By Dr. Robin Miskolcze
Black leadership and Black votes made Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’ victory possible. Building on this momentum, all of us need to acknowledge that America’s economic inequality is rooted in white supremacy and continue the work to correct the damage. An undeniable example of systemic racism is found in the forgotten history of “Mayberry by the Sea.”
In 1897, Titus Alexander, the son of a Black, two-time Arkansas state representative, moved to Los Angeles as a young man to build a life for himself. Amply proving his talents and leadership, becoming a prominent lawyer and running as a Democrat for California’s 72nd State Assembly district in 1926, Alexander was eventually lauded by the LA Chamber of Commerce for serving as the honorary captain of the LA Fire Department and an active member of the State Democratic Committee. Alexander’s achievements did not impress the town of El Segundo.
As a reward for Alexander’s achievement, Los Angeles offered him a lease to a small stretch of beach on the city-owned Hyperion property, directly adjacent to El Segundo, for the purpose of constructing a Black resort. But by January 1924, the LA Times reported the city imposed a restraining order on Alexander’s lease. When he challenged the city’s order, a citizen submitted a petition with 6,000 signatures to the LA City Council demanding that the beach plot, initially purchased by the city for raw sewage drainage, be an unrestricted public beach.
Racist motivations for the denial was encoded in the description of his case. On October 26, 1923, the El Segundo Herald reported that El Segundo would fight hard against Alexander’s claim. The Herald mocked Alexander’s efforts to “elevate his race” by enabling his fellow African Americans to “bathe in the sea water lapping El Segundo’s beautiful beach,” while not acknowledging that this was the same beach area that the LA Times described as a “sewer tilt”—an undesirable spot for sea bathing due to the foul run-off of raw sewage. On November 23, 1923, the Herald reported that opponents of the lease from Santa Monica to Manhattan Beach would take their case to the Supreme Court if need be, and there was even talk of “Ku Klux Klan activities as a last resort.” The threat of KKK involvement had already been displayed prominently in the front page headlines of the Herald’s October 26 edition where a report on Alexander’s property claim sits directly adjacent to a column proudly reporting that El Segundo was well represented at a recent KKK initiation ceremony where over 150 residents of Redondo were added to the organization.
Alexander never built his resort. His forgotten story is evidence of systemic racism in this country. With more than 70 million Americans voting for a Trump re-election, stamping their approval on Trump’s antagonism toward the truth of the U.S.’s painful racist history, now is the time to tenaciously keep Black lives and our history front and center if we ever want our country to heal.