Honoring Black history in San Diego

From murals and public artworks to museums and cultural centers, local Black history is all around us.

SD UCSD Sojourner Truth statue

The statue of Sojourner Truth at Marshall College at UC San Diego was created by artist Manuelita Brown (left).

Photo via Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego

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Black history in San Diego should be celebrated every day. Across our county, there are many places that reflect the Black experience. Here’s where you can see some of those legacies.

SD San Diego Black Arts and Culture District

The San Diego Black Arts + Culture District spans nine blocks along Imperial Avenue.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

San Diego Black Arts + Culture District | Encanto

The San Diego Black Arts + Culture District (SDBAC) spans nine blocks along Imperial Avenue — from 61st to 69th streets — including Marie Widman Memorial Park and the Encanto/62nd Street Trolley Station. The city officially designated it as a hub for Black arts and culture in June 2022; the area is home to organizations including Black San Diego, San Diego Urban Warrior, The Mental Bar, and Black Contractors Association.

Imperial Avenue’s median strip features 24 art panels created by late local artist Eddie Edwards in 1993. Last fall, SDBAC sought bids from artists to create more public works for the community.

As the district grows, leaders hope to add more organizations and murals, and improve storefronts, landscaping, and signage in the area.

SD World Beat Center Balboa Park

Don’t miss the classes, events, and music at World Beat.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

WorldBeat Cultural Center | Balboa Park

The brightly colored building on Park Boulevard celebrates all cultures, art, music, and dance through community classes, exhibitions, and events. Catch a screening of “Global Assignment: The Life and Times of Runoko Rashidi” Friday, Feb. 16, 7-9:30 p.m., and the center’s 43rd annual Tribute to the Reggae Legends (formerly Bob Marley Day) on Saturday, Feb. 24, 3-11:30 p.m.

SD SR-94 MLK Mural

The mural can be seen on an embankment along SR-94.

MLK Jr. / Mount Hope Community Mural | State Route 94

In 1989, a 10-mile stretch of SR-94 was designated as Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway. Through grant funding, a project to paint a large-scale mural of Dr. King on an embankment along the freeway was completed in 2012. You can see the touching tribute between Home and Euclid avenues.

Sojourner Truth Statue | Marshall College, UC San Diego

In January 2015, Marshall College at UC San Diego unveiled a powerful, 6-ft statue of abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth. Centrally located on Ridge Walk, the campus art piece was created by local artist and UC San Diego alumna Manuelita Brown. The statue includes a plaque with a quote from Truth: “I feel safe in the midst of my enemies, for the truth is powerful and will prevail.”

“Sojourner Truth serves as a drum major for social justice, equity, and voting rights,” Brown told the university at the statue’s unveiling.

A shelf filled with books about Black history and the Black experience at the Malcolm X Library in San Diego.

The Malcolm X Library offers a wealth of knowledge on its shelves.

Photo via San Diego Public Library

Valencia Park/Malcolm X Library | Valencia Park

This library branch serves Valencia Park, Lincoln Park, Emerald Hills, and Encanto, and features a performing arts center, meeting rooms, and public art displays. It was renamed Malcolm X Library in 1991, making it one of the first such buildings named after the human rights activist. Today, it is used as a cultural hub for the community and has a wealth of Black history knowledge on its shelves.

San Diego African American Museum of Fine Art | Egger Highlands

This museum collects, preserves, and displays works of art by and about African Americans, and fosters appreciation of those works through educational programs and events. On Saturday, Feb. 24, the museum will collaborate with the San Diego History Center to honor its trailblazing 2024 Keepers of Culture.

Public Art Wall by Jihmye Collins | East Village

Just outside the Lillian Place Apartments at 14th and J streets in downtown’s East Village, there’s a bright yellow wall featuring works by late local activist and artist Jihmye Collins.

The public art piece features four watercolors made into enamels detailing Black history in San Diego, including a tribute to Skippy Smith, a stunt pilot, skydiver, and businessman who owned the Pacific Parachute Company on Eighth Avenue. In 1943, it was named the top Black-owned business in the US.

MLK promenade in the Gaslamp Quarter.

MLK promenade in the Gaslamp Quarter. | Photo via Canva

Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade | Gaslamp Quarter

This peaceful, 0.6-mile linear park in downtown San Diego pays tribute to the civil rights leader through artwork and plaques lining its path. You’ll find 30+ plaques engraved with quotes from Dr. King, plus “Breaking of the Chains,” an art piece by Melvin Edwards commissioned for the park and installed in 1995.

SD Harrison Serenity Ranch

Harrison Serenity Ranch on Palomar Mountain pays homage to local pioneer Nathan Harrison.

Harrison Serenity Ranch | Palomar Mountain

This 67-acre working ranch in northeast San Diego County pays homage to the legacy of Nathan Harrison, the region’s first African American homesteader. Formerly enslaved, Harrison came to California during the Gold Rush. He lived in a cabin on Palomar Mountain in the early 1900s and would often greet travelers who made the trek up the peak. He was known for his charisma and became one of the most photographed pioneers of the time.

An exhibition at the San Diego History Center displays large columns featuring photos of Black trailblazers.

The San Diego History Center’s exhibition, “Celebrate San Diego: Black History & Heritage.”

Photo via Ron Sanchez + Balboa Park Cultural Partnership

San Diego History Center | Balboa Park

Among displays of local history, the center features “Celebrate San Diego: Black History & Heritage,” an ongoing crowd-sourcing project showcasing local Black voices from the past and present. You can nominate local Black heroes to be added to the exhibition or donate artifacts to the project. The San Diego History Center also has an exhibition dedicated to Nathan Harrison.

Douglas Hotel | Downtown San Diego

At the corner of Second Avenue and Market Street in downtown San Diego, you’ll find a plaque that serves as a reminder of what that site used to be — the Douglas Hotel, the only major local downtown hotel to offer quality lodging for Black patrons during segregation in the 1920s.

Known as the “Harlem of the West,” the hotel stood at 206 Market St., next door to the Creole Palace nightclub where Black stars like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and the Mills Brothers performed in the 1930s and 1940s — and stayed at the hotel.

📩 Know of another local place to see Black history? Share the details with us.

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