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.