South LA’s Southern California Library keeps social justice history alive


A wall of the library’s exterior features an Olmec statue. | Stephanie Case

It’s been fifty years since Emil Freed—son of anarchists, a Communist Party member, and staunch activist—founded the Southern California Library to save materials at risk of being destroyed amid fear of McCarthyism. A lot has changed in South L.A. since then: the 1992 riots rocked the city, workers’ unions grew stronger, and race, class and sexuality have been at the forefront of political battles. And today, more people than ever are using the social justice library.

“Maybe less than 200 people would come through the door in a year” in 2002, said communications director Michele Welsing. “Now, we’ve seen those numbers go up to as much as 10,000. And for researchers, we’re getting as many people now in one month as we would get in an entire year.”

Take an audio tour of the library with reporter Stephanie Case:

Freed’s small collection of leftist papers has blossomed into more than 400 archives, including vinyl records, film reels and shelves upon shelves of political pamphlets. [Read more…]

South LA hero encourages civic engagement in the face of adversity

Men of faith: Reverend Mark Whitlock, Dr. Varun Soni and Reverend Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray prepare to speak at the “Twice Tested by Fire” reception at the USC Doheny Memorial Library. Photo: Alec Faulkner

Members of the Los Angeles community gathered at the University of Southern California Doheny Memorial Library on October 2nd to listen to veteran community leader Reverend Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray discuss struggles faced by humanity and the efforts needed to overcome them. USC staff and faculty, congregation members of Dr. Murray’s First African Methodist Episcopal (F.A.M.E.) Church in South LA and other guests listened to the retired pastor and current USC Religion & Civic Culture faculty member reflect on the history of his own life and the United States as a whole while celebrating the publication of his 2012 autobiography “Twice Tested By Fire.”

Faith under fire

Dr. Murray has been known as a hero in the Los Angeles community for decades and has a name that has been attached to many titles and awards, but USC President Dr. Max Nikias stressed that “these titles don’t tell the whole story.” After being introduced by Dr. Nikias and USC Dean of Religious Life Dr. Varun Soni, who pointed out that October 2 was also the birthday of legendary Indian civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Murray deflected the praise and attention he received and pointed out that his struggle is part of a larger human struggle.

“Understanding (that) we are family is the challenge of the 21st century. The pain is not going to go away. The fire is not going to go away. The truth is we are not saved from the fire: we are saved in the midst of the fire,” said Dr. Murray in an analogy to his near-death experience which occurred when his Air Force jet caught on fire in 1957.

Community Catalyst: Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray receives a proclamation in honor of his community service and 83rd birthday from City of Los Angeles Community Services Officer Josefina Salvador on behalf of LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Photo: Alec Faulkner

The next step

Despite being praised by members of the USC community and being recognized with a proclamation from the City of Los Angeles for his efforts thus far, Dr. Murray refused to focus on his awards and instead chose to discuss the dire need for social justice for South Los Angeles and other underserved communities around the world.

“All of us are constantly tested by fire. Half of the people of the world live on less than two dollars a day. We have a long way to go. Seeing that we are family, we will get there. But our chauffeur will be necessity,” said Dr. Murray, who added that all humans are “kin under the skin.”

History lesson

While also focusing on the future, Dr. Murray referenced the 1992 riots that swept across South LA and other underserved communities in Southern California and pointed out the set of root causes first highlighted by Dr. Martin Luther King.


“Poverty, racism and war were the combination that caused not only the 1992 riots, but the 1965 riots in Los Angeles as well. The poverty rate in underserved black communities is double the national rate,” said Dr. Murray, who recently celebrated his 83rd birthday and was inspired by the 1992 riots to create social justice for communities of color.

Civic engagement within South LA, which has been spurred by organizations such as Community Coalition South Los Angeles, was highlighted as a key component of the solution to social ills during the final moments of Dr. Murray’s speech.

“We have enough resources to change our neighborhoods. We have an obligation to rise to the occasion,” said. Dr. Murray.

“If we don’t do it, who will?”

This event was hosted by USC Spectrum.

Elias Kamal Jabbe is the Founding Editor of