The Changing Face of Los Angeles
Ten Years on, Black L.A. Isn't the Same

by Karen Grigsby Bates

April 27, 2002 -- After the L.A. riots, "South Central" became a household phrase. For many Americans, it became the equivalent of "poor, black, crime-infested neighborhood."

Like most pat definitions, that one was not fully accurate then -- it's even less so today. South Central, like all of the city's minority neighborhoods, has changed immensely over the past decade, as correpsondent Karen Grigsby Bates reports for NPR News.

The biggest change for the black community is that it's moving. The migration actually started after the previous series of riots, in Watts during the 1960s.

That, combined with the lifting of restrictive residential covenants in other parts of the city, started a migration that only sped up after the 1992 riots, according to author Ofari Hutchinson. In the '60s and '70s, "there was a new awakening in the city, so some people were beginning to move into other areas," he says. "You really began to see the expansion of out-migration in Los Angeles."

As blacks moved out, Hispanics moved in. The change can be seen in places like St. Philip the Evangelist Episcopal Church, in the heart of South Central. The historically black church sits in a neighborhood that is now nearly all Latino. Inevitably, the congregation is changing too, though many blacks continue to attend services, some traveling many miles each Sunday. The challenge here, as throughout the changing neighborhoods of Los Angeles, is to foster communication.

For instance, the Rev. Altagracia Perez experimented with bilingual services, but it proved too unwieldy. So the church continues to offer separate services in English and Spanish, with the black and Hispanic congregations coming together only for occasional bilingual meetings.
Entrepreneur Stephen Perry knows firsthand the effects of changing demographics. Perry owns the popular Stevie's on the Strip, a mainstay on Crenshaw Boulevard, considered the backbone of black L.A. The Crenshaw neighborhood is also turning Hispanic, so Perry has tweaked the soul-food menu -- offering tacos, for instance.

He's also courting some of the black emigres from the city by opening an upscale version of Stevie's in suburban Encino. "I recognized that there were demographics there, in Encino, of black and successful people that were business and entertainment driven, and I thought that there was a market there," he says.

But he fears he will have to close his original location because he is being priced out of the market -- ironically, in part due to the inward migration of white suburbanites. "This location fit me like a glove," Perry says, his voice quivering with sadness. "It was like an old pair of house slippers.I like this neighborhood. It always felt like home."

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