Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities

By Darnell Hunt; Ana-Christina Ramón | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Race, Space, and the Evolution of
Black Los Angeles

Paul Robinson

First elected in 1973, Tom Bradley is usually credited as the first black mayor of Los Angeles. But a more comprehensive history of the city must recognize that Francisco Reyes was actually the first. His term began in 1793, when the city was still under the Spanish flag. To be sure, the African presence in Los Angeles dates back to the city’s origins, and the story of the “Black City of Angels” has yet to be fully told. In this opening chapter, we journey through time to “map out” the spaces associated with the evolution of Black Los Angeles.


African Roots

Although there has long been recognition of the mixed Spanish, African and Native American origins of the first settlers in Los Angeles, there also has been a tendency for scholars to downplay the influence of their African and Native American roots, instead dwelling on their assimilation into the region’s Spanish heritage. The multiracial pueblo that was formed on the banks of the Los Angeles River in the late eighteenth century played an important role in the Spanish Empire’s northward expansion into “Alta California,” yet that role was obscured by early Anglo-American historians who made unsubstantiated charges of the laziness, ignorance and uselessness of the original inhabitants.1 These oversights and misrepresentations tended to overshadow the remarkable accomplishments of the society that developed on the western frontiers of the Spanish Empire. This multiracial society proved crucial to Spain’s colonial expansion into

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