Obama to visit 'Black Beverly Hills'


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    Retired law enforcement officer James Taylor waters his lawn in View Park. Taylor has lived in the house since 1997, but raised three children with his wife in other homes in the neighborhood before that. He's happy that President Obama will visit the neighborhood, but wants to make sure View Park keeps its low-key vibe.

    - Jolie Puidokas/Marketplace

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    President Barack Obama will visit View Park to hold a fundraiser on June 7, 2012. The fundraiser, held behind the gate (pictured) at the home of a successful developer, will capitalize on the wealthy population of View Park.

    - Jolie Puidokas/Marketplace

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    View Park resident Lonnie Woods washes one of his classic cars out in front of his house on Valleydale Avenue. Woods came to Los Angeles from Memphis to look for work and a way into the middle class. With work came the house in View Park, and he's lived there for 50 years.

    - Jolie Puidokas/Marketplace

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    View Park in Los Angeles is now over 80 percent black. But the neighborhood used to be largely white. Before the practice was outlawed, black people were barred from living in View Park through "housing covenants," or passages in home deeds that precluded minorities from ever owning the home. The housing covenant from the deed for 3962 Kenway Avenue in View Park is pictured.


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    Residents of View Park in Los Angeles attend the 2012 Spring Garden Tour. View Park is more than 80 percent black and the people who live there are mostly middle to upper middle class.

    - Shereen Marisol Meraji/Marketplace

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    View Park is so named for the sweeping views of Los Angeles available to residents in the neighborhood. Just down the hill is a less-affluent part of town with public housing and a higher rate of crime and poverty.

    - Shereen Marisol Meraji/Marketplace

On June 7th, President Obama will be back in Los Angeles for a fundraiser. No, this one is not at George Clooney's again. The President is headed to View Park for breakfast. View Park is an upper middle class majority-black community nestled in the hills southwest of downtown L.A. People familiar with the neighborhood often refer to it as the "Black Beverly Hills."

View Park real estate agent, Jo Ramsey, a 40-year resident, thinks her neighborhood is just as fabulous as Beverly Hills and Bel Air. She takes me on a tour up and down a hilltop lined with custom homes, many built in the late '30s. We stop to admire sprawling lots with maid's quarters, pools, and million-dollar views of downtown.

"This is where Debbie Allen lived, that was her house right there, but she sold it," says Ramsey. Allen, the dancer, choreographer and actor best known for her role in the TV Series "Fame" isn't the only celebrity who has called View Park home. Ike and Tina Turner lived in View Park and so did Ray Charles.

 

 

Angela James, a sociologist who teaches at Loyola Marymount University, says the View Park of today was created after whites "hit the road" in the mid-'60s. "The story of these wealthy, beautiful black communities," says James, "they're born out of white flight and redlining and mortgage discrimination and all kinds of difficulties." Sixty years ago, housing covenants prohibited African-Americans from buying property and living in View Park, unless they were servants. But, after the 1965 Watts Riots, upper middle class whites fled South L.A. and African-American doctors, lawyers, and entertainers moved in.

Today, View Park is more than 80 percent African-American, and the median income is $85,000 a year. Nearly half of its residents have a bachelor's degree or more. And that, says James, is rare. "'Majority African-American' is usually synonymous with poverty, not wealth," she says. "View Park, where the president will appear," James adds, "is less than two miles from the area in Los Angeles colloquially known as 'the Jungle.'"

Unlike Beverly Hills or Bel Air, View Park is situated very close to gang-riddled, low-income neighborhoods, like the one James mentions. And she says this is something middle- and upper-class African-Americans deal with more often than their white counterparts. The physical closeness and racial commonality with people who live in poor communities creates what she calls "linked fate."

"They view what's going to happen to me as predicated not just by my tax bracket, but rather what's going to happen to me and my children is inextricably linked to what happens to other people in this racial group. What happens to black people, matters to me." James adds that it matters quite a bit when middle class African-Americans head to the polls.

To test that theory, I went back to View Park on a Sunday a couple of weeks ago. Neighbors enjoyed live jazz and oohed and aahed over fancy landscaping at a garden tour event. Carol Thompson and Barbara Winzer were there, and were surprised to hear President Obama was planning to attend an upcoming election fundraiser in View Park. "How do you know he's coming?" said Thompson, "We want to see some proof!" Winzer said she wanted the president to know that people in View Park mow their lawns and have nice homes. "It would be a pleasure to see Obama here, he goes to Beverly Hills, let him come down here where the real people live!"

