Join the project historian and artist on February 16, 2021 for a discussion about the history and new art commemorating South Santa Monica African American neighborhoods, including Historic Belmar Park, a once-thriving community that was displaced in the 1950s.
Alison Rose Jefferson examines how African Americans pioneered America’s “frontier of leisure” by creating communities and business projects in Southern California during the nation’s Jim Crow era.
Early African American Pioneers Seeking Their Golden State Dreams
This photograph is of the original Phillips Chapel Church building at Fourth and Bay Streets in Santa Monica, California with the participants of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church Sunday School Convention of the Los Angeles District (1909). This was the first building for Phillips Chapel and the CME Church denomination west of Texas. Shown in front are Bishop Charles H. Phillips (center right foreground, denoted with the number 1) and the first pastor, Rev. James A. Stout (left foreground, denoted with the number 2). Santa Monica Public Library Collection
The first African Americans settled in Santa Monica in the late nineteenth century, joining Chinese, Latino, Japanese, old Californios and new Mexicans, Anglo Americans, Jews, and immigrants of other nationalities in building the new city. Most African Americans migrated from southern states, attracted by the climate, employment and escape from Jim Crow laws and practices. Seduced by the recreation and economic opportunities of the sand and surf resort town, the early African American pioneers came to seek their Golden State dreams, just like other migrants to the region.
The earliest African American community was clustered around Fourth and Bay with the Phillips Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church as its spiritual and institutional center. The building itself was originally the Washington School, located at Fourth and Ashland Streets. After fire damaged the school in 1908, it was bought and moved to Fourth and Bay, where it was reborn as the first African American house of worship in Santa Monica. The Chapel has 11 stained glass windows commemorating some of the prominent families who attended the church. In 2005, Phillips Chapel was designated as a city of Santa Monica landmark.
Beyond developing her own research, writing, and public program projects, Alison Rose Jefferson, M.H.C. | Ph.D., is available for freelance or consulting work.