History: More Than 90 Years of Serving Our Community
The United States took control of California in 1840. Since California was a slave-free state, all of the settlers were treated as citizens and got along quite well, which was a powerful inducement for fugitive slaves. The African American population grew from 26 in 1781 to 102 by 1879. In 1781, of the 44 settlers who formed an outpost in Spanish-held California, 26 of them were either of full-blooded or part African descent. Between 1880 and 1900, the African American population increased to 2,131.
The Los Angeles Urban League - The Beginning
During World War I, California was booming with industrial growth. Between 1912 and 1914, many white Southerners migrated to Los Angeles, bringing with them their racial bigotry and disdain for African Americans.
During the 1920s, Los Angeles became the fastest growing major city in the United States. Women wore knee-length skirts and smoked cigarettes in public. Disgruntled by the myths that life would be different in the North, many African Americans began to migrate west in search of a life free of segregation and discrimination. Although there were more jobs for the educated Negro in Los Angeles, they were still relegated to the most menial tasks. By the end of World War I, there were 18,000 Negroes living in Los Angeles.
The Tuskegee Industrial Welfare League was organized in April 1921 in Los Angeles by Dr. A. C. Garrott , a black dentist, and Katherine J. Barr, First Executive Secretary, to help Negroes participate to the fullest extent in American life by helping to change the social and economic conditions of their environment.
In June 1921, the Tuskegee Industrial Welfare League merged with the National Urban League and became known as the Los Angeles Urban League (LAUL) with Katherine Barr as its first President. Under her leadership, the Urban League developed a professional and business-like approach to its mission and objectives. As a result, the organization was able to effect change expediently with winning results.
Always looking for an opportunity to create a broader financial base for operating funds, the LAUL became a Charter Member of the Los Angeles Community Chest in 1925, now known as the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. This federation created the kind of public confidence needed to solicit additional funds and served as a testimonial to the Los Angeles Urban League’s well organized business-like structure. Katherine Barr continued to serve as the LAUL Executive Director until 1929 when the stock market crashed.
In 1930, Lester Granger became President of the Los Angeles Urban League. The tragedy of the Depression did not alter the focus of the Urban League, as it continued to initiate programs to promote equity in hiring practices and opportunities for employment. In addition, the LAUL provided food, clothing, legal and medical services to the unemployed and disadvantaged Negro. Granger left his post in 1931 and later became Executive Director of the National Urban League headquartered in New York City.
From 1931 through 1951, Floyd C. Covington served as the LAUL Executive Director. During his 20-year tenure, he led the Urban League’s most comprehensive image building campaign. The organizational newsletter, Urban Light, was established to publicize Urban League activities, to inform the Los Angeles community residents about the Urban League and to encourage participation by community residents in Urban League programs. Covington became a well-known spokesperson and an authority on Negro issues and concerns. Despite hard times, goals were continuously met.
While Franklin D. Roosevelt campaigned for U.S. President, Floyd Covington issued a call to representatives of local groups to consider forming a local affiliate of the Negro Congress in Chicago. In April 1936, Covington chaired the first meeting of the local Negro Congress. In June of that same year, celebration of the LAUL’s 15th Anniversary and the 25th Anniversary of the National Urban League was the backdrop for a star-studded affair at the Tivoli Theatre. Hattie McDaniel, Bill Robinson and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson headlined the gala affair.
As the Urban League grew, Covington departmentalized the activities of the organization by developing Industrial Relations and Community Organization departments. The Urban League established its own radio broadcast where more than 36 different programs were presented for the weekly Urban League Reports. In 1943, LAUL started JOB College which provided students with first-hand information about jobs. In 1950, Covington left the Urban League to assume a position with the Federal Housing Administration. The conference room at current LAUL headquarters is named in his honor.
Wesley Brazier, former Industrial Relations Director of the Los Angeles Urban League under Floyd Covington, became the Urban League Executive Director in 1950 and served as such until 1968. The decade of the '50s set the tone for expansion and change which determined the momentum for the Civil Rights Movement in the ‘60s. The Urban League’s agenda included employment development, training and placement, civil rights, discrimination in housing, health and education.
Brazier sought more ways for the Urban League to extend its outreach to the youth in the community. Consequently, the LAUL became involved in more youth projects and issues. In 1952, the LAUL joined the newly formed Welfare Planning Council Committee which focused on institutional care of Negro children by social service agencies. A year later, the Urban League’s efforts were realized when the Willowbrook Health Center was opened to provide prenatal and well baby services as well as traditional health center service.
In 1952, ten ladies formed the Los Angeles Urban League Guild. A volunteer arm of the LAUL, the Guild included women with experience and knowledge of business, health and welfare, education and social-civic organizations.
