From left (seated) are Loretta B. Randle, Benice Pitts, B. Ruth Allen, (standing) Mark Roosa, Tabatha Jones Jolivet, Joan Guinses, Billy C. Curl, Bailey Berry, Woodrow Bailey, and Stanley Talbert. (Courtesy photo)

An ambitious effort to secure the voices and memories of African Americans in L.A. is underway at Pepperdine University.

The initiative, “Preserving the History of South Los Angeles,” was launched in December by Pepperdine Libraries to capture and maintain the lived experiences of the South Los Angeles Black community.

According to the Pepperdine’s website, “The project features recorded oral history interviews from elders in the community who come from a Christian background, as well as many that have connections to Pepperdine University or its original George Pepperdine College campus.”

Also, California Humanities, a nonprofit organization that funds humanities-based projects and programs to help tell the stories of California, provided valuable support for the Pepperdine project.

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The university is uniquely suited to oversee the project considering that the original George Pepperdine College campus was in the Vermont Knolls neighborhood of South Los Angeles from 1937 to 1981. This time coincides with the growth and flourishing of the Black community in L.A. following the Great Migration.

Many of the initial interviewees are longtime residents, who witnessed several significant events in the area as well as contributed to the nurturing and improvement of South L.A.  By recording and preserving their recollections, Pepperdine Libraries is establishing a historical resource that will benefit community members, educators, students, scholars, and the public at large.

The South L.A. residents who shared their oral histories are B. Ruth Allen, Woodrow Bailey, Billy C. Curl, Joan Guinses, Loretta B. Randle, Michael Dalton Smith, Dr. Carl C. Baccus, and Bernice Pitts. Each person offered memories of their life and how their actions impacted the community.

For example, Ms. Allen moved from Philadelphia to L.A. in 1966. After graduating from Cal State Fullerton in 1972, she not only worked in the L.A. County foster care system tutoring children in reading, but also established a real estate business where she assisted young homeowners.

Mr. Bailey has an impactful story as well. A founder of Healing & Hope 4 Homeless, he strives to be a positive influence in the community and firmly believes that “everything I do has a connection to God so I can make society better.”

Ms. Randle has demonstrated similar commitment during her 50 years of service to vulnerable children and families in South L.A. and Watts. In addition to serving in executive positions with Teen Post Youth Information Center, United Way of Greater L.A., and World Vision, she also volunteers as foster grandparent and recently published her first book, “Reflections of a Radical Servant Leader.”

As part of the project’s official kick-off, the Libraries hosted a luncheon last month with the interviewees, their families, University stakeholders, faculty, and staff. The event featured Mark Roosa, dean of Pepperdine Libraries; and project team members Bailey Berry, librarian for digital publishing, curation, and conversion; Stanley Talbert, assistant professor of religion; and Tabatha Jones Jolivet, associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Applied Sciences at Azusa Pacific University, who shared insights, a highlight video of the interviews, and a link to the project website with completed oral histories.

Highlighting the connection between university and South L.A., Roosa said, “Pepperdine University, founded in 1937, planted its roots in the dynamic landscape of South Los Angeles with a visionary goal—providing accessible, faith-based education.

Michael Dalton Smith shares recollections of South L.A. during the luncheon. (Courtesy photo)

“George Pepperdine, a committed Christian entrepreneur, believed in the transformative power of education and sought to establish a university deeply rooted in the local community. South Los Angeles, renowned for its cultural diversity, resilience, and vibrant energy, served as the ideal setting for Pepperdine’s vision,” he noted.

“In this work we have also sharpened our sights on fostering a culture of belonging on each of our campuses around Los Angeles and around the world,” shared Roosa.

“In an age where the historic past often seems like a small footnote in the clamor of the moment, we are ever more driven to be the guardians of memory, so that our children and our children’s children might have access to what came before them.”

To learn more, visit To watch a recording of the luncheon, visit