In February 1942, after Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent were forced to vacate their homes to be interned in “War Relocation Camps” for the duration of World War II. Almost overnight, Japanese-American communities in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles became ghost towns.
In Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, the sudden removal of its inhabitants provided an opportunity for the influx of African-Americans moving to LA from the South—themselves barred from living anywhere west of Central Avenue by the cityʼs racially restrictive housing covenants. In the few years that African-Americans settled in the area (most estimates put it at 1943-46), Little Tokyo became known as Bronzeville.
CalArts alumna Kathie Foley-Meyer’s (Critical Studies MFA 99) longtime fascination with this brief and little-known period in LA history inspired her to organize Project Bronzeville, a multidisciplinary initiative that combines fine art, theater, a panel discussion and music to explore Bronzeville’s role as a harbinger of a changing Los Angeles.
Outside of select photographic and microfiche archives, little to no traces of the period can be found today, and yet it looms large as a precursor of Los Angeles’ postwar changes. The eviction and internment of the Japanese citizens from their homes in Little Tokyo and the subsequent influx of African-Americans, the postwar transformation of the neighborhood, and the effect of the city’s housing covenants provide a direct connection for understanding contemporary LA.
Several events are slated for Project Bronzeville. (Full event details including ticketing information are listed at the end of this post):
- Project Bronzeville, an exhibition of artwork created by Kathie Foley-Meyer at LA Artcore – Union Center for the Arts in Little Tokyo,
- An encore production of the play Bronzeville, produced by the Robey Theatre Company at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. The production is based on the true story of an African-American family who moves into a house in Little Tokyo and discovers a member of the Japanese family hiding in the attic,
- A Night in Bronzeville, live jazz music featuring The Miguel Atwood-Ferguson Ensemble at the blue whale jazz club, and
- A symposium and panel discussion about the Bronzeville period with Bronzeville scholars Christopher Jimenez y West, PhD, Hillary Jenks, PhD and Anthony Macias, PhD at the Downtown Independent theater.
Project Bronzeville runs from June 1 to July 21 with events held in or near Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. The project offers a unique opportunity to examine the city’s shared history through the lens of the arts, and to bring these perspectives to new audiences.