A bird’s-eye view of history

Iconic aerial photo archives from the UCLA Department of Geography are a rich resource for researchers and the public

UCLA Geography Aerial Archives

UCLA Geography Aerial Archives

By Jonathan Riggs

Today, anyone with a drone can capture dazzling images of the Earth below. But it wasn’t so long ago that would-be aerial photographers had to swing nearly 50-pound aerial cameras out of single-engine plane windows to do the same. The UCLA Department of Geography owns a huge number of such images in its Benjamin and Gladys Thomas Air Photo Archives, many of which detail California life and landscapes as far back as 1920. These remarkable images are as valuable artistically as they are historically.

In fact, the department has launched a new website featuring images from two of its collections, which are among the world’s best. Breathtaking images of Los Angeles and New York City—everything from a gorgeously moody shot of clouds over Manhattan on Oct. 15, 1931 to a view of UCLA and Westwood on Jan. 13, 1950—are available to purchase as fine art prints.

“The department was given these collections and has been maintaining them as best as possible for decades. However, some of the negatives are now over 100 years old and deserve better long-term treatment than we can give them,” says department chair Greg Okin. “Proceeds from the sale of images will allow us to preserve the physical images for posterity. It will also allow us to digitize them in order to ease access to the collection for generations to come.”

Overall, the Aerial Archives contain 120,000 black and white negatives, 100,000 black and white prints, and several hundred color images. What makes these collections so special is that they are exclusively oblique aerial photos, meaning they were taken from the side, rather than looking straight down as on a Google map. This angle captures a richness of detail that allows viewers to read signs, identify specific cars and even see what people were wearing.

UCLA Geography Aerial Archives

UCLA Geography Aerial Archives

In addition to bringing the past to vivid life for members of the public, these archives are an incredible scholarly resource.

“We have students and faculty across the university as well as people in many industries who use this unique resource for their research,” Okin says. “We can see, for example, the development of the Los Angeles River as it was channelized. We can identify areas of beach erosion. We can see how specific areas of Los Angeles have changed through time. We can see how the city developed into the complex place that it is now as well as map the legacies of policies and attitudes in the region. The potential uses are endless.”

Another devoted user of the Archives is Kelly Turner, assistant professor of Urban Planning and of Geography and co-director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. She’s leading a multifaceted project to explore how the racist policy of redlining—and hundreds of other seemingly unrelated and everyday actions by homeowners and developers alike—caused the L.A. neighborhood of Watts to become nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the overall city average.

“Our project aims to use innovative, interdisciplinary methods to say what land change occurred, why and how much it changed the temperature,” Turner says. “We hope to arm the community of Watts with data, and to enable them to pinpoint specific elements that can be effectively changed.”

UCLA Geography Aerial Archives

UCLA Geography Aerial Archives

Turner and her team, which includes anthropologist Bharat Venkat collecting oral histories and historian Marquis Vestal with expertise in the intersection of race and land transactions, are using the Archives to create a painstakingly accurate model of historic Watts over the years. By simulating the built environment so accurately, they are able to replicate the past microclimate conditions and determine how the temperature felt for the average citizen on the street on a given day.

“This project wouldn’t be possible without these archives. We need to know the exact placement of features like walls and sidewalks to build the model,” Turner says. “This high resolution imagery allows us to revisit a place with methods that were not available in the 1920s or ’50s to glean new insights that are relevant to contemporary debates about heat and environmental justice.”

“Archival photos reveal the history of planning decisions,” adds Tiffany Rivera, an urban and regional planning graduate student who is assisting on the project. “I look at these images to inform more sustainable and equitable urban designs.”

It’s fitting that these collections landed at UCLA: Los Angeles was a nexus for early aerial photography, and early motion pictures used aerial photography starting in the 1920s. These two iconic industries essentially grew up together just a few miles from campus, making the Archives especially meaningful for the UCLA community.

“We invite anyone interested to check out this incredible world-class resource, either on our website or to reach out and make an in-person visit,” says Okin. “It’s a remarkable opportunity for everyone to see what the collection, and UCLA, have to offer while also providing the chance to own beautiful pieces of history.”

