History: More Than 90 Years of Serving Our Community
The United States took control of California in 1840. Since California was a slave-free state, all of the settlers were treated as citizens and got along quite well, which was a powerful inducement for fugitive slaves. The African American population grew from 26 in 1781 to 102 by 1879. In 1781, of the 44 settlers who formed an outpost in Spanish-held California, 26 of them were either of full-blooded or part African descent. Between 1880 and 1900, the African American population increased to 2,131.
The Los Angeles Urban League - The Beginning
During World War I, California was booming with industrial growth. Between 1912 and 1914, many white Southerners migrated to Los Angeles, bringing with them their racial bigotry and disdain for African Americans.
During the 1920s, Los Angeles became the fastest growing major city in the United States. Women wore knee-length skirts and smoked cigarettes in public. Disgruntled by the myths that life would be different in the North, many African Americans began to migrate west in search of a life free of segregation and discrimination. Although there were more jobs for the educated Negro in Los Angeles, they were still relegated to the most menial tasks. By the end of World War I, there were 18,000 Negroes living in Los Angeles.
The Tuskegee Industrial Welfare League was organized in April 1921 in Los Angeles by Dr. A. C. Garrott , a black dentist, and Katherine J. Barr, First Executive Secretary, to help Negroes participate to the fullest extent in American life by helping to change the social and economic conditions of their environment.
In June 1921, the Tuskegee Industrial Welfare League merged with the National Urban League and became known as the Los Angeles Urban League (LAUL) with Katherine Barr as its first President. Under her leadership, the Urban League developed a professional and business-like approach to its mission and objectives. As a result, the organization was able to effect change expediently with winning results.
Always looking for an opportunity to create a broader financial base for operating funds, the LAUL became a Charter Member of the Los Angeles Community Chest in 1925, now known as the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. This federation created the kind of public confidence needed to solicit additional funds and served as a testimonial to the Los Angeles Urban League’s well organized business-like structure. Katherine Barr continued to serve as the LAUL Executive Director until 1929 when the stock market crashed.
In 1930, Lester Granger became President of the Los Angeles Urban League. The tragedy of the Depression did not alter the focus of the Urban League, as it continued to initiate programs to promote equity in hiring practices and opportunities for employment. In addition, the LAUL provided food, clothing, legal and medical services to the unemployed and disadvantaged Negro. Granger left his post in 1931 and later became Executive Director of the National Urban League headquartered in New York City.