Arrival Story: Edgar Arceneaux

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Courtesy Edgar Arceneaux

KCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"

Today, we hear from artist and Watts House Project executive director, Edgar Arceneaux:

"My grandfather, Edgar Don Young, migrated to Los Angeles in 1923, from Greensboro, Mississippi.

"He rode here on the train like everybody else at the time and he tried to make a way for himself. He was a self-taught painter and an inventor. He was able to buy his own home and rise five kids.

"My grandfather had only had a sixth-grade education. He was able to do a lot through perseverance, commitment and ingenuity. He had a lot of different jobs. He was a street sweeper for many years - literally a guy who walked with a broom and a barrel.

"He was part of that first significant wave of African Americans from the south who were looking for a better life. Conditions in Mississippi hadn't really improved at all for blacks, and Los Angeles was that great city that folks could go to and follow their dreams.

"Plus, with World War I (and World War II), you had tens of thousands of blacks who were among the hundreds of thousands of people who were migrating to Los Angeles from all over the country, all over the world, really.

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"Los Angeles was a place he could imagine new possibilities, become an artist, have some freedom, buy property, get a job, call a place his own, be able to raise his family, be in a community that cared about him and be loved.

"The first home that he bought was in South Central, Los Angeles, same as for many folks like him, migrants moving from the south. That house was not too far from where I grew up. I might have seen it once, but I never got a chance to know my grandfather. He died a couple of months before I was born, so I was named after him. I grew up with his works around the house, his paintings on the wall. So my road began there."

-- Edgar Arceneaux
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)



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