A concert and ceremony Saturday unveiled Obama Boulevard. The street replaced Rodeo Road, a 3 ½-mile street that runs across the city’s historic black neighborhood. It also intersects with Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and further establishes a “presidential row” that includes Washington, Adams and Jefferson boulevards.
“I get to live in a lifetime where we elected our first black president,” The Rev. Russell Thornhill of South Los Angeles told KABC TV. “I get to share that with my mother, who’s 92 years old who voted and actually went to the inauguration. I called her before I came here to let her know what I was doing, and she was just in tears because she was seeing in her lifetime … the naming of a street of the first black president in this community.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti noted at Saturday’s ceremony that Obama Boulevard is in a section of the city that has a number of other streets named after presidents, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“As we drive through this city and we see past presidents on Adams, on Washington, on Jefferson, now we’ll have one that was in our lifetime, who was a president for everybody: Barack Hussein Obama,” Garcetti said.
A couple who proposed the name change told the Times they wanted to raise the profile of the road, attract more funding for the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw neighborhood and honor the 44th president.
“With this change, we are publicly documenting what Obama’s legacy as our nation’s first black President means to our city and our South Los Angeles community,” City Council President Herb Wesson said in a statement.
“For every child who will drive down this street and see the President’s name, this will serve as a physical reminder that no goal is out of reach and that no dream is too big.”
While residents were receptive to having a street named after Obama, some believed organizers should have chosen a more prominent street. Wesson argued Rodeo Road was symbolically important: The road is home to Rancho Cienega Sports Complex, where Obama held a campaign rally when he was running for president in 2007.
For decades, discriminatory practices, including the use of racially restrictive covenants on deeds to keep people of color from buying homes, kept the area off-limits to non-whites.
After the U.S. Supreme Court banned housing discrimination, and segregation was scaled back, black residents moved into the formerly white enclave of Baldwin Hills and established the first of L.A.’s black middle- and upper-class neighborhoods.
Black-owned businesses and cultural activities once thrived on Crenshaw Boulevard. But over the years, they struggled and there are ongoing efforts to revitalize the commercial corridor.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a political analyst and author who has lived in the area for 50 years, said he hopes the name change will lead to more investments in the neighborhood.
“The area needs not just street name change, but also fresh programs, initiatives and spending on jobs, education, and housing programs for the mostly black and Hispanic low-income residents that live on or near Obama Boulevard,” Hutchinson said. “This will truly be the greatest way to pay tribute to Obama.”