A look at LA's rich history of African Americans on Central Avenue

The Angels Walk Los Angeles tour has been in the works over a decade. The 1.6 mile stretch of Central Avenue is filled with 15 different historical sites, created to tell stories of those who built a strong, dynamic community for African-American residents.

Video Transcript

- For decades, Central Avenue in South LA was the heart of Black Los Angeles. Economically vibrant and culturally important, it was one of the hottest jazz spots in the entire country. That history has largely been forgotten.

But now it's being brought back to life with Angels Walk Central Avenue and our Leo Stallworth takes us for a walk.

MICHAEL HARRIS: Central Avenue was the only place in California that Blacks could even live. So this is the base of the Black community.

LEO STALLWORTH: The rich history of Central Avenue in Los Angeles includes the Lincoln Theater, where brilliant African-American artists like Lionel Hampton performed. The dancing legend and performer Jellybean Johnson wowed audiences in the 1930s. And other legendary African-American artists showcased their talents.

In 1935, famed white comedian Jack Benny emceed a fundraiser at the theater raising funds for the NAACP.

MICHAEL HARRIS: It was known as the Black Mecca of the Black community.

CURREN PRICE: Central Avenue is certainly a multicultural, multi-ethnic, vibrant community in South LA.

LEO STALLWORTH: The city working to create the Angels Walk Los Angeles tour for over a decade. The 1.6 mile stretch of Central Avenue filled with 15 different historical sites dating back to the 1920s and '40s. The work creating the tour completed a few weeks ago and includes the first YMCA west of the Mississippi allowing Blacks as customers. It was known as the colored branch.

CURREN PRICE: Now some of you may be saying, well, gee whiz what is Angels Walk Central Avenue? It's going to be a walking trail on Central Avenue roughly from Adams to Vernon. It's going to tell the story of LA by taking you back in time.

LEO STALLWORTH: There's even a pamphlet available for a self-guided tour. In the pamphlet, a 1940 census data map titled Distribution of Negroes primarily focusing on Central Avenue.

TRACEY LAND: We're very honored and excited to be here today to celebrate the completion of Angels Walk Central Avenue.

MICHAEL HARRIS: To us, it was paradise. Because at the time, the community was strong.

TRACEY LAND: The stories needed to be told of those who despite racial injustice built an incredibly strong and dynamic community, one that flourished economically, socially and culturally.