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Furlong Tract Community - L.A.'s First African American Community

Furlong Tract, African American, circa 1900s

Circa 1900s. Children from the Furlong Tract community pose for a group portrait in what appears to be a patriotic event, perhaps celebrating Lincoln’s birthday. From Shades of L.A. Collection at Los Angeles Public Library.

In 1905, Irish farmer and landowner James Furlong subdivided a large land tract, where there were already a few African American residents, and welcomed all African American buyers. The Furlong Tract, Los Angeles County’s first real African American community, grew into more than 200 homes, bounded by Long Beach Avenue and Alameda Street, 50th and 55th Streets (or Florence Ave.?), in what is now the Central Alameda neighborhood of Los Angeles. African Americans were barred from purchasing land in most of the Los Angeles area, so, this opportunity especially attracted black businesspeople and those with the means to buy property. The community quickly grew, sprouting a school, a community hall, churches, and its own business district, including grocery stores, a pharmacy, a medical office, a dry cleaner, a florist, an ice cream parlor, an ice house, and a real estate office.

When the Furlong Tract community school opened in 1910 – 51st Street School (now Holmes Avenue Elementary School) - due to racial hiring restrictions at the time, a white principal and only white teachers were hired. That changed a year later, when Bessie Burke (a graduate of UCLA) was also hired to teach at the school - the first African American teacher in L.A. public schools. Burke was later promoted to principal - L.A.’s first African American school principal. By the 1920s, the Furlong Tract community connected with the expanding black community from Central Avenue, in time losing its higher status and distinctiveness as a community.

Furlong Tract, Bessie Burke, 51st Street School, 1912

Bessie Bruington Burke, first African American teacher and principal in Los Angeles public schools. From The Crisis, March 1912.

-- The Furlong Tract Community (Los Angeles), a Story
-- Honoring L.A.'s Black Founders, by Cecilia Rasmussen, L.A. Times
-- Fifty-first Street School, National Park Service
-- Encyclopedia of Immigration and Migration in the American West, edited by Gordon Morris Bakken, Alexandra Kindell
-- The Forgotten Furlong Tract, AnGeeNee

Also see: Redlining in Los Angeles County