Making Black Los Angeles

Class, Gender, and Community, 1850-1917

By Marne L. Campbell

302 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 10 halftones, 39 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2927-8
    Published: November 2016
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2926-1
    Published: November 2016
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-2928-5
    Published: September 2016
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4979-3
    Published: September 2016

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Black Los Angeles started small. The first census of the newly formed Los Angeles County in 1850 recorded only twelve Americans of African descent alongside a population of more than 3,500 Anglo Americans. Over the following seventy years, however, the African American founding families of Los Angeles forged a vibrant community within the increasingly segregated and stratified city. In this book, historian Marne L. Campbell examines the intersections of race, class, and gender to produce a social history of community formation and cultural expression in Los Angeles. Expanding on the traditional narrative of middle-class uplift, Campbell demonstrates that the black working class, largely through the efforts of women, fought to secure their own economic and social freedom by forging communal bonds with black elites and other communities of color. This women-led, black working-class agency and cross-racial community building, Campbell argues, was markedly more successful in Los Angeles than in any other region in the country.

Drawing from an extensive database of all African American households between 1850 and 1910, Campbell vividly tells the story of how middle-class African Americans were able to live, work, and establish a community of their own in the growing city of Los Angeles.

About the Author

Marne L. Campbell is assistant professor of African American Studies at Loyola Marymount University.
For more information about Marne L. Campbell, visit the Author Page.


“Enriched by copious demographic data and extensive biographic content, and best appreciated by upper-level students, Campbell’s history of LA’s early black community underscores the city’s multiracial, multiethnic roots. Recommended.”--Choice

“A rich and innovative portrayal of pre-Great Migration Los Angeles's working-class and female black community.”--Western Historical Quarterly

“Marne L. Campbell’s Making Black Los Angeles: Class, Gender, and Community, 1850-1917, is an essential history within a rapidly growing list of histories about the African American experience in the City of Angels.”--American Historical Review

“A compelling and finely-grained history of African American Los Angeles over the long nineteenth century.”--Pacific Historical Review

Making Black Los Angeles is a vital contribution to the histories of Los Angeles. This book ties together the city’s formation through the morphs and shifts of American racial hierarchy from the Civil War to the entry of the United States in the First World War. Additionally, Campbell powerfully analyzes how women of color and black women attempted to make the City of Angels a more democratic space even at the nadir of American racial apartheid. She also effectively narrates how African American Angelinos creatively used religious faith, political activism, and entrepreneurial efforts to carve out space in their attempts to keep democracy and democratic institutions alive to the city’s African American citizens. Her book will challenge both historians and general readers alike to rethink both the complexity and complexion of Los Angeles’s formative history.”--Randal Maurice Jelks, author of Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement: A Biography

“In Making Black Los Angeles, Marne L. Campbell carefully documents the central role of African American urban community building in the early creation of the American West. Through close attention to the inner workings of gender, class, and even race, she complicates easy assumptions about black ‘community.’ Emerging from Campbell's painstaking research is a dense portrait of the galvanizing influences of women, the working class, and religious culture in creating a people. Scholars of black urban history and labor must add this work to their lists of required readings.”--​Clarence Lang, author of Grassroots at the Gateway: Class Politics and Black Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, 1936-75