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Harlem of the West was a place in downtown San Diego that existed during the 1920's through the 1940's. It was a place where entertainment flourished. Famous jazz and blues stars like Nat King Cole, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald all performed and hung-out in San Diego's Harlem of the West.
It was a proud community where everything the people needed could be purchased in downtown. By the 1960s however, the community was all but forgotten. By the 1980's, most of the historic structures associated with Harlem of the West had been demolished due to downtown redevelopment.
In 1999, Karen L. Huff established the Gaslamp Black Historical Society (GBHS), an offshoot of the Black Historical Society of San Diego which was created seven years earlier. The purpose of the organization was to focus on the history of African Americans in downtown San Diego. And identify and protect what was left of the community.
The plan was to focus on the downtown redevelopment areas. The target was the Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC) which had devastated downtown's historic black community through years of redevelopment.
D-day was the year 2000. That year, the Black Historical Society staged a major media blitz and awareness campaign to bring attention to downtown's historic Harlem of the West. The organization demanded that CCDC stop demolishing buildings important to the history of African Americans. It also demanded a historical study of African Americans in the downtown redevelopment areas as had been done for Asians in the redevelopment areas. An African American Thematic District was also proposed.
2001, the Black Historical Society started producing its own studies on
selected African American Buildings in downtown and submitted the sites
to the San Diego Historical Resources Board (HRB) for designation as
local historic landmarks. Several African American buildings were
identified and have since designated historic landmarks.
In response, CCDC announced in early 2002 that they would conduct their own study of African Americans in the downtown and that CCDC would seek to preserve and designate African American sites and even explore the idea of a thematic district. The rushed study by Mooney & Associates was insufficient. The Black Historical Society is completing its own study of African Americans in downtown.
The organization's work continues to positively impact downtown San Diego. However, for the love of money, "opportunists" and so called "community activists" have come out of their holes, and in may cases are circumventing the Black Historical Society's efforts save black history by supporting certain developer interests in demolishing historic African American buildings.