For more of Our Stories at the UCLA College, click here.

Intricacies of L.A.’s urban ecosystem are focus of new UCLA podcast

Illustration of rat near Hollywood sign

The podcast’s premiere episode explores the conflict between people’s attempts to battle one species, rats, while preserving another, mountain lions. Image by Amisha Gadani/UCLA

By Jonathan Van Dyke

Not all of the celebrities in Los Angeles are humans.

Just witness the excitement around sightings of the city’s famous wild animals. One recent Los Angeles Times headline read, “Famed mountain lion P-22 makes dramatic appearance in Beachwood Canyon backyard.”

But even Angelenos who are fascinated by the big cats of the Santa Monica Mountains might not realize that the animals are threatened by factors that seem totally unrelated to their natural habitats. For example, what if the rodenticide being used to fight rat infestations in Los Angeles neighborhoods might ultimately harm P-22 and his running mates?

That’s the topic of the first episode of “The Labyrinth Project,” a new UCLA podcast available now on Apple, Spotify, Google, Amazon and Stitcher. Through six episodes, the series engages listeners in a range of ecological conundrums, all of which are as interconnected as the city’s vast natural ecosystems.

Its creator is Christopher Kelty, a UCLA anthropology professor and member of the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics. Kelty’s Labyrinth Project research initiative inspired the podcast, and his work is funded in part by the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge.

“People see nature in different ways, and with different stakes,” he said. “Some people want to conserve nature in a certain way, other people want to exploit it and others are afraid of it. We wanted to really explore that idea.”

The premiere episode explores the conflict between people’s attempts to battle one species, rats, while preserving another, mountain lions. Studies by UCLA researchers and others have shown that rats killed by pesticides wind up in the food chain that ultimately leads up to bobcats and mountain lions, which can damage their immune systems and alter their genetics.

“We could ban the poisons, but the question remains: Do we want to live with rats? Should we be changing our relationship to rats as well as mountain lions?” Kelty said. “This podcast is an attempt to say that if you focus problem by problem, you won’t see the bigger picture. We’re trying to bring the bigger picture into focus in a way that’s easy to grasp. And we’re asking listeners to take a step back, and maybe to not have a strong opinion immediately.”

The podcast is written and produced by Kelty and five UCLA undergraduates and graduate students. Future episodes, which will be released each Monday, explore stories around coyotes, feral cats and the pressure people can feel from being bombarded with messages about living sustainably.

“I really delved into my own feelings about trying to live a sustainable lifestyle,” said Emma Horton, a third-year undergraduate student majoring in human biology and society, and a co-producer of one episode. “I found what I call ‘sustainability guilt practices’ all around me, and I realized there are these subtle forms of shaming consumers into living environmentally conscious lives, even though a lot of it is really out of reach for the average person.”

The team represents a wide range of academic interests. Spencer Robins, for example, is a doctoral candidate in English, with a focus on environmental literature.

“If you go out into Los Angeles and start talking with people who really know and care about the natural world here, you’re going to meet really wild characters with wild stories,” he said. In the Labyrinth Project, those characters range from trained scientists to a family that feeds a coyote at its front door to members of a satanist cult that morphed into the no-kill movement in Los Angeles.

For Chase Niesner, a graduate student in the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, the project drove home the interconnectedness of a wide range of issues.

“What this project is really about is understanding and respecting the complexity of the urban ecosystem, and understanding that if you pull one thread, it changes everything else,” he said. “In urban ecology, you really can’t think of any one conversation separately from the others.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA NewsroomFor more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit

Destination Crenshaw pays tribute to Black creativity and history in Los Angeles

UCLA faculty and alumni contributed ideas, expertise and artworks to the $100 million revitalization project
Overhead view of Destination Crenshaw’s Sankofa Park featuring designs for works by Maren Hassinger, Kehinde Wiley and Charles Dickson.

