To be honest, I thought this was going to be a one-off article. I didn’t think it’d be this complicated. Sorry guys.
In the last two parts, we read what South LA / South Central residents prefer to call this region. And then went over a brief history around this region, including the red-lining housing covenants that limited minorities to this region. Now we’ll look at how the name for this region actually came to be.
Now onto the actual reason why the whole region is called South Central Los Angeles.
Um….well that’s the thing. There’s no clear evidence on that. While it’s easy to understand why the neighborhood is called Historic South Central, there’s nothing that really explains the whole south region adopting the name. Just a few theories.
One theory is, well, this region is South of the city center. So it’s name is pretty fitting: South Central.
Another theory is that through a series of misreporting, the region took on the umbrella term “South Central” for the—at the time—black parts of Los Angeles. When black people and other minorities were allowed to buy homes beyond the limited areas they generally stayed below Washington Boulevard, away from the most desirable part of Los Angeles. And anything below that region—the entire south region of Los Angeles—became known as South Central—a careless misnomer of the Historic South Central Neighborhood.
To see how well these theories hold up, I turned to the Google Books Ngram Viewer. We can use this tool to track word usage in published books over the last two centuries or so. In this instance I compared the phrases South Central Los Angeles and South Central LA with South Los Angeles and South LA. I avoided “South Central” alone because it can easily be confused with the South Central region of the United States, which encompasses Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. Basically it will ruin my search.
When I plugged in the phrases, neither variant of South LA or South Central was used in the late 1800s or very early 1900s. In about 1910 the term South Los Angeles became more frequent in publications.
In my Ngram search, Southwest and Southeast peaked around the 60s and generally declined by the 80s. Southeast Los Angeles had a resurgence in Los Angeles. Here’s a New York Times news report of Southwest Los Angeles in the 70s. And a Washington Post times article about South East Los Angeles.
The term South Central Los Angeles, however, didn’t begin to rise in books until 1964—which is near the time the Watts Riots occurred. But from the 70s to mid 80s, South Central, again, fell in popularity, and shared similar frequencies with South Los Angeles.
Here’s the kicker: By the mid-80s South Central Los Angeles skyrocketed. This timeline aligns with South Central becoming a hot topic with its unreal crime that included expanding gang-related activities, drug proliferations, homicide, and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.
The usage of South Central Los Angeles began to fall around the mid 2010s, with South Los Angeles trailing upward, but without the same strength South Central had in the Mid 80s to late 90s.