Do You Remember San Pedro Once Had Black Culture?

Do You Remember San Pedro Once Had Black Culture?

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. 


  1. Of course “black culture” will never return to Pedro. Much like the rest of Los Angeles outside of Leimert Park, it’s just not always a good fit for us, even when we do actually live in the very neighbourhoods where “Afro-Americans” (geez, is the author of this article stuck in a time warp?) where our mere presence is questioned. Speaking from personal experience, that includes San Pedro. It shouldn’t be too difficult a job to discern which ethnicity has largely replaced caucasians atop the we-don’t-like-nor-want-blacks-around-here pyramid. But, I get it. We’re not supposed to talk about that.

  2. This is such a shit article written by someone with a liberal arts degree. Who TF calls African Americans people walking down the streets “a curiosity.” Whoever wrote this should hang up their hopes of ever being a journalist. You belong on Reddit in /2xchromosomes.

    • Mark Hicks i remember alot about the Black that lives in banning home and black hill and know hill here in San Pedro and one thing that has always been and will stay here is June teen our ancestor started that and we celebrated every year at peck park

  3. Well being a transplant of San Pedro I noticed like many other neighborhoods across the country , the real issue lies in the vanishing sector of working and middle class families. One cannot simply afford a home at the current market rate. Inflation of prices but deflation of income have set the standards for a missing culture that strive to be included in society.

  4. Given the fact that the actual founding residents of El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles were a mixed group of Native, Black and Mulatto Spanish speakers, all Mexican, given the subsequent ongoing migrations from Mexico, the many Blacks in the Gold Rush, slave and free( I could go on) it is false to state that the origins of Black people in San Pedro date from the 40’s or 50’s. These statements are as absurd as saying Blacks walking down the street are a “curiosity”. Not in my neighborhood near Taper Avenue School , not anywhere in San Pedro where I go on a daily basis and see Black men, women and children just living the Pedro (not Peedro) life. I refuse have my family portrayed as victims or some “curious” subculture that is dying out or moving out, just so that it fits in with your sentimental narrative ( Johnny B. Goode, indeed !) Open your eyes, look around you. Black history and culture IS American history and culture, and that has always and will always include San Pedro. Do I wish Leo’s was still on 1st and Gaffey ? Yes, I do. But I miss Ramonas Bakery and Licatas, too. Times change, places and people come and go. But please, don’t insult our intelligence with this failed attempt at clever writing based on blatant sentimentality and absolute falsehoods. Using phrases like “over yonder” and
    “promised land” suggests Spirituals based on the Bible, a far cry from and diametrically opposed to anything a real “bluesman” would sing about.
    So, this article begs the question…did ANYONE read this before it was published/posted ?

    • Why do you feel the need to shut down any Biblical references? I know many A Bluesman that sing wonderfully about that using those phrases.

  5. Brother John Gray, I truly appreciated your words about the Black Culture of San Pedro. My great-uncle, Mr. Allen Sauls, ran the hotel above the 409 Club, and was the Bartender. My mother and her four little boys (Kennard, Winford, Henry, and Lawrence) lived in that hotel during one of the most difficult times in our lives. Beacon Street and its adjacent alleyways provided an ever changing menu of sounds, smells and personalities that I have carried proudly for sixty-three years. So, I thank you for pressing that video retrieval button in my mind. Now, I’m going to kick back and enjoy the show.


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