Overhead view of Destination Crenshaw’s Sankofa Park featuring designs for works by Maren Hassinger, Kehinde Wiley and Charles Dickson. Image credit: Rendering by Perkins&Will, courtesy of Destination Crenshaw


By Avishay Artsy | 

A cultural and economic corridor that celebrates the contributions of Southern California’s Black community is coming to South Los Angeles. Destination Crenshaw is a $100 million revitalization project that will bring public art, pocket parks and small business investment to 1.3 miles of Crenshaw Boulevard.

Helping bring this project to life? UCLA faculty and alumni.

Crenshaw is a neighborhood in transition. Construction of a light rail line connecting Crenshaw and LAX airport and the opening of SoFi Stadium in nearby Inglewood have boosted home values and brought in new businesses, while accelerating gentrification and displacement. Destination Crenshaw was incorporated as a non-profit in November 2017 to draw attention to the area’s Black history and culture.

“It was a way to kind of lay an anchor and say that this is a Black community, and we want to show that through our cultural heritage,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences in the UCLA College, and a member of the Chancellor’s Council on the Arts. Since 2017, Hunt has served as an advisor to the project at the invitation of city councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who is spearheading the initiative.

Members of Harris-Dawson’s staff had read “Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities,” a book that Hunt had co-edited with Ana-Christina Ramón at the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA and published in 2010.

In his role as advisor, Hunt recommended key moments and figures in Black L.A. history to include. Marcus Hunter, a professor of sociology and the inaugural chair of the department of African American studies at UCLA, also became an advisor.

“UCLA was kind of the scholarly anchor,” Hunt said. “We were the place that was trying to make sure that they were staying true to the history.”

The community partners working on Destination Crenshaw include artist Judith Baca, distinguished professor emeritus in the departments of Chicana and Chicano and Central American studies and world arts and cultures/dance, and a long list of UCLA alumni: arts educator and independent filmmaker Ben Caldwell, educator Mandla Kayise, curator Naima Keith, community organizers Karen Mack and Alberto Retana, and art advisor Joy Simmons.

Image of Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumors of War” figure in the location of his planned Destination Crenshaw sculpture, which will be a bookend to “Rumors of War” and feature a female figure.

Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumors of War” figure in the location of his planned Destination Crenshaw sculpture, which will be a bookend to “Rumors of War” and feature a female figure. Image credit: Rendering by Perkins&Will, courtesy of Destination Crenshaw

Turning insult into opportunity

Destination Crenshaw took shape after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced plans to build the portion of the Crenshaw/LAX line between Hyde Park and Leimert Park at-grade, rather than underground. Area residents fumed at how building the line at-grade would bisect Crenshaw Boulevard in two, making it less walkable and thereby reducing the foot traffic vital to small businesses and a connected community.

Locals vowed to turn an insult into an opportunity, launching an ambitious project to upgrade infrastructure, build community gathering places and parks, add more than 800 trees, invest in small businesses on the boulevard, and install public artworks by local Black artists.

In meeting with Harris-Dawson’s office, Hunter, a Leimert Park resident, heard city council staff members talk about Crenshaw/LAX rail passengers “passing through” the area.

“Then it became a discussion about like, what does it mean to pass through?” Hunter said. “You want to invite people to get off, but also you want people to have some kind of experience or awareness of what they’re passing through on their way to downtown or wherever they’re going on the train.”

Image of Artis Lane’s sculpture “Emerging First Man” in Sankofa Park.

Artis Lane’s sculpture “Emerging First Man” in Sankofa Park. Image credit: Rendering by Perkins&Will, courtesy of Destination Crenshaw

Creating a showcase space for public art

Destination Crenshaw, which spans Crenshaw Boulevard from 48th to 60th streets, will include a new “Afrocentric streetscape” design and six new pocket parks. More than 100 public artworks and exhibits, including monuments, statues, murals and augmented reality storytelling, are set to be included.

In October 2021, the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission approved plans for seven permanent outdoor sculptures along the route. Destination Crenshaw commissioned work from seven prominent Black artists with local ties, including Kehinde Wiley and Alison Saar. Artists Maren Hassinger and Brenna Youngblood, both UCLA alumna, have also been commissioned to create work.

