When Executive Order 9066 forced Japanese Americans living in the Los Angeles neighborhood known as J-Flats from their homes and into incarceration camps, their African American neighbors came to their aid.
The family of Rufus and Crystal Marshall stored their neighbors’ belongings, protected their homes and brought them food during their incarceration at the Pomona Assembly Center. The Marshalls’ dedication meant that many of the neighborhood’s incarcerees had something to return to when they left camp.
Making A Neighborhood, the new exhibit opening July 20 at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, tells the story of the neighborhood’s rise and the alliance between Black and Japanese Americans who were prevented by racist covenants and discriminatory lending practices from moving to many parts of greater Los Angeles before and after World War II.
Curated by Samanta Helou Hernandez, a Los Angeles journalist and photographer, and Heart Mountain Executive Director Aura Sunada Newlin, the exhibit traces the history of the neighborhoods and the people who have lived since its first settlement in the late 1800s. George Washington Albright, who was born into enslavement in Mississippi before the Civil War, developed some of the early parcels of land in the neighborhood. He was Crystal Marshall’s father.
The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation will combine the exhibit with the presentation of its LaDonna Zall Compassionate Witness Award to three members of the Marshall family — their daughter Barbara Marshall Williams, granddaughter Karen “Kiwi” Burch and great-granddaughter Robin Waller. The award named after longtime Heart Mountain curator and board member LaDonna Zall will be given during the Heart Mountain Pilgrimage on Saturday, July 29.
Funding for the exhibit came from an endowment created by Heart Mountain board member Takashi Hoshizaki, one of the Marshalls’ neighbors before and after the war.
The exhibit will remain in the museum’s temporary exhibit space until April 2024, and will be developed into digital and traveling exhibits.