Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Revisiting the Valley, in Dr. King's time

San Fernando Valley map, March 2008
San Fernando Valley map, March 2008
Photo by grabadonut/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Among the favorite pieces I've read in recent days is the transcript of Kevin Roderick's weekly column for KCRW that aired earlier this week. Roderick, who edits LA Observed, reported on the 50th anniversary last weekend of a visit that Martin Luther King, Jr. made to what was then the remote west end of the San Fernando Valley. Invited by a white pastor, King delivered two sermons at a small church in Woodland Hills, and spoke about integration at Canoga Park High School.

What stands out is how Roderick places King's visit in the context of early 1960s Valley history, when this part of the region was, as he writes, "a place where if any blacks lived then, they were mostly alone." The piece continues:

The valley then wasn't the suburban melting pot we know today, filled with immigrants from Latin America, Korea, Armenia, South Asia.

There were no weekend cricket matches in valley parks in those days. No black Baptist churches. No black students at all in the public schools in the west valley.

And that was no accident of history.

When the wheat fields were first subdivided into yards and suburban homes, the deeds stipulated that the land could never be sold or rented to anyone of African, Chinese or Japanese descent.

Those covenants were also used to limit where Mexican Americans could live. In the first years of Canoga Park, the field workers whose families might have been in the valley for half a century were confined to a section called Cholo Town.

It's hard to imagine such a place existed in the polyglot Valley we know today. But then the changes that have occurred since King's time have not been an accident of history, either.

It's a moving tribute to King's legacy. There's also a link to an audio clip of King's January 1961 Canoga Park speech, posted last weekend in the Los Angeles Daily News.