Image of Sankofa Park featuring design for Maren Hassinger’s sculpture “An Object of Curiosity, Radiating Love.”

Sankofa Park featuring design for Maren Hassinger’s sculpture “An Object of Curiosity, Radiating Love.” Image credit: Rendering by Perkins&Will, courtesy of Destination Crenshaw

Hassinger, who was born in Los Angeles in 1947, recalls childhood visits to the May Company department store at the corner of Crenshaw and Santa Barbara (now Martin Luther King Jr.) boulevards. She graduated from Bennington College in Vermont with a bachelor’s in sculpture in 1969, and from UCLA with an M.F.A. in 1973. Her work often incorporates unconventional materials such as plastic bags, leaves and branches, wire, rope and found trash.

For the Destination Crenshaw project, “I knew right away that I wanted to do something that I hadn’t done before,” Hassinger said, “but I somehow wanted it to reflect on an L.A. experience. When I think of L.A., I think of bright and sunny and shiny and warm and loud and busy, and for some reason, I started seeing this pink sphere in my head.”

Hassinger’s sculpture will be installed on a grassy area at the center of Sankofa Park, an elevated outdoor plaza that Destination Crenshaw is building at 46th Street. “An Object of Curiosity, Radiating Love” is a large fiberglass orb, hot pink and six feet in diameter.

As people approach the orb, sensors will trigger it to light up and emit a soft pink glow. This sensation of a dialogue with passers-by is meant to evoke the community-minded spirit of a neighborhood in the midst of a dramatic and unsettling transition.

“So, it’s as if this warm hot pink thing said hello, or winked, or nodded. I want you to know, as a person walking by, that you’re noticed. You exist,” Hassinger said.

Image of I AM Park featuring design for Brenna Youngblood’s work “I AM.”

I AM Park featuring design for Brenna Youngblood’s work “I AM.” Image credit: Rendering by Perkins&Will, courtesy of Destination Crenshaw

Youngblood grew up in Riverside but visited South L.A. as a child, attending church with her family in Compton and South Gate. She now has a home and studio in the Crenshaw district.

“I’ve been here about six years. Not that long, but long enough to see some changes,” she said.

Youngblood received her bachelor’s of fine arts from Cal State Long Beach in 2002 and her M.F.A. from UCLA in 2006. In 2012, she participated in the Hammer Museum’s inaugural “Made in L.A.” biennial exhibition.

Her piece “I AM” will be installed toward the southern end of the route, near Slauson Avenue, in Welcome Park and I AM Park. The letters I AM evoke the posters carried by Civil Rights demonstrators that read “I AM A MAN.” The 8-foot-tall bronze sculpture resembles stacked toy blocks with letters along the sides spelling out I AM. The blocks also look like a jungle gym, which speaks to the formative role of language in shaping identity. The sculpture is a reimagining of one of Youngblood’s earlier works, “MIA,” (2011).

“I think that people will enjoy it because it’s a sculpture that you can touch, that you can crawl up on,” she said.

A tribute to history based on meticulous research

Harris-Dawson’s Council office asked Hunter and his UCLA students to add historical context to Destination Crenshaw. Hunter and 10 graduate students pored through the archives of the African American newspapers California Eagle and the Los Angeles Sentinel to revisit L.A. history from 1850 to 2015. The students presented their research to the design team of Perkins&Will, the architect-of-record for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., which they worked on alongside design architect Adjaye Associates.

What became clear, Hunter said, was that any conversation about Black L.A. history has to start with Bridget “Biddy” Mason. Born a slave, Mason became one of the first prominent citizens and landowners in Los Angeles in the 1850s and 1860s. Working as a midwife and nurse, she used her money to purchase land in what is now the heart of downtown. The investment made her the wealthiest Black woman in the city. She donated to charities, fed and sheltered the poor, visited prisoners and founded the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles in 1872.

“[Mason] is the godmother of Black LA. You cannot talk about Black Los Angeles without talking about her,” Hunter said. People passing through this area “need to see her or experience something about her.”

