African Americans: Finding a Place to Live

By Claudine Burnett
Negro District

In September 1906, a group of Baptist African Americans led by Reverend Jason Lee brought a dozen families from the overcrowded districts of St. Louis to Southern California. The immigrants had been saving their money for years to come west to seek a better life. Lee had already established small colonies in Oregon and Arizona, now he purchased land on the outskirts of Long Beach for a new African American community.

He was confident the new arrivals would find employment as house servants, janitors or laborers. Lee did the best he could for his flock, creating an African American farming colony between Long Beach and Los Angeles. He was careful not to intrude on the white community; he made sure to look for isolated tracts of land for his settlement. Lee envisioned a place where his people could have their own homes and church.

Prior to their arrival there were only 21 African Americans in Long Beach, which boasted a population of 2,252 in 1900. Most living with families who employed them. By 1910 there were 100 African Americans out of a population of 17,809, most living in the outlying area that Lee purchased.

For years, the policy in Long Beach was to confine African Americans to this limited area, known as Central Long Beach or the Negro District. The zone, between 10th and Hill and Locust to Cherry, eventually became part of the city in 1923. It was in this restricted area that African Americans were permitted to live until integrated Navy housing opened on the West Side in the 1940s.

World War II increased Long Beach’s African American population tremendously, as many flocked here for jobs in the defense industry. In June 1944, the Press -Telegram reported the Black population of Long Beach was 10 times as large as it had been in 1940, an increase from 610 to 6,000, with practically no increase in the area in which African American citizens could reside. The result was obvious – you could only cram so many people into an area and once that number was exceeded you had a slum.

Restrictive housing covenants were still legal according to the 1948 U. S. Supreme Court ruling in Shelley v. Kraemer, though enforcing them was not. African Americans found when they tried to buy property outside of the California Avenue corridor and West Long Beach they ran into barriers: technicalities that prevented their buying. Even those who were veterans and tried to take advantage of signs stating “Veterans Housing $500 ($5,350 in 2023) down” got nowhere.

Long Beach’s Charlie and Ethel Haynes did what they could to find decent housing for their fellow African Americans. The couple moved to Long Beach in 1945 from Texas, after Charlie completed his service with the Army. While Charlie worked as an electrician and an inspector at the Navy Shipyard and later General Motors, Ethel went back to school.

She attended UCLA and Long Beach State College, earning a teaching certificate and a job with the Long Beach Unified School District. However, they wanted more. In 1947, both Charlie and Ethel decided to get real estate licenses.

From 1947 to 1962, the couple trained and mentored a whole generation of black realtors, changing the real estate world for African Americans in Long Beach. When the white National Association of Real Estate Boards refused to admit black members, the Haynes helped form the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB). Since the white group had patented the term “realtor,” Charlie, Ethel and other Black real estate agents, called themselves “realtists.”

They had their work cut out for them. Of the city’s 15,000 Blacks, only six families were known to live outside the two “open” districts of Central Long Beach and the Westside in 1963, according to the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

But times changed and in 1962 Charlie Haynes was the first African American admitted to the Long Beach Board of Realtors. Later, in 1964, he was selected as a delegate to the International Real Estate Federation in Tel Aviv. In 1977, the Long Beach Board of Realtors named him realtor of the year.

Sixty-eight-year-old Charlie died in 1978 on a trip to Hawaii, followed in 1999 by his 81-year-old wife Ethel. Together they fought racial discrimination in housing, exemplified what could be achieved through education, and helped forge a path toward equality for members of their race.

You’ll find more about the African American experience in Long Beach in my book African Americans in Long Beach and Southern California: A History

Also visit the African American Cultural Center, 4321 Atlantic, and the African American resource area at Burnett Library, 520 East Hill.

Claudine Burnett is a retired Long Beach Public Library librarian who compiled the library’s Long Beach History Index. In her research, she found many forgotten, interesting stories about Long Beach, which she has published in 12 books as well as in monthly blogs. You can access information about her books and read her blogs at www.claudineburnettbooks.com.

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