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Black Politics in L.A.

January 14, 2011 |  4:35 am

  Police Commission, Aug. 28, 1946  

Charles H. Matthews, African American member of the Police Commission, at a 1946 meeting.

I was intrigued by the remark on L.A. Observed, quoting the Root, “According to historian Raphael J. Sonenshein, ‘No African-American, Latino or Jewish person held elected office in the city of Los Angeles between 1900 and 1949, when a Latino, Edward Roybal, was elected to the City Council.’ ”

Not quite.

April 2, 1941, Fay E. Allen Without looking too far into the historic record for this era, we find Fay E. Allen, an African American music teacher at Jefferson High who after an unsuccessful attempt in 1937, was  elected to the Board of Education in 1939. In 1943, Allen was opposed by The Times, which alleged that she had communist support (although she was a registered Democrat), and she was defeated by Marie M. Adams. She ran for Board of Education in 1945 but was defeated again. That year, she became a labor organizer to unionize nonteaching employees in Los Angeles.

As might be expected, The Times wrote very little about Allen and I can’t find an obituary for her, so further digging is required. 

And although he was appointed rather than elected, one of the most notable African American figures in Los Angeles city government in this era is Charles H. Matthews (d. 1985), a deputy district attorney from 1931 to 1945, who was appointed to the Police Commission in 1946.  As far as I can determine, Matthews was the first African American on the commission and was followed by  John Somerville, Herbert Greenwood and Everette M. Porter.

According to Matthews' obituary, he was the only African American in his law class at UC Berkeley, the only black in the district attorney's office and the first African American on the California State Law Review Commission. He was twice denied membership in the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. because he was black and refused to join when it became desegregated, although he accepted an honorary membership.


Edward R. Roybal on the Daily Mirror

  Jan. 17, 1985, Charles H. Matthews  

  March 31, 1962, Police Commission