Other historical markers will track Crenshaw’s role in shaping the nation’s cultural imagination. Crenshaw has been home to many prominent Black entertainers, such as stand-up comedian Redd Foxx, rapper Ice-T, and singers Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner and Nancy Wilson. It was also home to the hit TV show “Soul Train,” which host Don Cornelius started in Chicago in 1970 but brought to L.A. the following year. Local high school students packed Soul Train’s stage to show off fashion styles and new dance moves that were then copied by teens across the country.

Image of Welcome Park at 50th Street featuring design for Alison Saar’s work “Bearing Witness.”

Welcome Park at 50th Street featuring design for Alison Saar’s work “Bearing Witness.” Image credit: Rendering by Perkins&Will, courtesy of Destination Crenshaw

Mapping the movement of Black L.A.

Using census data, the UCLA student researchers also mapped the migration of the Black population across time.

“Black populations have shifted. They’ve moved throughout the decades and centuries in pretty interesting ways,” Hunt said.

Because of redlining and racist housing policies, the neighborhood’s early residents were almost exclusively middle-class and upper-middle-class white families. Former L.A. Mayor (and UCLA alumnus) Tom Bradley and his wife needed a white intermediary to buy their first house in Leimert Park in 1950, while he was serving as a Los Angeles police officer and prior to his entry into politics. After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down racially restrictive housing covenants, Japanese American families began to move in, and the center of the city’s Black population shifted west from its longtime home along Central Avenue.

However, Hunt continues, “after the ’92 Uprising, a lot of Blacks moved into the Inland Empire for cheaper housing and schools. And for the first time the Black population actually declined during that decade.” Despite this migration to the Inland Empire, Crenshaw’s population remains above 60% Black, while other former Black strongholds like Watts are now predominantly Latino.

“Crenshaw and the surrounding areas, Baldwin Hills, View Park, is still a heavy Black concentrated population, and parts of it are middle class and upper middle class, which is kind of unique,” Hunt said, describing the Crenshaw neighborhood as the “center of gravity” for the community. “It’s where a lot of the action is concentrated, even though it’s not inclusive of the entirety of Black L.A.”

Destination Crenshaw moves ahead

Construction on Destination Crenshaw slowed during the height of the pandemic, but work is now moving apace, and organizers expect the project to be completed by spring of 2023, and to debut the seven permanent artworks before next fall. Fundraising now stands at about $72 million, and the Getty Foundation has provided $3 million to commission and fabricate the first seven sculptures, as well as plan for their conservation. The project, which aims to include more than 100 works of art by Black artists, will continue to commission new works in order to create what’s billed as “the nation’s largest art and cultural celebration of African American contribution to world culture.”

“The intention is to enshrine in a proper, meaningful way what Black people have contributed and that they were here, even if you’re not seeing them now, that they were here and they contributed,” Hunter said.

And while the new streetscaping, pocket parks and large-scale sculptures may lure passengers off the train, the project is largely aimed at boosting local businesses and catering to those who live in the district, not just pass through it.

“It’s definitely for the Black community. It’s about staking claim to our history, our culture, and making sure that those stories are remembered,” Hunt said. But, he added, Destination Crenshaw can also raise awareness that “this is a signature Black community that has a history and is connected to a broader history in L.A.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA NewsroomFor more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit

A perfect tribute: UCLA names labor center building in honor of Rev. James Lawson Jr.

By Madeline Adamo

Civil and labor rights icon and 20-year labor studies faculty member to be linked with UCLA in perpetuity
Image of Rev. James Lawson speaking to interns in the Dream Summer program, a fellowship opportunity for student immigrants and their allies.

Rev. James Lawson loves speaking to the next generation of activists and leaders. Here he speaks to interns in the Dream Summer program, a fellowship opportunity for student immigrants and their allies. Photo credit: UCLA Labor Center

The Rev. James Lawson Jr. has always understood the importance of preparation. While a college student in the 1940s with a passion for civil rights, he took inventory of what was going on in a Cold War-era United States and decided he needed to get involved. And given the government’s reaction to demonstrations, he better get prepared to go to jail. He read books about people, like Gandhi, who had been imprisoned for being conscientious objectors to what they viewed as immoral government policies.

