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Living Black in Lakewood

Rewriting the history and future of an iconic suburb.

Since 1980, Lakewood moved away from its highly segregated white beginnings to a reality of ethnic and racial diversity. Along with other southeast LA suburbs like Carson, Bellflower, and Artesia, it represents one of LA’s most racially balanced towns, with a stable mix of whites, Black Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans.

Lakewood’s official history has so far emphasized its original residents, especially the “original kids.” However, the next generation also deserves a central part in that story. Their experiences reveal not just how the suburb was becoming a place of new cultural variety and richness, but also how the community was learning to live with difference. The Chase family of Lakewood illustrates how far we’ve come from the days of Ozzie and Harriet in the 1950s. The Chase’s story of living Black in white suburbia was both predictable and unexpected, and it shows how suburbia—which now houses over half of all Americans—is becoming a place of profoundly varied experiences.

Louis Chase was born and raised in Barbados in 1943, in humble circumstances. Raised by his grandmother, he had deep ties to the Methodist church from a young age. At 14, he quit school “because of poverty” and went to work. He moved to London as a teen, where he first worked in textiles and then transitioned into community organizing and social justice activism. He earned a degree at Oxford, where he studied Pan-African movements, and met his future wife Marion, a nursing student at Coventry University who hailed from Jamaica.

In 1980, the couple immigrated to the United States and landed in Lakewood, where they purchased a home and started a family. They were the only Black family on their block. At the time, Lakewood’s Black population was 1,500, just 2 percent of all residents. Although they met little resistance when moving in, they faced prejudice from time to time. Louis was racially profiled by the Lakewood sheriffs who pulled him over without provocation, their two daughters were subjected to racial name-calling at school, and the family was often tailed by security guards on trips to the Lakewood Mall.

And yet, Lakewood also showed a warmer side. Louis started attending Lakewood United Methodist Church, an all-white conservative congregation. After attending his first service, which ran from 11 to 12, he returned home, and at 12:30 a member of the church showed up at his doorstep inviting him to join the church. When Louis hesitated, explaining that he didn’t have a car, the man offered to pick him up for Sunday services and meetings of the men’s group. And so began an enduring connection to Lakewood Methodist.