The black community in Santa Monica has been an important influence on other communities of color and immigrant communities, especially in the Pico Neighborhood. The neighborhood has long had a large Japanese-American population, which was deeply affected by the advent of the Second World War. Many Japanese-Americans were sent against their wills to concentration camps like Manzanar in California, in a racist federal policy that is a stain on our nation’s history.

No strangers to oppression and racism, many members of the black community in the Pico Neighborhood rallied together to support their neighbors in a show of unity and community resilience.


“When the war came, her family, like every other Japanese-American family in this area, was sent to the camps. The interesting thing about that is, a lot of African-Americans took care of their property while they were gone. And when they got out, they gave it back to them. So, the relationship with Japanese-American and African-American was a lot different that people know, even imagine.” Harriette McCauley, long time resident.

Black Leisure on the Bay Street Beach

From 26th Street to the coast, the black community of Santa Monica had a big impact on how the city was shaped. When you live in Santa Monica, the beach becomes like a second home. You are constantly reminded of it – from the morning fog greeting you as you open your front door in the brisk mornings, to the sun quickly rising to spill into every corner of the city. Even on the beach, though, there are boundaries lines, restrictive zones where some people are allowed to go and others are not. These were always invisible lines, but they are very much remembered.

The 200-foot strip of beach dubbed “The Inkwell” (now known as the Bay Street Beach), a derogatory name referring to the fact that it was segregated, was one instance of these invisible lines on the coast. These lines were seen physically with swimming buoys that bobbed on the ocean’s waves. These deceptively cheery orange spheres announced to everyone that there was a limit to where they could enjoy the cool ocean.

Nick Gabaldon was one of the first African American men who pushed against these boundaries and became the first documented black surfer, teaching himself the sport as a Santa Monica High School student. He is recognized by a lone plaque atop of a rock with a recognition, and a yearly “Nick Galbadon Day” at the beach.

Like Nick Galbadon, many members of the black community saw achievement and skill as a way to rise above oppression. From Santa Monica High School, students can see the ocean gleaming in the far distance from the second floor of the history building. A respected educator able to see the potential in all of his students, William Alfred Quinn, was the first African American educator to be hired into the Santa Monica School District, followed by a position in the Santa Monica city government. “He told us we could do anything anybody else could do, but we should do it with style.” said an alumnus. Quinn also fought for diversity and inclusion while he served as the trustee of the Santa Monica College.

Santa Monica was made by the people in the community, and we can see these small glimpses of history spread throughout the city and reverberating in its culture. Though the sunsets on Santa Monica Boulevard are beautiful, the people that make up this place are its true gems.

“Inkwell” photographs from 1920-1940 from Shades of L.A. Photo Collection. Santa Monica Public Library.

Rosie the Riveter

The Douglas Aircraft company was a powerful force in Santa Monica in the 30s and 40s, but much of its relationship with the black community in Santa Monica remains untold. First established in 1924 on 25th and Wilshire by Donald Douglas, the company soon allocated a contract to work with the government producing Navy Torpedo planes, though they quickly outgrew their location. Moving to Cloverfield and Airport Avenue after testing a couple of other spots in Santa Monica, they quickly became the number one producers of this technology.

In the background of this big company, however, African American women and men were often the ones who created the machines that were used during the WWII. During that time, a large population of African American families migrated from the south into Santa Monica, with the many finding good jobs in the Douglas Aircraft Hangar. In fact, Douglas was growing so fast they they had to hire more executives, and began to hire African American men and women into top management jobs as well. However, due to racially restrictive housing convenants, many of these new hires were not allowed to live in the Ocean Park area near the Airport. They were forced to commute from Inglewood, or find housing in the nearby Pico Neighborhood. In fact, a number of small bungalows were built in the Pico Neighborhood just to house black Douglas Aircraft executives.

During WWII with men going off into the war, the presence of women in the work force was strong. Rosie the Riveter became the face of women in the workforce, and at Douglas Aircraft, African American woman became the backbone of the company helping in the war effort to protect their community and families.

The sounds of machinery can still be heard in the distance with woman at work, empowering future generations to recognize the power that women have.