When the Korean War erupted in 1950, Lawson stood by his pacifist beliefs and refused to join the U.S. military. He was sentenced to federal prison for violating the country’s draft laws.

The preparation for prison had paid off. Thanks to his reading, Lawson emerged after serving 13 months of a three-year sentence even more dedicated to the philosophy of nonviolence — the work, he says, God commissioned him to do.

During the ensuing decades Lawson would become one of the key leaders of the national civil rights and labor rights movements and a very close friend of Martin Luther King Jr. The two were staunch proponents of the power of nonviolent civil disobedience and believed deeply in how strength of will and dedication to a cause prepared one to endure extreme opposition.

But for a man who helped shape the course of history, nothing could have prepared him, in mind and heart, for the honor of being the namesake of the UCLA James Lawson Jr. Worker Justice Center.

“I am extremely grateful beyond any kind of words,” said Lawson, who with King and other advocates for justice, canonized the intersection between labor and civil rights, strengthening the movement for both through the practice of nonviolence. For Lawson, the worker justice center and labor studies program — through which he has taught his annual UCLA class on nonviolence and social movements for the last 20 years — symbolizes the labor movement’s potential to inspire social and economic change

“I hope that it will become a symbol of the powers of life that are in each of us,” Lawson said, “and how we can cultivate those powers and enable ourselves and our community in Los Angeles to become what it can yet become.”

The formal dedication will occur on Saturday, Dec. 11, when a host of labor, community and political leaders will join UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and others in honoring Lawson. Among those present will be California State Sen. María Elena Durazo, a former Lawson student who helped secure $15 million in state funding to renovate and rename the UCLA Labor Center’s historic MacArthur Park building, which houses the center’s research, education and service programs in the heart of Los Angeles.

Lawson’s imprint on history through nonviolence

Naming this particular building in Lawson’s honor was a perfect fit, according to friends, former students and colleagues. The activist and theologian played key roles in some of the most famous social and worker justice demonstrations in American history:

• providing nonviolence and spiritual guidance to the nine Black students (the Little Rock Nine) who enrolled at an all-white public school in Little Rock, Arkansas, to test the school integration order from the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education;

• spearheading the 1960 Nashville sit-in campaign to desegregate lunch counters marking a pivotal moment in launching the Civil Rights Movement;

• leading the Freedom Rides of 1961, which protested segregated bus terminals in the South, mobilizing a new generation of civil rights activists;

• organizing the Birmingham Campaign of 1963, which demonstrated against segregation in Alabama.

But Lawson is perhaps best known for his work behind the 1968 sanitation workers strike and his role in bringing King to Memphis, Tennessee, for the demonstration. Tragically, this is where Lawson’s dear friend was assassinated.

The two had previously led workshops together, during which Lawson partnered with King as his right-hand man in their mutual promotion of nonviolence. Among those who participated in those workshops, the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who was a student at American Baptist College in Nashville at the time.

By the early 1970s, Lawson moved to Los Angeles and became pastor of the Holman United Methodist Church, where he met leaders in the Los Angeles labor rights movement. Among these leaders was Durazo, then president of the hotel workers union of Los Angeles.

Durazo, who as a California state senator represents Central and East Los Angeles, said the mostly Latina hotel workers were inspired after he spoke to them. Lawson continued working with the union leading workshops about civil disobedience tactics like taking over the streets, hunger strikes and other peaceful shows of resistance to oppose the exploitation of hotel workers.

“He rekindled our movement through his teachings,” Durazo said.

For Lawson, the philosophy of nonviolence is “compassion in action.”

“Using the powers of the best that is in each of us … not only can we be transformed, but we can transform,” Lawson said.

Teaching UCLA students to be the leaders of the future generations

By the early 90s Lawson had cemented himself as a fixture in the Los Angeles labor movement, and it was a natural next step to join the UCLA Labor Center’s efforts to advance worker justice in Los Angeles County and beyond. The center, housed in the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, launched the first labor studies program in the University of California system.