During the early ‘60s, the population of Negroes or Blacks increased by 111.8%. The total population of the Los Angeles-Long Beach Metropolitan area was 6,742,696 of whom 464,717 were Negroes. The Los Angeles Urban League engaged in programs aimed at providing more adequate services for the Negro population by developing training programs for skilled and semi-skilled workers and initiating projects designed to provide solutions to the problems of ghetto residents in the areas of employment and education.
In 1963, the National Skills Bank was created by the Los Angeles Urban League. The function of the Skills Bank was to locate skilled Negroes and members of other minority groups and give local employers access to these individuals.
In 1966, the Headstart Program was developed to provide poverty stricken youth with early childhood education and socialization skills required to be successful in school. That same year, the Urban League joined the MDTA-On-the-Job Training Program which was federally funded and created to develop on-the-job training opportunities for unemployed, minority and disadvantaged persons. In addition, the Labor Education Advancement Program (LEAP) was operated by the LAUL to recruit, orient and tutor Afro-Americans in pre-apprenticeship classes to prepare them for placement in the trade industry.
In 1968, the Pasadena Foothill branch of the Los Angeles Urban League opened to support League operations throughout the San Gabriel Valley. This same year, Brazier resigned as Executive Director of LAUL to head an equal opportunities program for the Los Angeles Defense Department.
From 1968-1969, Frank Stanley was the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Urban League. The son of a newspaper publisher, Stanley brought a new approach to publicizing the Urban League. He aligned himself with community issues, cultivated added media contacts and was a contributor to the planning and establishment of the Data Training Center in 1968. The Center offered free classes to students with computer and loan instructors provided by IBM.
In 1969, John W. Mack became the President of the Los Angeles Urban League and served the longest tenure to date in that position. Mack advocated full civil rights and equal opportunities, to expand economic development opportunities to Black businesses, to remove the “glass ceiling” and increase upward mobility for individuals of all races in corporate America.
Mack set about the task of increasing corporate funding by establishing partnerships with key CEOs to sponsor the Data Training Center and other job training and job placement services offered by the LAUL. He also approached private funding sources through a series of special events geared to the general public as well as the corporate community. Membership in the organization was a major component of the Urban League’s equation. In 1970, vocal stylist and Los Angeles Urban League Board Member Nancy Wilson chaired a membership drive which included a benefit concert at the Shrine Auditorium. National Urban League Executive Director Whitney M. Young, Jr. spoke to more than 6,000 people at that event.
In 1974, the Urban League’s Board of Directors approved the establishment of the First Annual Whitney M. Young, Jr. Awards Dinner. This event was to serve as a tribute to Young who died tragically by drowning while swimming with friends in Nigeria in March of 1971 after serving for 10 years as the Executive Director of the National Urban League. The Whitney M. Young, Jr. Award Dinner also served as a fundraiser and a vehicle for communicating the objectives and programs of the Urban League to the Los Angeles community. This Award Dinner continues to serve as the major fundraiser for the LAUL and premier star-studded event of the business community in Los Angeles today.
By 1975, Mack had altered the state of the LAUL, making it one of the most viable in the nation. This same year, the National Urban League’s Board of Trustees changed the Executive Director title to President and all local affiliates adopted the recommendation.
In 1978, the Los Angeles Urban League began a government funded Youth Center for unskilled youths ages 16 to 21 to provide job training and employment opportunities. This center evolved into the Milken Family Literacy and Youth Training Center in 1991, funded by an initial grant of $700,000 from the Milken Family Foundation. It continues to house all youth oriented programs and services working closely with area colleges and universities as well as the Los Angeles Unified School District.
In 1978, the Pomona Valley Training/Employment/Counseling Center was founded providing specialized training in electronics, machine tool technology and word processing to expand employment opportunities with Pomona Valley employers.
In 1979, the Urbanites was founded. It was an Urban League support group consisting of young professional women with the desire to give back to the community.
The ‘80s and ‘90s exemplified the Los Angeles Urban League motto - “where success is working.” In the 1980s, the LAUL Board and management initiated an aggressive financial partnership with local corporations and foundations in support of its Data Training Center and other programs. United Way has been a significant and consistent supporter of the Urban League since its inception.
In 1993, the Automotive Training Center, funded by Toyota Motor Sales, Inc. was established in the wake of the civil unrest to provide automotive technology training to individuals 18 years of age or older who have an interest in careers in the automotive industry.
In 1997, the West Adams and Avalon WorkSource Centers were opened, providing job training and job placement assistance through the WIA program.
LAUL President Rollins on Local Edition
Spirit of Service