The Black Pioneers of Los Angeles County: The Counting of African Americans in the 1900 Federal Census, Part Three

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In the previous two parts of this post on the enumeration of African-Americans in Los Angeles County for the 1900 federal census, the focus was on the counting of Black residents of the townships outside the city of Los Angeles. As noted before, there were 620 persons counted in these areas, with men a slight majority at 51.5%, more children under 18 then any other age group (these being 19-35, 36-64 and over 65) and just shy of 60% born in the Southern states with just more than a quarter, almost all children, born in California.

Incidentally, the prior census of 1890 is one in which almost all of the enumeration sheets for almost the entire nation were destroyed by a fire, though it is known that the official tally of African-Americans in Los Angeles county was 1,817. It should be noted, though, that there were almost certainly some persons, principally Latinos, who would have been recorded as Black. Moreover, Orange County was created in 1889, though the number of African-Americans there would have been very small, because the 1900 count, while officially showed 102 persons, actually contained just 23, because the remainder were Latino, save a mixed Italian and Latino family, so the 1890 total was almost certainly smaller.

A map from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works showing annexations around the original pueblo grant in yellow (Map 06), including two at the northeast corner in Highland Park and Garvanza, the Western Addition, the Southern Extension, Southern Addition, and the University Park Addition.

Another change to note was that, for all of the censuses from 1850 to 1880, including the sole state count from 1852, the City of Los Angeles remained constant in its size, this being the original four square leagues, or not far under 18,000 acres and about 28 square miles, that was created under Spain in 1781. The only exception was that in August 1859, a small 1.2 square mile area slightly extended the southern border of the city and, given its remoteness from the rest of town, there were very few residents of any ethnicity there anyway.

In the last half of the 1890s, there were five annexed areas to the Angel City. In October 1895, 1.4 miles to the northeast was established as the Highland Park Addition. In April 1896, the 3.47 square mile Southern Addition and the 6.7 mile Western Addition were brought into the city. In June 1899, Garvanza, which was just beyond the Highland Park area and went up to the city limits of Pasadena, was annexed at .7 square miles, while the 1.77 square mile University Park Addition, which was, of course, comprising the University of Southern California and surrounding areas was also added.

The census sheet in Ward 2 showing the Wilkerson family on Sunset Boulevard near Lemoyne close to Echo Park.

These additions expanded the size of Los Angeles by more than half bringing the total to just above 43 square miles, but there was a whole lot more to come. The next major annexation was at the end of 1906 involving the Shoestring Addition, which took in an area south of U.S.C. and then a narrow strip (hence the shoestring name) down toward the port at San Pedro and Wilmington, with the city intending to absorb those two independent municipalities.

After some resistance, the two were annexed in 1909. Once the Los Angeles Aqueduct was completed in fall 1913, the floodgates of annexation literally flew wide open, including the enormous 170 square miles of the San Fernando Valley (May 1915), the nearly 50 square mile Westgate Addition (Westwood and other areas towards the ocean) and many others—today Los Angeles spans 469 square miles and contains just north of 4 million residents.

The sheet from Ward 3 with James H. Garrett, who ran a laundry and lived at Hill and 4th streets in the Bunker Hill area.

There are fifteen council districts today, while in 1900 there were nine wards. These did not quite have the often-labyrinthine boundaries that the districts now have. The first ward was basically the north and northeast parts of town, including the annexations of 1895 and 1899 at Highland Park and Garvanza. The second ward was generally north of the Plaza, south of the Elysian Hills, west of the Los Angeles river and east of Beaudry Avenue (this latter being about where U.S. 101 and the 110 Freeway meet) with much of the ward comprising today’s Chinatown.

Ward three was basically south of 1st Street, north of 7th Street, west of Main Street and east of the westerly limit which, while many people think that was Western Avenue, was actually Hoover Street. The fourth ward was essentially south of this, below 7th to Washington Boulevard, west of Main and east of the city limit which, because of the Western Addition, was about where Vermont Avenue is today. The fifth ward was broadly below Washington to 38th Street, which was the limit of the Southern Addition and between Vermont and Main. Ward six was east of Main and, in some places, Maple Avenue two streets to the east of Main and between 9th and 38th.

The sheet in Ward 4 showing 23-year old Susie Smith working as a cook for fertilizer salesman William Dotty and his wife and mother at Hope and 17th streets, about where Interstate 10 passes through the south end of downtown today.

The seventh ward was basically east of Main and, in parts, Wall Street, which is one street east of Maple, and between 1st and 9th. Ward eight was largely east of Main and north of First, extending through what is mainly industrial areas, Union Station (what was then Chinatown), parts of the current Chinatown, and other areas up toward where the Los Angeles River meets the Arroyo Seco. Finally the ninth ward essentially embraced areas east of the river including Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles (what later was renamed Lincoln Heights), with many African-Americans settled near Evergreen Cemetery.

It should come as no surprise that Black Angelenos largely resided in crowded industrial areas along the west side of the Los Angeles River and, in Boyle Heights, around Evergreen Cemetery where land values and rents were lower because of the proximity to the burial grounds. In all, there were 2,144 African-Americans counted in the nine wards, but about 37% of them resided in the seventh ward, which is mostly industrial now, though the recent introduction of an arts district has taken place there.

The family of widow Sarah Anderson, her son James, her grandson Edward Walker and adopted son David Carell on 20th Street near Grand Avenue in the fifth ward.