Kent Wong, director of the center since 1991, has been a friend and student of Lawson for almost 40 years. While a staff attorney at the Service Employees International Union, Wong was part of a group of people that met Lawson at his church to participate in workshops centered on nonviolence. Among the group was Durazo and other community activists who would years later go on to elected office bringing with them a support for the labor movement, such as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, and City Councilmember Gilbert Cedillo.

“We were very grateful for his willingness to share his wisdom, his analysis and perspective,” said Wong, who in 2001 asked Lawson about teaching a UCLA class about nonviolence.

Image of Kent Wong and Rev. James Lawson

Kent Wong and Rev. James Lawson. Photo credit: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

“It’s been very important to me that I’ve been teaching once a year at UCLA and that the opportunity has given me a chance to talk with a wide range of students,” said Lawson, who tailors the course to engage with current events but always through the lens of nonviolence and economic justice. “The emergence of nonviolence as a science of social change could be the most important paradigm called for in the 20th century.”

Even though Lawson’s students have included elected leaders like Durazo and Lewis, he said that each spring quarter’s new class of 300 UCLA students is always his most extraordinary one.

“I try to teach all the time that your big task in college is to be what you are and figure out what you are becoming, because that’s the immediate power that you can control and use,” he said.

The shift to online classes because of COVID-19 has allowed Lawson and Wong, who moderates the discussions, to bring in guest speakers who would not have flown to Los Angeles. In April, UCLA students heard from Angeline Butler, civil rights icon and former student leader of the Nashville sit-in movement. In May, anti-apartheid activist the Rev. Allan Boesak spoke to UCLA students from South Africa.

It comes as no surprise that Lawson plans to teach the course again in spring 2022. “This capacity, to be 93 years old and be agile, enabled to live well is a gift. I’m going to use it to expose as many different people as I can to the fact that we do not have to be a violent culture.”

Lawson, who received the UCLA medal, the campus’s highest honor, in 2018, said he humbly approves of the name dedication and is appreciative of the incorporation of “worker justice” in the name, a concept that to him is the future and hope for the nation.

“You’re in awe of the American history that exists in that man,” said Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and a friend of Lawson. The 800,000-members federation, which is helping host Saturday’s dedication ceremony, has a partnership with the UCLA Labor Center that goes back several decades as Wong and Herrera, the highest-ranking union leader in Los Angeles, found themselves in the same circles.

Herrera said he’s pleased that the name dedication will tie Lawson to a place like UCLA, as well as recognize Lawson’s fight for workers as well as social justice for Black Americans.

“I think this is a huge opportunity to tell the American public that this man is a historic icon,” Herrera said. “He shouldn’t be left out of the history books.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom. For more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit


A Legacy in Plain Sight: The Murals of Judy Baca

By Stacey Ravel Abarbanel

In light of a retrospective at the Museum of Latin American Art, many are revisiting the professor’s striking public artwork.
An image of Judy Baca at “The Great Wall of Los Angeles” in the summer of 1983.

Work in progress at “The Great Wall of Los Angeles” in the summer of 1983. Photo credit: SPARC Archives/

Mention “the Great Wall,” and thoughts may turn to China’s ancient fortifications. But California has its own same-named landmark — The Great Wall of Los Angeles — a monumental, half-mile mural depicting the multicultural history of the state from prehistoric times to the 1950s. The brainchild of artist, activist and UCLA professor emerita Judy Baca, the masterpiece is indeed “great” in every way imaginable — size, scope, ambition, creativity and impact.

Baca, whose more than four-decade career is the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, began work on the wall in the mid-1970s, following a request from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that she create a mural in a flood control channel in the San Fernando Valley. Baca led a team of 80 youth referred by the criminal justice department, 10 artists and five historians. They started by painting 1,000 feet of California history, from the days of the dinosaurs to 1910.

