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Earl Underwood, interview notes

I donít know if itís because Blacks here came from slavery or we got separated from family and all that- any kind of sense of heritage and culture that Black folks havenít been able to come together and work for the good of all as opposed to individually-you know individual successes. That other cultures can come here and they stick together and they thrive, because they stick together and theyíre not as many people as we are-they may not be as educated as we are as a whole, but they have one thing-they stick together! And they strive together for the whole. And we donít have that sense -you know we havenít realized that thatís our only salvation. Donít expect the White man to do it for you-they are not going to do it for you. Youíve got to do it for yourself. If you go into a community, a well to do community, or any community and look at the different types of shops, specialty shops that are in that community, the success is graded by just how much space is allotted for a gallery, the preservation of that particular culture. So art is a pretty significant factor, itís almost like a barometer as to how well that particular community is doing,financially and morallyÖ In a recent article, Earl Underwood suggests that now is the time for African-Americans to establish entrepreneurial business in the Leimert Park. He reflects back to the "Black Wall Street" era and place, in what is now Greenwood, Oklahoma, an African-American community prospered with approximately 600 businesses occupied a 36 block area. In June of 1921 a race rioted was instigated by whites who brought on several days of rioting, killing and destruction of most of the business. xii Underwood, mirroring others in the community, believe Leimert Park is ripe for creating a contemporary Black Wall Street within an atmosphere of relative safety, shared cultural background and economic goals.

At the age of 27 or 28 was the first time Earl Underwood traveled outside of his home, Brooklyn, New York and visited California. Need for a change and the laid back attitude found in California were some of the deciding factors in Underwoodís transcontinental move. His interests in the arts, however, remained with him. Underwood is a printer by trade. When he married, the couple began an art mail order business at their home in the predominately white area of Burlingham, California. A positive response from the initial 10,000 catalogues was a promising sign for the emerging business. Soon came requests to come and actually view the art presented in the catalogues, so gallery space was needed. Something about Leimert Park Village kept pulling Earl Underwood to it and here is where the gallery site was chosen.

I visited Leimert Park when I first got here. There was a high concentration of Black owned businesses as well as a high concentration of cultural channeling. So, I felt like I wanted to change locations and get right into the community, and I started looking for vacancy in Leimert Park, and finally wound up in this place here. xiv
The place in question is located on a corner at the major intersection of the Village businesses in the enclave of Degnan Boulevard. It is cavernous. The near floor to ceiling windows in which wrapped the front of the structure allow one to view a spacious showroom where art, ranging form prints, to original paintings, to sculptures and furniture is show cased. The interior itself has been constructed in detail highlight art in all visible aspects, from the lighting, curves of the walls and images etched in the marble floor tiling. "The more attention you see given to the arts; usually it indicates the more stable the community is. That the people can appreciate their own community, are proud of being here, and everything like that," xv Underwood believes.

This is belief is evident in the use of approximate 5000 square feet of space in which the Underwood business is located in. At first glance, the multiple uses of this space are often hidden among bright prints, framed originals and sandstone sculptures. There is also a business center located here that "allows small and start businesses an opportunity to get started in a safe adn supportive enviornment." xvi The mission of the center is "to promote the arts in the black community, create jobs and to help revitalize the Leimert PArk area so that it is the thriving African-American business and cultural center that it should be." xxvii  One example of this is a partnership with Roloflez Sports Industries, Inc. an "in-line skating manufacturer with patented technology able to revolutionize the entire inline skating industry."  This technology will create a variety of jobs and opportunities in our community." xviii  Aside from being a    gallery and buisiness center, community-oriented events occur here also, including free weekly childrenís art classes, sculpture classes, and Sunday jazz nights. The office of the Leimert Park Village Community Development Corporation (LPVCDC) and accompanying publication, The Village Drum, which Earl Underwood serves as a member of the Directorís Board, currently resides here also. More will discussed about the LPVCDC later.

Underwood contributes a significant portion of the Afro-centric cultural presence felt in Leimert Park today to the efforts of Dale and Alonzo Davis, the co-owners of the now defunct Brockman Gallery.

I think the real cultural push in the 60ís was Dale and Alanzo Davis, they opened up the Brockman Gallery. I think at that point it was known as an artistic cultural community. And, its been going up and down for a number of years. I think when Dan and Alanzo first started, theyíd seen businesses-actually all things that have worked out of their shops and itís kinda changed to a more commercialized aspect. And also that change is probably the most obvious change, the more commercial, cultural business has taken over response of the artist. Prior to the civil disturbances thereís been a lot more activity down here. You know, civil disturbance kinda messed up things for the entire L.A. area not just Leimert Park. xix

Founded in 1967, the gallery served as the center point for blossoming enterprises and an artistic haven for African-Americans. Although now defunct, former co-owner Alanzo Davis states that the gallery provided a needed outlet within L.A.ís African-American community after the 1965 civil disturbance. "After the Watts riot there were a lot of artists doing works that were politically significant. They were making statements that were social. We filled a gap and a void there. We just opened up a window that had never been available, especially on the West Coast, " suggests Alonzo Davis.xx The Brockman Gallery cradled the early careers of now such notable African-American artists as sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett and painter and muralist John Biggers.xxi

As I was speaking with Earl Underwood in the Leimert Park Gallery, our interview was interrupted constantly. The intruders were not necessarily customers, but future artists in training who were neighborhood children coming to begin their weekly art class.

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