Carol Thompson added that a visit from President Obama would uplift L.A.’s black community. "When President Obama was running, I was telling all my neighbors we have to get out and vote," said Thompson. "And it's not just because he's black... well, yes, it is because he's black. I'm not going to tell a lie. It's because he's black. I'm black!"

But is being black enough for President Obama this time around? For Carol Thompson and every View Park resident I spoke with, it is.

Kai Ryssdal: After he finished his speech today in Minnesota, the one not really about the unemployment report, President Obama still had a full day and night ahead of him. Six fundraisers for his campaign and state Democratic Parties. Next week he comes back here to Los Angeles for another one. No, not a fancy dinner at George Clooney's house again. The president's headed to a neighborhood View Park for breakfast. Never heard of View Park, you say? Well, it's in South L.A., where it's referred to as the "Black Beverly Hills."

From the Wealth and Poverty desk, Marketplace's Shereen Marisol Meraji tells us more.


Shereen Marisol Meraji: Everybody's heard about Beverly Hills and Bel Air. But, real estate agent Jo Ramsey, a 40 year View Park resident, thinks her neighborhood is just as fabulous. She hops in my car and we tour the hilltop -- lined with custom homes, many built in the late '30s.

Jo Ramsey: This is the maid's quarters, with a two car garage.

Ms. Ramsey points to one that takes up a huge lot and has an insane view of downtown L.A.

Ramsey: A lot of doctor's and judges and lawyers and stuff up here.

And celebrities have called View Park home.

Ramsey: This was where Debbie Allen lived -- that was her house, she sold it.

Ike and Tina Turner lived in View Park. And I'll drop one more name: The Genius -- Ray Charles.

Angela James: The story of these wealthy, beautiful black communities, you know, they're born out of white flight and red lining and mortgage discrimination and all kinds of difficulties.

Angela James is a sociologist who teaches at Loyola Marymount University. She says 60 years ago, African-Americans couldn't buy property in View Park and could only live there as servants. But after the 1965 Watts Riots, upper middle class whites fled South L.A.

James: So black lawyers, doctors, entertainers replaced white entertainers and professionals.

Today, View Park is more than 80 percent African American. The median income is $85,000 a year. That, says James, is rare. "Majority African-American" is usually synonymous with poverty, not wealth.

James: View Park, where the president will appear, is less than two miles from the area in Los Angeles colloquially known as "the Jungle."

You see, unlike Beverly Hills or Bel Air -- View Park is very close to gang-riddled, low-income neighborhoods. And James says that is something middle and upper class African-Americans deal with much more often than their white counterparts. Living near poor areas and being the same race creates something she calls "linked fate."

James: They view what's going to happen to me is predicated not just by my tax bracket, what's going to happen to me and my children is inextricably linked to what happens to other people in this racial group -- what happens to black people, matters to me.

And Angela James says it matters quite a bit when middle class African-Americans go to vote.

Garden tour

A couple of weeks back, View Park neighbors ooh'd and ahh'd over fancy landscaping at a garden tour. I couldn't resist chatting with people about President Obama's upcoming visit. I actually broke the news to Carol Thompson and her friend Barbara Winzer.

Carol Thompson: We heard about him going to George Clooney's house, that's money! This community doesn't have that kind of money.

Meraji: Although this is a pretty fabulous upscale neighborhood.

Thompson: But this is not a $100,000-a-plate neighborhood, it's not even a $50,000. People have to pay their mortgages here, they can't afford that!

Barbara Winzer: It would be a pleasure to see Obama here. He goes to Beverly Hills, let him come down here where the real people live.

$2,500 can buy you a seat at the fundraiser, For $5,000 you'll get a photo with President Obama. Carol Thompson just wants to catch a glimpse of his motorcade rolling through View Park.

Thompson: Can you imagine what it would do for this community, for the president to come? I was telling all my neighbors we have to all get out and vote and not because he's black -- but well yes, it is because he's black. I'm not going to tell a lie. Yes, it is because he's black. Don't lie. Yes, it's because he's black. I'm black!

But, is being black enough for President Obama this time around? For, Carol Thompson and every View Park resident I spoke with, it is.

I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji for Marketplace.

Thompson: I'm going to be very disappointed if he cancels and I get my hair done and tell all my friends to come!


Ryssdal: I've got a picture up on the computer here in the studio, part of our Wealth and Poverty coverage of how you define middle class. It came in today from Zachary Hollcraft in Columbia, Mo. It's a shot of the house he owns with his wife, white picket fence and all. Send us yours. Original pictures that sum up -- for you -- what it means to be middle class and why. Click here to see the pictures and send us yours.

About the author

Shereen Marisol Meraji is a reporter for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk.

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