Image of mural makers meeting at "The Great Wall of Los Angeles," painted in the summer of 1981

Mural makers meeting. Work in progress at The Great Wall of Los Angeles, painted in the summer of 1981. Image courtesy of the SPARC Archives/

But Baca, founder and artistic director of the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) in Venice, wasn’t content to stop at 1910, and active work continued into the 1980s. Now, the project has been energized anew with a $5 million-grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which will make possible the extension of The Great Wall of Los Angeles to one mile and the continuation of the historical narrative from the 1960s through 2020. The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art has acquired Baca’s archive documenting the creation of the epic mural.

“Of greatest interest to me is the invention of systems of ‘voice giving’ for those left without public venues in which to speak,” Baca says. Inspired by the Mexican social mural movement, her epic narratives about marginalized communities fortify people’s connections to their diverse heritages not just as viewers, but also as collaborators. Through SPARC, she has spearheaded more than 400 murals in the Los Angeles area, in the process employing thousands of local participants, pioneering the art of contestation and place-making and leaving a magnificent legacy in plain sight.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom. For more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit

Researcher in UCLA Lab

UCLA’s impact on California economy is $11.06 billion

Researcher in UCLA Lab

Among UCLA’s contributions to the state are research and technologies that have been the basis for numerous startup companies.


UCLA is an economic powerhouse for Los Angeles, Southern California and California overall. A study by the Beacon Economics consultancy found that UCLA generated a total of $11.06 billion in economic activity and supported more than 72,700 full-time jobs throughout the state during the 2016–17 fiscal year.

The report also found that UCLA is the fourth largest employer in Los Angeles County, behind the county itself, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the City of Los Angeles, and ahead such companies as Kaiser Permanente, Northrop Grumman and Target Corp.

“UCLA’s contributions to our state’s economic vitality are significant and widespread, from discovering life-changing technologies to employing tens of thousands of Californians,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “Measuring this economic impact allows us to demonstrate how every dollar invested in UCLA pays substantial dividends back to people throughout our state.”

The UCLA Economic Impact Report also demonstrates that UCLA’s spending activity has a total impact far beyond that of its direct spending. For example, technology companies that license UCLA-developed technology and research are often valued in the hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars.

“UCLA is a source of pride for Angelenos everywhere,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “The university’s impact can be felt all around us — in the workers it employs, the jobs it creates across our city and state, the startups it develops on campus, and the discoveries made in its labs and classrooms. Our economy and our communities benefit from UCLA’s presence and performance every day.”

Among the study’s highlights:

  • During the 2016–17 fiscal year, UCLA had a total impact of $11.06 billion on the California economy.
  • UCLA’s spending activity supported more than 72,700 full-time jobs throughout the state.
  • More than $4.15 billion in labor income (earnings) was generated by UCLA through direct, indirect and induced spending activity.
  • UCLA generated $5.86 billion in direct spending throughout California, including $2.61 billion in the City of Los Angeles alone.
  • UCLA helped generate $706.1 million in tax revenue throughout California through direct spending and secondary spending impacts.
  • UCLA had an economic impact of $2.42 billion in indirect (business-to-business) spending, including $2.31 billion in Southern California and $765.1 million in the City of Los Angeles.
  • UCLA had an economic impact of $2.79 billion in induced (household) spending, including $2.52 billion in Southern California and $718.9 million in the City of Los Angeles.
  • UCLA Health Sciences alone had a total impact of $6.49 billion on the California economy, including $6.13 billion in Southern California and $2.39 billion in the City of Los Angeles.
  • During the 2016–17 fiscal year, 24 startups launched using UCLA-developed technology.
  • For the same period, 251 U.S. patents were issued to UCLA.

With more than 45,000 students and 43,000 employees, UCLA is renowned around the world for the quality of its students and faculty, and its dedication to its mission of research, teaching and service. UCLA is consistently ranked each year as one of the best universities in the United States, including as the No. 1 public university in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and as No.1 among best-value universities by Forbes.

Los Angeles is a metropolitan den for mountain lions

Los Angeles is one of only two megacities — Mumbai, India, is the other — where large predatory cats live among us, and they’re closer to human development than you might think.