New Digital Resources for L.A. Community Histories

L.A. as Subject

With generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy Demands Wisdom, the USC Libraries recently completed a three-year project to collaboratively build digital collections with community archives partners from the L.A. as Subject research alliance: the Filipino American Library, the FAME Church of Los Angeles, Go for Broke National Education Center, the Pasadena Museum of History, the Southern California Library, the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, and the Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture at USC Dornsife College.

The new digital collections include 15,755 pages of paper records such as broadsides, posters, correspondence, postcards, and ephemera; 1,000 historic photographs; 2,000 video recordings totaling 3,155 hours; and photographs of 95 cultural objects. The archival resources document the lived experiences and perspectives of African American, Asian American, Jewish, and Mexican American communities in Southern California from the late 1800s to the present and are freely accessible online via the USC Digital Library, Calisphere, Digital Public Library of America, and websites maintained by the participating community archives.

The Filipino American Library contributed lantern slides, bound volumes, photographic prints, maps, and loose printed materials that all reveal the Filipino American experience spanning life in the Philippines, contributions by Filipino Americans in the World War II effort, and the acculturation and growth of the Filipino American community in Southern California. In addition to bilingual children’s books created for recent Filipino immigrants, the collection includes photographic portraits of prominent figures like Olympic wrestler, lawyer, and Monterey Park mayor G. Monty Manibog.

The FAME Church of Los Angeles and the Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture contributed 531 original VHS recordings of sermons by the Reverend Cecil “Chip” Murray from the pulpit of the FAME Church. These capture the messages Murray gave his congregation after pivotal moments in U.S. life, such as the acquittal of the LAPD officers captured on video beating Rodney King. These sermons, delivered with passion, humor, and insights into the structural inequalities that led to events like the 1992 L.A. civil unrest, are a record of important events interpreted through the lens of Murray’s socially engaged African American Christianity.

Go for Broke National Education Center contributed 1,100 video recordings from the Hanashi Oral History program featuring interviews with Japanese American World War II veterans from the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team and other units. The recordings include interviews with 442nd veteran and Medal of Honor recipient (and, later, U.S. senator) Daniel Inouye as well as veterans who contributed to many other facets of the war effort, including Rose Uriyu of the U.S. Army’s 71st Signal Corps and Military Intelligence Service. Go for Broke also contributed a unique collection of personal items like Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals, eyeglasses, and a photo album belonging to Hiroshi Sugiyama, a medic who served with the 442nd until he was killed by a sniper in 1945 while helping a wounded fellow soldier.

The Pasadena Museum of History contributed its Black History Collection, which includes photographs, letters, family records, property deeds, ephemera, and many other unique materials tracing the growth of Pasadena’s African American community starting in the early 20th century. The items shed light on early Black-owned businesses in Pasadena and a less-visible period in Southern California Black life prior to the rapid growth of the Southland’s defense industry as part of the U.S. mobilization for World War II. Among the highlights are a collage and other unique items from the Hotel Carver, Pasadena’s first Black-owned hotel.

The Southern California Library contributed the records of the Emma Lazarus Jewish Women’s Clubs of Los Angeles, which feature meeting minutes, correspondence, newsletters, flyers, and other materials documenting the civil rights activism of the clubs from the 1950s to 1980, local and national alliances with African American civil rights organizations, and advocacy on issues ranging from women’s rights to peace and labor issues. One highlight was a signed thank you letter written by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. for a $25 donation from the Los Angeles-based club to the Montgomery Improvement Association three months after the start of the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott.

The Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum contributed photographs, postcards, and ephemera highlighting Mexican American, Chinese American, and Japanese American life in the Los Angeles region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among these items are broadsides from Mexican American vaudeville theatres in downtown Los Angeles during the 1920s and ephemera like a 1920s or 30s decorative hand fan from the Apex jazz nightclub on Central Avenue. Photographs depicting businesses, celebrations such as festivals and parades, and daily life in these early communities are also included in this collection. These materials are some of the rare traces of mass entertainment and community life of the region during this era, as much was lost in the rapid development of Los Angeles after World War II.

In addition to building digital collections that explore less-visible histories from the L.A. region, the NEH-supported project is helping to advance many of the participating organizations’ goals for connecting with their communities. These efforts include media productions with PBS and the History Channel by Go for Broke, a Black history digital collection by the Pasadena Museum of History, outreach and programs by the Filipino American Library and Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, and a remastered DVD set of Rev. Cecil Murray’s sermons while pastor of the FAME Church of Los Angeles by the Murray Center and CRCC.

Many of these participating organizations are active in the L.A. as Subject research alliance of 230 archives hosted by the USC Libraries. L.A. as Subject will present the 16th annual Los Angeles Archives Bazaar at Doheny Library on Oct. 23, 2021, while simultaneously offering a full complement of online programs exploring many facets of Southern California history.

A number of people played integral roles in the project, including Florante Ibanez at Filipino American Library, Linh Gavin Do and Anna Takada at Go for Broke National Education Center, Anuja Navare at Pasadena Museum of History, Michele Welsing at Southern California Library, Michelle Muro at Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, and Najuma Smith-Pollard and Nick Street of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, which coordinated closely with FAME Church of Los Angeles. The USC Libraries project team was led by Susan Luftschein and Deborah Holmes-Wong and included Giao Luong Baker, Rachel Mandell, Anastasia Paley, Zahid Rafique, Wayne Shoaf, Louise Smith, Tim Stanton, and Zoë Nissen—who worked intensively with personnel at the participating archives.

Disclaimer: Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the digital collections created through this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.