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'Walk a Mile in My Shoes': Public Art Park Celebrates the Civil Rights Revolution


If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward. --Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law on July 2, 1964.

We the people are celebrating the Civil Rights Revolution with a new public art park that is the result of the struggle for equal justice in Los Angeles. "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" commemorates the Civil Rights Movement by honoring local and national heroes, through art and green space that transform two traffic islands one mile apart from each other. The distance evokes the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, and the March on Selma that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The traffic island on Rodeo Road and Martin Luther King Boulevard focuses on national heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, while the island on Rodeo and Jefferson Boulevard focuses on local heroes. Los Angeles celebrated the ribbon cutting for the public art park -- the only monument in Los Angeles dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement -- on June 26, 2014.

The Civil Rights park is itself the result of the successful civil rights and environmental justice struggle for clean water justice and green access in African American and Latino Los Angeles. The park is the result of the epic 40 year struggle to fix the sewer system city wide, and eliminate noxious odors that plagued African American and Latino communities for decades. Community leaders working with Civil Rights lawyers, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and others reached a $2 billion consent decree with the City of Los Angeles to settle a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act. The Los Angeles sewer system is one of the largest in the U.S., making this work significant to the nation well beyond Southern California. This was the first time the Clean Water Act was used to address sewage odors, separate from overflows. This is one of the largest sewage cases in U.S. history, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Experts from around the world visit Los Angeles to learn how the city has fixed up the sewer system, spills, and odors.


The court ordered settlement agreement calls for green and blue park and water projects city to improve the sewer system citywide, clean up sewer odors, and create park, creek, and wetland projects to improve water quality and quality of life. Multi-benefit park and water projects, or supplemental environmental projects ("SEPs"), are part of the settlement agreement. An SEP is part of a settlement or order that is provided instead of cash damages or penalties to make up for the impacts a community has suffered. The SEPs include:

The green and blue projects directly benefit the community along the River and in Baldwin Hills, South Central Los Angeles, Northeast L.A., and beyond. The Civil Rights art project by artist Kim Abeles, which draws inspiration from the National Park Service's International Civil Rights Walk of Fame, benefits everyone.

The year 2014 marks major milestones in the Civil Rights Movement. These milestones include the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court cases in Brown v. Board of Education and Hernandez v Texas, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the 20th anniversary of Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice and health. Brown held that separate schools are inherently unequal. Hernandez held that the Equal Protection Clause guards against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, ancestry, and descent. The project "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" and the work leading to it in and out of court reflects the myriad strategies of the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Revolution includes attorneys taking cases to court, ground breaking judicial decisions, grass roots organizing, legislation by Congress, action by the President, implementation by administrative agencies, and people providing a mandate to support civil rights through the right to vote.

The City Project's Dayana Molina and Michelle Kao at the pedestal with Tom Hayden's shoes
The City Project's Dayana Molina and Michelle Kao at the pedestal with Tom Hayden's shoes.

The Baldwin Hills and South Central Los Angeles are the historic heart of African American Los Angeles. These communities have longed struggled to be free of environmental degradation, including sewage odors and overflows, and the risks of urban oil fields. These communities have long strived for equal access to public resources including parks, recreation, and public art. Although Baldwin Hills may be comparatively well-off financially, it is plagued by the inequality and environmental injustice common to to South Central and other communities that are of color or low-income. "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" reflects the community struggle for both: freedom from the risks of sewer odors, spills, and oil fields, and freedom to enjoy green space and public art.

Thus diverse allies helped fix the sewer system citywide to eliminate noxious odors and create park and clean water projects through the Clean Water Justice agreement. Allies include Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Homeowners' Coalition, Baldwin Hills Estate Homeowners Association (HOA), Baldwin Hills Village Gardens Homes HOA, Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, Crenshaw Neighborhoods HOA, Expo Neighbors Block Club, United HOA, Village Green Homes HOA, and Civil Rights Attorneys at The City Project and English, Munger, and Rice.

Community allies have also worked to make the dream come true for the Baldwin Hills Park, the largest urban park designed in the U.S. in over a century. Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, represented by The City Project, and diverse allies have fought for over a decade to protect the community and the park. They have stopped a power plant in the park, stopped a garbage dump there, and saved the Baldwin Hills Conservancy. They have fought to regulate the adjoining Baldwin Hills oil fields to better protect human health and the environment. This work has defined the standard for protecting human health and the environment in urban oil fields, including those in communities of color and low-income.

The Baldwin Hills Park is part of the Green Justice Movement that includes Los Angeles State Historic Park, Rio de Los Angeles State Park, the one billion dollar plan to revitalize the Los Angeles River, and the proposed national recreation area in the San Gabriels.

With the ribbon cutting for "Walk a Mile in My Shoes," the Clean Water consent decree is coming to an end after ten years. The City's Bureau of Sanitation, the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Homeowners' Coalition, and The City Project have agreed to continue working together voluntarily to ensure continued progress in keeping Baldwin Hills and South Central L.A. clean and green. The City and the people have come to listen and trust each other and to work together. That is a testament to the transformative power of the Civil Rights Movement to continue to make real change in people's lives.

Before and after: the Air Treatment Facility at Rodeo and Jefferson in 2010, where the Civil Rights project is now.
Before and after: the Air Treatment Facility at Rodeo and Jefferson in 2010, where the Civil Rights project is now.
Ribbon Cutting June 26, 2014, City of L.A. Engineer Gary Lee, Community Leader Opal Young, The City Project's Robert García, City Council President Herb Wesson, and Korean Immigrant Activist Susan Ann Cuddy
Ribbon Cutting June 26, 2014, City of L.A. Engineer Gary Lee, Community Leader Opal Young, The City Project's Robert García, City Council President Herb Wesson, and Korean Immigrant Activist Susan Ann Cuddy.

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