Timeline: South Central Los Angeles
From an icon of African American home ownership to a symbol of urban blight and gang violence, the area known as South Central Los Angeles has experienced dramatic changes over the last half-century: in its population, its economy and even its name.
View a timeline of South Central’s varied past, including events that contributed to the rise of its notorious gangs: the Crips and the Bloods.
World War II: African American Migration
1940 to 1944
Passed in 1941, Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8801 bans racial discrimination in wartime defense industries. Jobs open up in the growing industrial sector, and African Americans are able to fill them. Companies such as Goodyear, Firestone, Chrysler and Ford all set up factories in South Los Angeles.
Between 1940 and 1970, five million African Americans leave the heavily segregated South for cities in the North and West. During this time, Los Angeles’s black population grows from 63,744 to nearly 736,000.
The Birth of South Central
1944 to 1948
L.A.’s black population is booming, and Central Avenue is its nexus, home to black-owned businesses and a thriving jazz and R&B music scene.
The newly named “South Central” is the only district in the city where African Americans can own property. Racially restrictive housing covenants, enforced by the law, police authorities and white homeowners, keep L.A.’s schools and communities strictly segregated and deny people of color the right to home ownership.
Housing projects, initially built for war industry employees, and planned with racial integration in mind, begin to populate the South L.A. neighborhood of Watts. Larger projects, such as Imperial Courts and Jordan Downs (both built in 1944), have a majority of African Americans living in them.
Shelley v. Kraemer
African Americans achieve victory after challenging legal housing discrimination for years. In Shelley v. Kraemer, the Supreme Court forbids legally enforced, racially restrictive housing covenants. In Los Angeles, African Americans are able to move to new areas outside of the increasingly overcrowded main section of South Central. However, the growth of L.A.’s freeway system and racially based “blockbusting” maintains neighborhood segregation, while whites begin to move to the suburbs.
Street Clubs Form
In response to white violence against blacks who venture into white neighborhoods, young black Angelenos form street clubs like the Devil Hunters, the Farmers and the Huns. White gangs and black gangs fight in racially morphing neighborhoods in South Los Angeles, with many of the gangs geographically organized by housing projects.
Nickerson Gardens Built
With 1,100 units, Watts’s Nickerson Gardens is the city’s largest public housing project to date, and the largest west of the Mississippi River. By the end of the 1950s, more than a third of Watts residents live in public housing, and the formerly separate districts of Watts, West Adams and Central Avenue are all known as part of South Central.
Civil Rights Act Passes
The U.S. government passes the pivotal Civil Rights Act, which bans racial segregation in the workplace, in schools and in public spaces. But some states, including California, create their own laws to evade the Act’s demand for fair housing, thus maintaining segregation in America’s cities.
August 11, 1965
A police officer pulls over 21-year-old Watts resident Marquette Frye on suspicion of drunk driving. Frye, his mother, and his brother are all taken into police custody, and with long-simmering frustrations over police brutality, the neighborhood erupts in violence. Over the span of six days, crowds of residents face off against hundreds of L.A. police officers and 16,000 National Guard members. More than 34 people die, 1,000 are wounded and millions of dollars worth of property is damaged.
1965 to 1970
Following the Watts Riots, black street clubs in South L.A. begin to unite and organize politically against police brutality. The Black Power Movement gains strength nationally, and violent gang activity decreases in L.A., as former members of gangs like the Slausons join up with the Black Panther Party (BPP), the US Organization and other socially conscious groups.
The FBI, working with the Los Angeles Police Department, feels threatened by the strength and numbers of Black Nationalist groups and intimidates, incarcerates and assassinates many of the movement’s leaders. The FBI’s COINTELPRO program incites violence between US and the BPP, resulting in the murders of two of L.A. BPP leaders in 1969.
South Central Declines
As America’s economy shifts from an industrial and manufacturing base to the service sector, factories start to leave L.A. and job opportunities decline for African American workers. Coupled with white residents leaving for the suburbs, South Central enters a period of economic decline.
1971 to 1972
With many black political leaders now imprisoned or marginalized, African American youth in South Central are left without role models in the community, and the number of street gangs increases. A gang called the Baby Avenues is started by 15-year-old Raymond Washington, in emulation of the Black Panthers and to fill the void left by the waning Black Power movement. Due to its members’ youthfulness, the gang becomes known as the Avenue Cribs, which later morphs into “Crips.”
1972 to 1975
Violence grows in South Central between the Crips and other gangs, and fist fighting gives way to guns. The Piru Street Boys in Compton meet with several other non-Crip gangs and form a new alliance that becomes known as the Bloods.
In 1972, there are 10 more gangs in South Central, and a then-unprecedented 29 gang-related murders in the city. By 1974 there are 70 gang-related homicides, and the Crips and Bloods are active in Los Angeles, Compton and Inglewood, in an area totaling nearly 30 square miles.
Raymond Washington Dies
August 9, 1979
Crips founder Raymond Washington is shot and killed on San Pedro and 64th Street in South Central. He is 25 years old. The murder remains unsolved.
