (3)

Du Bois found that Los Angeles had a pleasant and healthful climate that seemed to have a positive effect on the residents because Angelenos were hospitable and African Americans were "pushing [forward] and energetic." (4) Agricultural and industrial workers as well as small business owners had beautiful homes, and they lived and worked with other people of color. Du Bois also reported that black Angelenos working together had created many employment and business opportunities for themselves. (5) Du Bois focused primarily on the African American professional and business elites who had organized day nurseries, homes for working girls, and other charitable and self-help organizations. He actually toured the businesses owned and operated by African Americans throughout the city, particularly in the downtown area. (6)

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Du Bois also commented on racist practices and segregation in Los Angeles. The Anglo-owned hotels and restaurants and some local storeowners refused service or discriminated against African Americans. In the face of such discrimination, Du Bois reported that African Americans regularly challenged the practices: "Black folk are fighters and not followers of the doctrine of surrender." (7) However, he understood that race relations in California were much more complex. DuBois observed, "Here, I had my first sight on the Pacific and realized how California faces the newest color problem, the problem of the relation of the Orient and Occident. The colored people of California do not realize the bigness of this problem and their own logical position." (8)

With immigrants arriving daily from around the world, California had become a crossroads for clashing cultures and economic conflicts. Du Bois recognized the potential competition coming from people of Asian descent, particularly Japanese immigrants, in business and labor. He first noticed this competition in San Diego along the harbor, but he also observed it in other parts of the state. …

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