In order to showcase the technology available in the Octavia Lab, celebrate the diversity of Los Angeles, and demonstrate how library resources, such as Tessa, the library's online digital archive, and historical newspaper databases, can be used towards social justice, Octavia Lab staff have been creating coloring pages with biographies and location descriptions for the last two years under the project title: “Hidden Heroes, Historic Places”. Here is a sampling of coloring pages celebrating the African American community of Los Angeles.
Reginald Ballard was a Tuskegee Airman and a retired Los Angeles city fire captain who as part of the Stentorians, fought to integrate the Los Angeles Fire Department. Fire Station #30 was built in 1913 and became a segregated fire station in the mid-1920s. Fire Station #30 and Fire Station #14 were the two fire stations open to African American firefighters before LAFD integrated in 1956. Ballard started his career at Fire Station #30 in 1949. Before integration, African American firefighters could only be promoted within the two African American fire companies in Los Angeles; promotional opportunities were limited to only when someone left a position.
Ballard was also a past president of the Consolidated Board of Realtist, an organization formed in 1949 of African American real estate brokers fighting against the inequitable and prejudicial treatment of brokers and the ability for African Americans to purchase real estate in the Los Angeles Area. He is pictured here with a grandchild in front of a historic fire engine at the African American Firefighter Museum.
In 1923, Fire Station No. 30 became the first of two African American fire companies in Los Angeles. Before 1955, all African American firefighters worked in either Station 30 or Station 14, both stations were located on Central Avenue. By 1985, the building had fallen into disuse and sustained fire damage. From 1995 to 1997, the old fire station was renovated to house the African American Firefighter Museum (AAFFM). The museum, which relies entirely on volunteers and donations, is open to the public.
Dr. Patricia Era Bath was an African American ophthalmologist, the inventor of laser cataract surgery, an advocate for communities of color, and a staunch believer in the importance of math and science education for girls. Through research that she conducted in the 1970s, Bath discovered that the rate of blindness among African Americans was disproportionately higher than among whites—and that the majority of cases of blindness in the Black population could have been prevented. As a result, Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, an organization promoting community ophthalmology, which focuses on expanding eye care to underserved populations through grass-roots screenings, treatments, and education. Originally based in New York City, Bath moved to California in 1974 to work at UCLA. She became the first African American surgeon at UCLA Medical Center, the first woman ophthalmologist on the faculty of the UCLA Stein Eye Institute, and, later, the co-founder and leader of the ophthalmology residency program jointly run by King/Drew Medical Center and UCLA—the first woman in the US to chair such a program. Bath became the first Black woman granted a medical patent and held a total of five US patents for her inventions.
This coloring page shows Patricia Bath inside Powell Library, one of the four original buildings on the present-day campus of the University of California, Los Angeles. UCLA was established in 1881 as a teachers college in downtown Los Angeles; it moved five times before relocating in 1929 to its current site, in the Westwood neighborhood of L.A. Author Ray Bradbury tapped out an early draft of his sci-fi classic Fahrenheit 451 on rented typewriters in this building. The ceiling shown here is the work of artist Julian Ellsworth Garnsey, who also designed and painted the magnificent ceiling of the rotunda in the Los Angeles Central Library, as well as other ceilings and murals throughout that building.
Edward Howard was a community leader, homeless advocate, and organizer for Skid Row, a neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles. Since the 1930s, Skid Row has historically been a low-income community that is disenfranchised from mainstream society and deals with regular police harassment, partly because of the thousands of unhoused people living in the area. Howard, through his advocacy work, created a sense of community pride and political prowess that helped bring changes to Skid Row. Howard was involved with Los Angeles Community Action Network, the Skid Row Community Improvement Coalition, the Skid Row Community Coalition, and Black Lives Matter. Through these organizations, he was able to bring a range of basic services and community-building opportunities to Skid Row, including employment training, outdoor film screenings, and a community-run laundry, bathroom, and shower centers.
Skid Row City Limit Mural (also known as Skid Row Super Mural) is an 18-by-50-foot artwork showing a detailed street map of skid row and an official-looking sign proclaiming the neighborhood’s “city limit” and population (“too many”). Skid Row activist Jeff Page created the project as a community-organized activity. Stephen Ziegler designed the mural; a group of street artists called the Winston Death Squad painted it. The geographic limits of skid row shown on the map were taken from Jones vs. the City of Los Angeles, a court case that barred nighttime homeless sweeps by police.
Lynn Manning was a blind playwright, poet, and athlete. Manning co-founded the Watts Village Theater Company in 1996 and had plays of his performed in Los Angeles, New York City, London, Chicago, and at the Kennedy Center for the performing arts. As a child growing up in Fresno and later Los Angeles, he was shunted between foster homes starting at the age of 7 and dreamed of becoming a painter. In 1978, Manning was blinded from a barroom shooting which destroyed his painting dreams. Manning reinvented himself, taking up competitive judo, which he was first introduced to at the Braille Institute of Los Angeles and ultimately winning gold at the World Games for the Disabled in 1990 and silver at the 1992 Paralympics.
