In 1914, the Los Angeles Branch of the NAACP was formed in the home of Drs. John and Vada Somerville, both graduates of the University of Southern California School of Dentistry, and active leaders in the affairs of the black community. Among the founding members were E. Burton Ceruti, who was to serve as the organization’s legal advisor, Charles Alexander, John Shackelford, Betty Hill, Reverend Joseph Johnson and W.T. Cleghorn. They elected as president Dr. Charles Edward Block, who served with distinction for eight years.
The branch began immediately addressing mounting concerns about racial discrimination and second-class treatment of the city’s “Colored” citizens, and serving as the principal political leadership in the black community.
Contemporaneous World War I, the branch seized upon the national shortage of nurses to press for reversal of an early decision by the County Supervisors to bar “colored students” from the training school for nurses at Los Angeles County Hospital. Appealing to patriotic sentiment, if not moral rights, the NAACP pointed out that, but for the discriminatory ruling, black nurses could have been saving lives in Europe. The branch’s success with this issue launched it into the forefront of the fight against racial discrimination.
It was during this period, too, in 1919, that the first Black, Frederick Madison Roberts, was elected to the California State Assembly, triumphing over vicious opposition that included campaign literature stating, “my opponent is a nigger.”
In 1924, the Los Angeles branch elected Dr. H. Claude Hudson, a local dentist and civic leader, as president. Dr.Hudson led the organization for ten consecutive years. It was during Dr. Hudson’s tenure that the branch hosted the 19th Annual NAACP Convention, the first to be held in Los Angeles. IN 1932, in the aftermath of an earthquake which damaged Los Angeles public schools, the branch-filed a successful lawsuit against the Monrovia School Board to force them to give black students the same consideration as white students who were allowed to enroll in that city until Los Angeles schools could be made safe.
Over the next fifteen years, with Attorney Thomas L. Griffith Jr. at the helm, the branch aggressively fought back against discrimination on several fronts. Lawsuits were mounted - and won - forcing the Pasadena Department of Parks to allow Black and Mexican citizens the right to swim daily in the municipal pool; against the County of Los Angeles for discrimination in employment; and a landmark decision in 1948 in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unconstitutional restrictive real estate covenants which precluded Black residency in certain neighborhoods.
With its membership growing rapidly, the Los Angeles branch in 1963, the Los Angeles Unified School District was ordered by the Supreme Court in 1976 to implement a school desegregation plan. Five years later, the branch again went on the offensive in a protracted battle against a state constitutional amendment that sought to undermine the Supreme Court decision by restricting the transport of students away from their “home” school.
In the 1980’s, the branch adopted a more aggressive stance on issues affecting the economic development of the black community. Successful “Black Dollar Day” campaigns underscored the importance of the black consumer market; the branch successfully lobbied for a MetroRail Subway Station that would directly impact the black community, and supported efforts to rescind a County proposal to contract out jobs held by county workers. Under the leadership of one of the branch’s youngest presidents, John T. McDonald, III, the branch successfully pressed for Fair Share agreements with Coors Brewing Company and McDonald’s Restaurants.
Currently, the branch continues to support the programs and policies of the NAACP with aggressive action at the local level. In addition to ongoing initiatives in the areas of civil rights and social and economic development, local priorities revolve around the theme of education. Through an Annual Salute to Educational Excellence the branch encourages and recognizes educational achievement: we are very proud of our youth Members who last year honored our branch with two gold and a silver medial in the ACT-SO competition. Working in close concert with the local Black Leadership Coalition on Education, the branch has also taken the lead as an advocate with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) for the development of programs addressing the issues of integration, overcrowding and low achievement among black and minority students.