Between 1978 and 1982, 101 new African American gangs will form in Los Angeles. During this same period, 70,000 workers will be laid off in South L.A.
L.A. County will have 30,000 active gang members by 1980.
Crack cocaine is introduced to South Central, eventually devastating a community that is already in crisis. Over the next decade, the Bloods and the Crips will become more and more involved in the drug’s production and trade, leading to more violence and decimating the neighborhood. The gangs’ reach and power will extend to other urban areas as well as many suburban areas throughout the United States. Nationwide, the incarceration rate will skyrocket.
Boyz N the Hood
Written and directed by South Central native John Singleton, and starring South Central native Ice Cube, this Oscar-nominated film tells the story of three friends growing up in the neighborhood and offers a portrait of inner-city life. Along with albums like N.W.A.’s "Straight Outta Compton" and films like Menace II Society, Boyz N the Hood puts South Central on the map for the rest of the country and cements its tough reputation.
On April 29th, a jury without a single African American member issues a verdict of “not guilty on all counts” in the case of four L.A. police officers who brutally beat an unarmed black motorist named Rodney King. Five miles away from the site of the 1965 Watts rebellion, at the South Central intersection of Normandie Avenue and Florence Boulevard, angry protests against the officers’ acquittals break out. The protests turn to violence; in the span of three days, 58 people die, hundreds are injured, thousands are arrested and about a billion dollars’ worth of property is damaged. The National Guard is called in and the nation’s spotlight is on South Central.
In 1992, there are 803 gang-related homicides in L.A., and South Central becomes a symbol of urban blight and gang violence.
The Truce and Rebulld L.A.
1992 to 1993
The 1992 uprising spurs a tentative truce between several Bloods and Crips factions. A six-billion-dollar investment program called Rebuild L.A. is created, promising 74,000 new jobs in South Central. But these jobs do not materialize, and the program shuts down within a year.
The truce, which involves 12,000 African American gang members in Watts, doesn’t last either. By October, truce leader Dewayne Holmes is in jail, sentenced for seven years for allegedly stealing 10 dollars. However, there is a reduction in gang-related homicides, and in 1993, a national gang peace summit is held in Chicago with hundreds of former and current gang members attending from different cities across the country.
By the mid-1990s, there are 650,000 gang members in the U.S. and 150,000 in Los Angeles County alone. Blood and Crip gang factions are found throughout the U.S. as well as abroad.
Los Angeles’s racial makeup is shifting. According to the 2000 Census, South Central is now 47 percent Latino—its black population declining by nearly half in the past decade. In 1996 there were more than 600 Latino gangs in Los Angeles County, as well as a quickly growing Asian gang population of 20,000. In South Central, tensions between African American and Latino gangs are on the rise, and with it, racially provoked gang violence.
South Central Becomes South Los Angeles
The Los Angeles City Council votes to change the area’s name from South Central to South Los Angeles, in an effort to counteract its negative stigma. Opinion is divided in the 16-square mile district as to whether the name change will help change attitudes and contribute to positive actions, or whether it is merely a superficial move.
Prison Rates Growing
2003 to 2005
Harsher sentencing laws, a flawed “war on drugs” and other socioeconomic factors result in South L.A. being disproportionally affected by rising imprisonment rates. In 2003, one in four African American men are found to be sent to prison in their lifetime; California also has the largest number of female prisoners in the U.S.—the majority of whom are mothers of young children.
In 2005, South L.A. has the largest number of prison releases in the city. Even though the area contains 10 percent of the city’s population, it is home to one out of four of its prison parolees.
Watts Gang Injunctions
2004 to 2007
Gang violence in Watts, which is mainly centered around its sprawling public housing projects, is again on the uptick. In January 2006 alone, there are 19 gang-related shootings and seven deaths within the Jordan Downs housing complex. Generations of project residents have gone without jobs and economic opportunities and 75 percent of the neighborhood’s adult African American males will be incarcerated in their lifetimes. Watts residents have a 1 in 250 chance of being murdered—in comparison to 1 in 18,000 for average Americans—and nearly half of the neighborhood’s children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The L.A. police department responds by putting an injunction against the Bounty Hunter Bloods in 2004 and the Grape Street Crips in 2006, forbidding gang members from gathering. While homicide rates eventually drop, residents criticize police for making countless wrongful arrests.
Stanley Williams Executed
Stanley “Tookie” Williams, one of the founders of the West Side Crips in the early 1970s, is executed on December 13 by the state of California. Convicted of four homicides, Williams spent more than two decades on death row, where he became an outspoken anti-gang advocate and author, and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize three times.
South Central Today
2008 to 2009
In 2008, homicide rates in Los Angeles are at a 40-year low, totaling 392. The area now known as South Los Angeles spans about 60 square miles, with a population of 885,000 people. There are twice as many Latino residents than there are African Americans, and 40 percent of the neighborhood is foreign-born.
The neighborhood still suffers from gang violence and poverty. Since 1990, nearly one-third of South L.A. residents have been living below the poverty line, mere miles from some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Joblessness remains rampant. Efforts to revitalize South L.A. include the construction of new business districts and shopping centers.