Manning is pictured in front of the Braille Institute of America. The Braille Institute of America is a nonprofit organization that provides multiple levels of support for the visually impaired community in Southern California. The organization offers its services free of charge to the community, by offering instruction on adaptive cooking, home skills, mobility training, technology assistance and publishes free children’s books in Braille.
Lillian Mobley was a community activist for the community of South Los Angeles. Growing up in Georgia, Mobley got married after graduating high school and moved to California in 1951. Her activism in the South Los Angeles community started around the 1965 Watts Rebellion, a community protest as a result of a poorly handled low-key traffic stop. Following the Rebellion, Mobley and other community activists spearheaded the fight to bring services, most importantly a hospital, into the area. That community activism led to the establishment of the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in 1966 and the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in 1972. Mobley was instrumental in the creation of the King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science in 1982. Mobley’s activism continued after the Rodney King verdict that led to the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising; as the executive director of a citizen center, she organized a food and clothing giveaway. After Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center closed in 2007 after mismanagement and malpractice, Mobley was there to fight for the return of a hospital in the community with the creation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in 2015. Lillian Mobley, South Central Multipurpose Center is named in her honor.
Mobley is pictured in front of Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center. This building is now known as the MLK Behavioral Health Center and provides integrated inpatient, outpatient, and supportive services for residents who are struggling with mental illness, substance use disorders, homelessness and have been involved in the criminal justice system.
Inequities in health care among people of color persists to this day. During our present-day pandemic, Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital was one of the hardest-hit hospitals in Los Angeles County during the winter surge of 2020 and the most impoverished Los Angeles residents were dying of the disease at a higher rate than the rest of the area.
Norma Merrick Sklarek was an architect who used her position to mentor and lift up other minorities in the architecture field. Sklarek should be noted for her multiple firsts as a black woman: first to graduate from Columbia University School of Architecture in 1950, first licensed architect in the state of New York in 1954, first licensed architect in California in 1962, and the first member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1959. She famously worked on the following local large-scale projects: California Mart (1963), the Pacific Design Center (1978), San Bernardino City Hall (1973), and Terminal One at LAX (1984).
Sklarek is pictured in front of the Pacific Design Center, a facility with many showrooms to showcase interior product designs to interior designers, architects, decorators, and dealers. The space was opened in 1975 and Sklarek contributed to the architectural design of the building.
Vada and John Somerville were a married couple who became dentists, leading civil rights activists, and accomplished entrepreneurs in early-twentieth-century Los Angeles. John Somerville, a Jamaican immigrant, became the first Black graduate from the University of Southern California’s School of Dentistry. Vada Somerville became that school’s second Black graduate and the first African American woman licensed to practice dentistry in California. In 1914, the Somervilles cofounded the first Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and became entrepreneurs when they built the Hotel Somerville in 1928. After her retirement, Vada Somerville became active in civic organizations, including the Los Angeles League of Women’s Voters, the Council on Public Affairs, UCLA’s YWCA, and the USC Half Century Club. In honor of the couple’s leadership, Somerville Place, a residential dorm at USC, was named for the couple.
Vada and John Somerville established the Hotel Somerville to provide upscale accommodations for African Americans who were excluded from whites-only establishments in Los Angeles. During the Great Depression, the Somervilles sold the hotel to Lucius Lomax, who renamed it in honor of the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, a son of formerly enslaved people. The hotel became the heart of the blues and jazz scene that blossomed on Central Avenue from the 1920s through the 1950s. Many prominent musicians stayed or performed at the Dunbar, including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, and Nat King Cole. Other famous guests included Ray Charles, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Herb Jeffries, Langston Hughes, Joe Louis, Arthur B. Spingarn, and W. E. B. Du Bois. Racial integration led to a decline in the Dunbar’s business, and by the 1960s it had slowly fallen into disrepair. After standing vacant for a decade and enduring several failed renovation attempts, the hotel has now been redeveloped into an affordable housing project for seniors and families.
Ruth Janetta Temple was an African American trailblazer in public health and medicine. Dr. Temple was the first black female to graduate from Loma Linda University and with her husband, opened up the first medical clinic in East Los Angeles, both in 1918. As a community activist, Dr. Temple worked to educate the community about nutrition, sex education, immunization, and substance abuse. In spite of prevailing racial attitudes, Dr. Temple was on the faculty at White Memorial Hospital, teaching white medical students. Additionally, Dr. Temple held multiple positions in the Los Angeles City Health Department, culminating with being appointed as the first health officer of Los Angeles in 1942. To honor Dr. Temple’s work in public health, the East Los Angeles Health Center was renamed Ruth Temple Public Health Center in 1983.