By John Gray, Contributor
I am going over yonder. That’s what all the bluesmen say. That was the sentiment in the 1940s and 1950s when migrations of Afro-Americans left the Southern United States for more opportunities for themselves and their children. Many headed for and settled in the promised land of San Pedro, California. They had mostly come from Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.
The new San Pedrans found residence in workforce housing in the northwest section of the city. Others found housing on North Beacon Street. Adults found employment at Todd Shipyard, fish canneries, hand car washes and as custodians at local hospitals. Some started small businesses. Remember Charlie Whites Shine Shoe Stand at 6th and Pacific and 6th and Clarence Green’s stand at 14th and Pacific? There was Lawrence Harvey’s barber shop at 5th and Palos Verdes street and Johnson’s barber shop at 4th Street and Harbor Boulevard.
In the neighborhoods, radio stations played rhythm and blues music all day every day and the aroma of Southern cooked food permeated the air. In a place we referred to as downtown, there were the nightclubs black residents frequented. The ABC Club on North Beacon, the Senate Club on Fifth Street (It later became the Harlem Hot Spot). And then there was the notorious 409 Club on Beacon Street. It was known for its rowdy crowd and numerous law enforcement contacts. It was all part of San Pedro’s black culture.
San Pedro’s black culture has moved on to other communities. It has disappeared and it seems nobody knows where it went. The anecdotal guess is that in the 1970s and 1980s San Pedro’s second and third generations of young Afro-Americans matured to adulthood and required responsible employment and affordable housing–neither of which could be provided by San Pedro.
The newer Afro-American adults were left with little choice but to leave Peedro for suitable locations to raise families. The recipients were Carson, Compton, Gardena and Los Angeles. Others would go onto Cerritos, Moreno Valley and Riverside. Thus Afro-Americans are a curiosity when seen walking the streets of San pedro. The dream that Afro-American migrants brought with them is gone. Do younger folks in San Pedro know there was once a thriving black culture in San Pedro?
Is it important to have a black culture? Yes, because it celebrates differences in a positive manner. A culture allows one to speak the same emotional behavioral language. It’s good because it allows one to feel at home. Will black culture ever return to San Pedro? Probably not. But there once was a real black culture in Peedro. We need you. Come back the Browns, Whites and Greens, come back Johnny B. Goode.