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Our View: A look back at the SCV’s black history

Posted: February 10, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 10, 2012 1:55 a.m.
 

We take February every year to celebrate and commemorate the contributions and important milestones made by black Americans, which help make this country what it is today.

There is much to celebrate and appreciate during Black History Month, both locally and nationally. An exhibit earlier this month at William S. Hart Park celebrated African-American history and artwork, and also included historical and artistic displays representing the diversity of other cultures. The exhibit’s organizer said the display was designed to look at cultural differences across the board so that we could see our differences as well as our similarities.

Although some people may not realize it, the experience of black Americans has touched the Santa Clarita Valley greatly over the years.

Val Verde was once a resort town of sorts for black people — nicknamed the “black Palm Springs” during the 1920s and up through the ’50s — because segregation laws in Los Angeles kept black families from partaking in the jazz-age nightlife and family recreation, including parks and pools during the hot summer months.

Because of racial tensions, black shops were often vandalized or torched in Los Angeles, so Val Verde became a safe haven for families and businesses trying to make lives for themselves in Southern California. Several black-owned hotels, restaurants, stores and homes dotted the landscape as the years rolled on.

By the late 1930s, Val Verde was granted 50 acres and funding for a park, clubhouse and public swimming pool — the grand opening of which was attended by black film stars Louise Beavers and Hattie McDaniel, who was the first black actress to win an Academy Award for her supporting role in “Gone with the Wind.”

With the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, greater parts of Los Angeles finally became open to blacks. And with it, the opportunities and closer proximity to the proverbial heart of Southern California drew in many residents of “black Palm Springs,” changing its demographics from primarily African American to today’s more Latino majority.

Though the history of Val Verde didn’t make national headlines, and there’s not much evidence of what the town stood for in the dark times of segregation, it has deep meaning in not only the history of the area but also the nation.

Its existence also provides one way that Black History Month can touch the lives of all Santa Clarita Valley residents no matter what race or ethnicity we belong to.

February isn’t just about what’s important to black people from years past, but how blacks shaped the history, present and future of America — the SCV included.

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