All photos by Daina Beth Solomon
The Southern California Library was born 50 years ago out of piles of pamphlets headed for the trash. It was the era of McCarthyism, and the activist friends of Communist Party member Emil Freed were taking drastic measures to protect themselves, library communications director Michelle Welsing told me last week.
“People were getting rid of stuff in droves. He said, ‘Bring it to me me’ — that’s how urgent and important it was.”
The spirit of saving history from oblivion still animates the library, which has now amassed a vast warehouse of material illustrating numerous social justice efforts based in Los Angeles.
“This is the history that could be so easily lost,” Welsing said. “It’s not enshrined in grand buildings. It’s not people who became famous.”
Just as much as the library tracks the past, it also aims to inspire visitors to consider the future — to use records of previous efforts to improve L.A. as models of what worked, or what didn’t.
Grade-school diorama projects highlighting the accomplishments of the Black Panthers and the Mexican soldaderas lined the bookshelves on a recent day, illustrating just how the past might influence the future.
“If you don’t have your memory,” asked Welsing, “how do you know what you’re doing, where you’re going, who you are?”
Visit the Southern California Library in South L.A. at 6120 S. Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90044. Summer hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.