Adjacent to the south was the ward six where the second largest concentration of Black residents, about 15% of the city total resided. To the north of the seventh ward was the second, another area of heavy industry, where another 12% of the African-American populace lived. Important in these locales, as well, were the various railroad depots and yards, where Black men, including a substantial number of porters, worked. So, it is clear that the three wards 2, 6, and 7 accounted for close to two-thirds of all African-Americans in Los Angeles because of the cost of living and proximity to available jobs.

The first ward was more sparsely populated generally because it was largely in recently annexed and still-developing sections, so the total number of Black residents there was low at 88. The third ward had 87 African-Americans, but the situation there was that this was, for a short while at least, a well-to-do part of the city, including the Bunker Hill neighborhood. Consequently, there were only a few families and a great majority of Black residents there were servants for upper-class white professionals, capitalists and the like.

The family of widower Mary E. Woods and her two sons and daughter on San Pedro Street near 6th Street in the seventh ward.

The fourth ward was more mixed in that the north end contained a substantial number of servants, as well, while to the south, further removed from downtown, there were more families. The fifth ward, in the southwest part of town, included the some of the newest exclusive enclaves, including St. James Place, University Park and some substantial houses along Adams Boulevard and Figueroa Street.

Speaking of families, it is interesting to note that the highest percentage of the African-American population comprised of children under 18 was in the ninth ward at 47%, showing that this eastern “suburb” of the city contained more families. The sixth ward, which was the southeastern part of the city and also more outside the congested industrial core, was one with almost 38% of its population being children. Wards one and two, to the north, were at 37.5% and 36.9, respectively. The lowest percentages of children were in the well-to-do wards of three and four, and in ward eight, where proximity to heavy industry and railyards likely discouraged families from residing there.

The family of George H. and Mary Washington and three African-American men in Ward 8 near the intersection of Alameda and Commercial streets, close to where U.S. 101 passes through downtown.

For the other age levels, which were determined without any special demographic reason, other than that they seemed reasonable in considering which adults would likely be of child-bearing and rearing age, those between 18 and 35 and those from 36-64 were almost identical in number at 684 and 686, respectively. The 36-64 cohort was in a higher majority in wards one, two and six, while the 18-35 range was stronger in wards five and eight, which, however, were smaller in number than the others, except the first.

It did seem striking that only 2.7% of the population was over age 65, but, then again, life expectancy was generally quite a bit lower and was for Blacks then for whites. Data from federal sources (Centers for Disease Control, Census Bureau, and vital statistics reports) states that, in 1900, life expectancy at birth for white males was 46.6 years, while for African-American males it was 32.5, while for women it was 48.7 and 33.5, respectively. A century later the gaps narrowed significantly to 74.7 and 68.2 for males and 79.9 and 75.1 for females. For about 1% of those enumerated there were no ages given.

The Banks, Lewis and Reed families enumerated on New Jersey Avenue, just off the western edge of Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights in the 9th Ward.

Gender distribution is also of interest. Females outnumbered males 52% to 48%, but, in ward four, where, again, there were many domestics, 62% of Black residents were women. Yet, the third ward, which also had more servants than elsewhere, was one in which 54% of the African-American population were male, though it is important to note that the city jail was in that area of town and there were five African-American men and one woman (out of a total of 37 prisoners) incarcerated there. Proximity to city hall and the courthouse, as well as hotels and restaurants, also seems to account for a high concentration of janitors, waiters and bell-boys, while there were also several coachmen. In the fifth ward, women were also a 62% majority, with a significant number of them working as cooks, domestics and servants for well-to-do families.

With respect to birthplace, it is, again, not at all surprising that two-thirds of the Black residents of Los Angeles were from the South. The concentrations were lowest in the eighth and ninth wards, at 59% and 54%, respectively, and this made particular sense with the latter, having a higher proportion of children. The highest percentage of Southern-born residents was in ward six at 72%, while the rest fluctuated between 61% and 69%.

The enumeration in the sixth ward at Maple near 24th streets of the McClellan and Ward families.

Only 10% of the African-American populace was from the northern states, with the highest number being in the eighth ward, though it doesn’t seem obvious why. Otherwise, percentages of Northern-born Blacks being higher (16% and 14%, respectively) in the third and fourth wards are also not readily obvious. Only 2% of residents came from outside the United States, these principally being from Canada and the West Indies, perhaps because of the English connection with these two parts of the Americas.

Comparing city and county data, we find that there was a higher percentage of males in the latter and that the reversals were almost identical in percentage terms. In other words, outside Los Angeles males were almost 51.5% of the total, while in the city women were the majority at 51.2%. Children were six per cent higher of the total in the county than in the city at 38.5% to 32.3%, yet the 18-35 cohort was 32% in the city and 26% in the county, suggestive that there were more older parents in the latter. There was little difference among those over 65 at 2.7% and 2.9%, respectively.

A data table for the nine wards in Los Angeles with gender, birthplace, age and comparisons to county statistics.

As for the birthplaces of African-Americans, the differential, for those of Southern origin, was 6.5% higher in the city than in the county at 66% and 59.5%, respectively. The number of those born in California, again a vast majority being children, was higher in the county at 26.5% compared to 21.3% in the city. There was also a 2.5% difference for those from the North with almost 13% in the county and just over 10% in the city. Those from outside the country were twice as likely in the city, but the numbers are low, so how significant that is can be questioned.

We’ll return tomorrow with a look at specific individuals and families with an eye to personalizing the statistics in this part, so please check back in for that.

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