Between 1970 and 1990 the South LA area went from 80% black and 9% Latino to 50.3% black and 44% Latino. Today, Latinos account for about two-thirds of the residents in the neighborhood and the black churches in the area are being forced to adapt to the changing community.
Churches like the Second Baptist Church, the host of several N.A.A.C.P. conventions and speeches by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, are now part of neighborhoods that are only about 10% black. According to a New York Times story published last month many of the members that could walk to the church now have to listen to the Sunday service on local radio or travel an hour to attend service. And as gas prices continue to rise some black churches have been left with just a dozen members who attend Sunday service.
A story published Monday by “Christianity Today” explores the changing demographics and how it’s affecting Los Angeles’ black churches:
Historically, black churches have always had an active role in their communities, but today face the challenge of serving a community that has a different culture, worship style, and language.
“Churches are not serving the community they’re located in; [they] are emptying and becoming museums of past ministries,” Whitlock said. “God never intended for us to divide—there is no Asian, black, white, or Latino heaven. We have to move away from ethnocentric places of worship.”
Black churches have responded to the demographic change in different ways. Some churches have relocated to the suburbs but due to financial reasons that is not an option for many. Others hire bilingual pastors and in the case of the Second Baptist Church, they commissioned a study on how to integrate Latinos in to the church.
Second Baptist commissioned a neighborhood study by the University of Southern California in order to determine how to serve its Latino neighbors better. It now runs a childcare program for 140 Latino children and owns and operates 110 housing units. Seventy percent of residents are Latino.
There are 80,000 fewer blacks in South LA than there were in 1990.