Development/Gentrification

THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF VENICE IS THE LIVING HISTORY OF VENICE

by Jon Wolff

The Black History display at the Abbot Kinney Library in Venice will be up until the end of March.In recognition of Black History Month for 2019, an exhibit and discussion session was held on Saturday, February 16 in the meeting room of the library.The discussion featured speakers born and raised in Venice, and it focused on the importance of preserving the legacy of the Black History of Venice.

Venice Elder Jataun Valentine was the first to speak at the event.She spoke about the life of Arthur Reese who was the friend of Abbot Kinney at the time of Venice’s founding. Kinney had willed his house in Venice to Mr. Reese but not the land where it stood. So Arthur Reese moved the house on a flat bed truck to 6th and Santa Clara in Venice. Ms. Valentine also talked about her grandmother who was the last Tabor to come to Venice, and of her grandfather Alphonse Joseph who worked for Abbot Kinney and was the first Black cement contractor.

Jataun Valentine was asked by her daughter Jenny whether the changes in Venice are bad or good.She replied that it is bad that houses in Venice are being torn down and turned into mega-mansions.And it’s bad that newcomers build illegal fences over six feet high, when Venetians have always been used to knowing their neighbors.But she noted the positive things happening, such as the efforts of people to save the First Baptist Church of Venice.She told of how the church started out very small, and how Irving Tabor’s wife Ethel, and others in the Community, put up their house deeds to build it. She said that the church institution is 104 years old and must be preserved.

Dr. Naomi Nightingale spoke of the Black Community in Venice as a self-contained community and how African-Americans were not, at the time, welcomed outside this community.In the 1950s and 1960s, the women did domestic work in Pacific Palisades.Later, they found employment at Douglas Aircraft.Dr. Nightingale told of the First Baptist Church of Venice that was originally built in 1912.She described how the Reverend E.L. Holmes walked the congregation across the street to the new church which still stands at Westminster Avenue and 7th Avenue.She explained how there is no separation from the old church to the present church.

Dr. Nightingale talked about her activism in the 1960s for job training, education, and housing.In those days, there were strategies enacted by others hostile to the Black Community to kick Black People out of the rent-stabilized housing in Venice.By the mid-1990s, the gang injunction did even more harm.With big families, it was impossible to not be associated with someone who was accused of a gang affiliation.This advanced the process of Gentrification.Those who move to Venice today don’t come to assimilate but to change Venice.Their glass and concrete box houses are built to make good people move out.The high fences they put up are a code violation but the city officials ignore this fact.

Dr. Nightingale challenged those who don’t want to listen to the History of Black contributions to Venice.She questioned how a Culture can exist for a hundred years and not have anything said about it.The area bounded by Lincoln Boulevard , California Avenue, and Rose Avenue was Venice for African-Americans.In the 1960s, it was understood that this was discriminatory and racist.And the Community had to fight hard for justice.Recently, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was effectively nullified because it was considered by some to be unnecessary.There are policies and barriers put in place now to obstruct the African-American vote.Dr. Nightingale said that everyone has a responsibility to call out the individuals who say that they don’t understand any of this.She said that this struggle goes on into the future without an end date.And it’s a sacrifice.But when one is driven, one has a calling.She told everyone to stand and make a difference.

Mr. Raphael “Spud” Anderson knew Venice as a once vibrant Black and Latino neighborhood.He spoke of musicians and athletes that came from Venice.He asked those who would wear black face makeup why “You want to be me, but you hate me.”And he wondered why those who would applaud him on the field of play would boo him in public.

Mr. Anderson talked about his grandfather who worked at the P.O.P. [Pacific Ocean Park] amusement pier.He said that his family has nine pieces of property in Venice, and that the properties have no trees.This is because his grandparents had witnessed lynchings in their lifetime.Mr. Anderson said that when he told this story at a meeting of the Venice Neighborhood Council, they laughed.

Mr. Anderson said that the books written about Venice left out the Black and Latino History of Venice.He saw such omissions as an attempt to erase this History.He questioned why the Survey L.A. project used these books as their references.One individual present at the event claimed that his friend wrote the books and asked, “What’s wrong with them?”This brought on a heated debate in the meeting room.Venice Activist Mike Bravo clarified how a lot of harm is caused by the negation of non-White History.He called for a proactive effort to build on this History for the sake of future generations and to honor our ancestors.

Mike Bravo is a 5th generation Venetian and Native.He is part of the Save Venice coalition.He elaborated on the old tactics of marginalizing People of Color and he spoke of the importance of having the omitted narrative included in the history books.To answer the oft-repeated charge, “Why don’t you just write your own history books?”, Mr. Bravo pointed out the hoops that the Save Venice team has had to jump through in the effort to save the First Baptist Church of Venice.Clearly, it’s not always easy to “just write” one’s own history.

Mike Bravo remarked that, in what is otherwise a liberal neighborhood, there is still a conflict over the deep Black History of Venice.But he stated that things grow from a seed.He felt that the attacks on the Spirit in Venice make him stronger, as well as more tender to the History of his ancestors.Mr. Bravo said that the group that meets in front of the First Baptist Church of Venice every Sunday represents the true embodiment of Venice.The group is composed of different racial backgrounds.Even the tourists that come by support the fight.Everyone is stronger and more united and more rooted in the neighborhood.It’s not a top-down movement.It’s made of the “Living History” in the meeting room.

You too can live and learn the History of Venice.It happens every Sunday in front of the First Baptist Church of Venice, on the corner of Westminster Avenue and 7th Avenue in the heart of Venice.The group meets between 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM to save this historic Black church from becoming a private mega-mansion.You can go to http://www.savevenice.me to find out how you can help.And how you can be a part of the History of Venice.

Legal Fund to Save Historic African American Site

https://www.gofundme.com/legal-fund-to-save-historic-african-american-landmark
Be a part of making history. The Oakwood community of Venice, CA is home to a rich and beautiful African-American legacy. Our flagship battle is centered around a 110 year old African-American landmark called the First Baptist Church of Venice (FBCV) which has been the heart of this community for over 110 years. Our unique historic community is also known as “the last community of color on the California coast.’ We are entrenched in defending our community, which is quickly homogenizing, from predatory real estate speculation and displacement.

This fund will benefit the the legal defense to save the FBCV which is the heart of the corner properties ceremonially and legally dedicated as E. L. Holmes Square . We have been effective in our organizing thus far. However, we are in a new stage of political battle and up against big money, millionaires, and illogically apathetic political leaders.
By supporting this fund you will be a part of history when we claim victory in saving this rich historied African-American community landmark. You will also indirectly be investing in supporting the historic community that has been a driving force in helping shape the world famous Venice Beach culture . You will be investing in reinforcing inclusive community values and sending a message to our political leaders that people and community come first, and yes, the common people can be successful in holding big money and apathetic politicians accountable.

Many of us leading this fight for this community landmark are multi-generational residents of Venice, CA. In a political climate where the fight for economic and racial equity is threatened it would mean the world to us to have your contribution and support.

We have over 32, 000 signatures on our petition. If everyone invested $1 right now we would energize the defense of this historic community, site, and world-famous culture.

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