Culture

VENICE BLACK HISTORY AND THE OAKWOOD CHURCH

By Jon Wolff

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March 25, 2018 – Sunday 7pm – Seven Dudley Cinema at Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd VENICE BLACK HISTORY – Learn about the history of the black community in Venice, California through inspired and inspiring talks by Laddie Williams MC and Venice Elders. Delve deep into a story that has been long suppressed. Review photos from centuries past that reveal the bigger picture. Nurture community in Venice. Closing remarks by Mike Bravo.

Venice Black History Month was celebrated this year with exhibits and presentations at the Abbot Kinney Library on Venice Boulevard in Venice. Residents, activists, and supporters turned out to see the historic photographs of the Legacy of the African-American Community of Venice. They also listened to the speakers tell the History of Venice that is somehow omitted from the history books written about Venice. There was a certain energy at the celebrations that can only be experienced here in Venice. And, foremost in the celebrations, was the topic of the First Baptist Church on 7th Avenue and Westminster Avenue in Oakwood in the heart of Venice.

The First Baptist Church has been the subject of a lawsuit concerning the legality of the sale of the church to new buyers who wish to turn it into a single-family dwelling. For many months now, there have been gatherings of Venice People every Sunday afternoon in front of the church to pray and protest and to inform the Community of the fraudulent sale of the church. The fight to save the church was the main issue at the library celebrations in February.

On Saturday, February 17, the Black History celebration at the library opened with a prayer by the Reverend Oscar Rhone. Venice Elder, Jataun Valentine then spoke eloquently about the Black History of Venice. She described the photographs in the exhibits, many of which were of her family members who were among the founding generation of Venice. She talked of a time when Black Venetians could live only on certain streets in Venice. She said that Black History should be preserved and that the stories must be told. And she reminded everyone about the gatherings in front of the First Baptist Church every Sunday afternoon from 12:30 to 3:00.

Venice Activist, Laddie Williams emceed the event and spoke about the days when the Black Community of Venice was restricted to the neighborhood bounded by Rose Avenue, Lincoln Boulevard, and California Avenue. She described how the Community maintained self-sufficiency in this one square mile. She talked about a segregated beach for Black People called Inkwell Beach. She told of her grandfather, Henry Williams and his cement-pouring business. She talked about her grandmother who fed people in Venice and contrasted this with the businesses in Venice today that sell $40 martinis. She pointed out that no one ever comes to Venice to see the new glass-and-concrete Big Ugly Boxes that are being built now; they come to see the art and culture of Venice. She spoke of a diverse Venice and how none of the books about Venice include the African-American or Latino History of Venice. And she spoke of the First Baptist Church in Oakwood. She reminded everyone of the six families who gave their deeds to Pastor E.L. Holmes to build this church.

Reverend Oscar Rhone spoke earnestly of how he was born and raised in this church. He told of his grandfather who worked for Douglas Aircraft and of his grandmother who was a humble woman and a big supporter of Pastor Holmes. He talked about how his grandmother and five others gave their deeds to build the church and how the deeds were returned when it was paid for. He said that people did their best until they took their eyes off the Christian Community and set them on the “almighty dollar”. He led the group in prayer and reminded everyone that Hell wants to take over but that God puts a shield between it and us. He declared that the fight for the church on 7th and Westminster isn’t just happening for no reason but that it’s happening to draw us all here together. He told us to be patient, be prayerful, be watchful, and to keep doing what we’re doing and that we would see the results.

Laddie Williams thanked Reverend Rhone. She said that what Venice had produced from the African-American culture would not be ignored or whitewashed out of the history books of Venice.
Lydia Ponce, Venice Activist and Indigenous Peoples Activist, read her poem about the colonizers still conquering. She spoke of the reservations and ghettos, the pipelines and the deforestation. She declared that the Indigenous People are still here and that “Existence is our Resistance”. She talked about displacement and those who would plan to turn the sacred place of the First Baptist Church on 7th and Westminster into a 13,000 square foot single-family dwelling.

Venice Activist, Miguel Bravo spoke of the colonizers’ common practice of destroying sacred spaces. He pointed out that the new arrivals say that they love Venice but always want to change it. He reaffirmed the fight for the historic sacred space that is the First Baptist Church and said that we are still here and would not be relegated to the past. He recited a Native American song about the Circle of Life where no one is above or below or in front of or behind each other. He asked that our ancestors walk with us to save the First Baptist Church.
Laddie Williams referred to a large photograph of the original members of the church. She said that they had enough “gumption” within themselves to come and build the Canals of Venice. And that, 45 years after the abolition of slavery, they built a place to worship.

On the following day, Sunday afternoon, February 18, Venice People met for the regular gathering in front of the church on 7th and Westminster in their commitment to fight to preserve this historic sacred place. The energy of the previous day was still strong.

Later that evening, the fundraiser party for the 50th Anniversary of the Free Venice Beachhead was held at Beyond Baroque in Venice. Many Venice notables, musicians, artists, and poets attended the event. There were songs and readings and reminiscences of the History of Venice and the Beachhead.

At one point in the evening, Laddie Williams was applauded and asked to come to the microphone to speak. She addressed the crowd warmly and talked about the fight for the Church in Oakwood. She spoke powerfully of this in the present moment, as a fight for something sacred that is happening right now. She called upon all to join in this fight and the People responded enthusiastically.

You who are reading this can also join in this present moment; this moment now. Right now! You can contact Councilman Mike Bonin at (213) 473-7011 or councilmember.bonin@lacity.org and tell him to roll up his sleeves of his powder-blue shirt and get on the winning side in this struggle. You can make noise on social media that sacred places are not for sale. You can come to the corner of 7th Avenue and Westminster Avenue in Oakwood on Sundays at 12:30 to learn and support.

The History of Venice, especially the Black History of Venice, will be preserved for the descendants of the People who built Venice. This is your chance to be a part of it.

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