Sharing L.A. Community Histories

L.A. as Subject

Thanks to generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the USC Libraries are collaborating with six Southern California archives, the L.A. as Subject research alliance, and the Center for Religion and Civic Culture and Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement at USC Dornsife College to digitize a wealth of photographs, video recordings, letters, documents, theatre playbills, and other unique items documenting many facets of Southern California history.

During the first year of the project, we digitized intriguing historical materials held by the Filipino American Library, the First African Methodist Episcopalian (FAME) Church of Los Angeles, Go for Broke National Education Center, the Southern California Library, and the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum. These items are now freely accessible via the USC Digital Library and will soon be accessible via the Digital Public Library of America and Calisphere. In the next months, we will be digitizing a number of historic photographs held by the Pasadena Museum of History. 

Among the highlights so far are video recordings of powerful sermons by Rev. Dr. Cecil Murray of the FAME Church reflecting on important moments in both Los Angeles and U.S. life like the 1992 civil unrest, the 1995 OJ Simpson trial, and the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. 

Also digitized were the records of the Emma Lazarus Jewish Women’s Clubs of Los Angeles held by the Southern California Library. The collection includes meeting minutes, correspondence, newsletters, flyers, and other materials documenting the civil rights activism of the clubs from the 1950s to 1980, their alliances with African-American civil rights organizations, and their advocacy on issues ranging from women’s rights to peace and labor issues. 

We also digitized and photographed items held by the Go for Broke National Education Center documenting the World War II service of Corporal Hiroshi Sugiyama, a medic who served with the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team until April 22, 1945, when he was killed in action by a sniper in Northern Italy. 

The collection includes Sugiyama’s photo albums, his posthumously awarded Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals, and his letters to family members who were incarcerated with other Japanese Americans from the San Francisco Bay Area in the Topaz concentration camp in Utah. We are now publishing video testimonies from other Japanese-American WWII veterans previously digitized by Go for Broke. 

Other highlights from the first year of the project are illustrated children’s books, publications, photographs, and reports collected by the Filipino American Library since 1985. These document the experiences and life worlds of Filipino Americans in Los Angeles, including the increased numbers of immigrants arriving after the 1965 Immigration Act removed national-origin quotas.

Among the most recently digitized items are a wealth of 19th and early 20th century postcards, photographs, handbills, and ephemera from the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum offering tantalizing glimpses of daily life in neighborhoods and communities across Los Angeles. 

In the coming weeks and months, metadata librarian Zoë Nissen will be sharing some of the unique, historically important items selected for this project by the six archives and historical collections participating in this project.