Timeline of Racial Inequities in Long Beach
Knowing our local history allows us to understand the root causes of inequities, learn from our past, and together build a future where we all can thrive.
Indigenous People of Long Beach. Indigenous Californians made up countless villages and tribal affiliations with rich cultures and traditions. The Tongva tribe lived across what is now Southern California. In addition to two other major settlements in Long Beach, excavations on the Long Beach State University campus revealed that the Tongva tribe lived in Puvungna, a large village and important ceremonial site.
European Settlers. In 1542, Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo saw smoke rising from Tongva villages and officially claimed the land for Spain. In 1784, Spanish War veteran Jose Manuel Nieto was granted 300,000 acres of land that was later divided into smaller areas, including Rancho Los Cerritos and Rancho Los Alamitos. Settlement on Tongva land brought new diseases, causing the death and displacement of many indigenous people.
Discrimination Against Chinese Americans. Long Beach newspapers exacerbated local anti-Chinese sentiments by limiting coverage of the Chinese American community to articles involving violence, opium abuse, gambling and murder. In 1887 an ordinance passed declaring Chinese laundries a nuisance, ordering them to move to the outskirts of Long Beach.
Racism in Long Beach. At the turn of the 20th century, many African Americans migrated to the West Coast seeking refuge from the racism and violence of the South. In 1919, African American residents in Long Beach protested a popular game at the Pike called “Drowning the [N-word]” in which players would throw a ball at a target to dunk a black man into a tank of water. Despite their efforts to remove it, the game remained at the Pike into the 1950’s. Additionally, the Ku Klux Klan emerged as a powerful force in Long Beach in the 1920’s. The Klan held open rallies and events in Long Beach, including a 1926 parade of 30,000 Klansmen that started in Bixby Park and marched down Ocean Blvd.
The next ten years would see the rise of White resistance to the efforts of Black residents to secure rental and housing ownership in Long Beach. From complaints that Whites who would rent or sell to Blacks were doing it “to get even with neighbors,” to outright defiance and threats of force when the Second Baptist Church moved to the property it had purchased at 10th Street and Atlantic Avenue. Parents of White high school students were opposed to the move on the basis that their children would have to pass through a “colored settlement on their way to school.” Meanwhile, White residents of Westside in Long Beach sought the approval of City Council to prevent W.E. Meyers from building a “Colored Coney Island” in an area that was annually leased to Blacks for picnics and outings.
Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in Long Beach. The KKK had an active presence in Long Beach, including the 1926 annual convention in which 30,000 Klan members openly marched down Ocean Boulevard—about 5,000 of whom were local.
Mexican Repatriation. During the hard years of the Great Depression, approximately 1 million Mexican immigrants and native-born Americans of Mexican descent were forced to leave the United States for Mexico. This still largely unknown episode in US history is usually referred to as “Mexican repatriation.” Repatriation occurred across many different states, with an estimated 75,000 people forced from Southern California to Mexico during this period, an estimated 60% of whom were U.S. Citizens.
Redlining and Racial Covenants. In 1934 the Federal Housing Association and private banks implemented redlining, which restricted loans based on the racial makeup of the neighborhood. Central Long Beach - where many people of color lived - was a redlined neighborhood, deemed too risky for investment by lenders. During this same time, deed restrictions prohibited the purchase, lease, or occupation of property by anybody who wasn’t white. These restrictions were common in parts of East Long Beach, Bixby Knolls, and Lakewood.
WWII Internment Camps & Anti-Japanese Sentiments. Anti-Japanese sentiments reached an all-time high after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. The day after the bombing, 300 local Japanese residents were detained. In late December President Roosevelt signed an executive order to forcibly relocate all Japanese Americans to internment camps. The Terminal Island residents were forced to leave businesses they'd built over generations behind. They resided in camp until World War II ended.
Chicano Movement in Long Beach. In 1968, as part of the broader Chicano Movement, Latino students from Poly High School organized a walkout protesting the lack of diverse representation in their faculty and curriculum. Many of these students continued to be a part of the civil rights movement as they went onto to CSULB and advocated for the creation of one of the first Chicano Studies Departments in the state.
Civil Rights Movement in Long Beach. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) played a key role in civil rights movement in Long Beach. They advocated against discriminatory housing policies including redlining and deed restrictions. They have also championed local policy reform in law enforcement, education, economic development, and employment.
Civil Unrest at High Schools. Student unrest at Polytechnic High School, resulting from racial hostilities, led to the formation of an interracial group that laid the foundation for the eventual establishment of the Long Beach Human Relations Commission.
Cambodian Refugees. In 1975, the first wave of Cambodian refugees arrived in Long Beach to escape the Khmer Rouge, which took the lives of more than a million people during a bloody civil war. The refugee population grew, and the city became home to the largest Cambodian population outside of Cambodia. The refugees created a vibrant commercial district amid the rows of shops in central Long Beach.
1992 Los Angeles Uprising. A civil unrest broke out in 1992 after four white police officers were acquitted of assault in the famously videotaped beating of Rodney King, an African American man. The uprising quickly spread to Long Beach, where fires burned along Long Beach Boulevard, Anaheim Street, Pacific Coast Highway and Fourth Street. Angry residents destroyed buildings with rocks or set them aflame. The uprising in Long Beach resulted in one death, 361 injuries, 1,175 arrests and 340 structure fires, with the estimated total damages at $18 million.
#BlackLivesMatter Movement. The Black Lives Matter movement began as a hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenager killed in Florida in July 2013. The movement became more widely known and popularized after two high-profile deaths in 2014 of unarmed African-American men (Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY and Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO). On May 25, 2020, video footage of the killing of George Floyd, by four police officers in Minneapolis, circulated every news and media platform. The video sparked outrage in cities across the country and world, including Long Beach, and brought communities together in protest of police violence and systemic racism.
Want to help shape our history?
The City of Long Beach is updating its Historic Context Statement and preparing its first ever historic context statement focused on Race and Suburbanization. These documents will guide future planning and land use decisions and will be rooted in a deeper understanding of the City’s history and evolution, including the communities of color that have helped shape it.
“History Matters LB” is the project and “Mark the Map” is the tool we’ve created for you to share your stories with us. Through “Mark the Map,” you'll be able to contribute the stories about the places you care about that will inform this effort! Your story of the people and places of Long Beach is the story of Long Beach."