Recognizing the History of the Broadway Black Community

Updated: Jan 30


“I had a wonderful childhood growing up in Santa Monica,” lifelong resident Carolyne Edwards describes. She recalls the freedom of riding bicycles around the neighborhood with friends in the summer, making crafts, and learning piano from her mother and grammar from her father. She had been christened in the First A.M.E. Church at 19th and Michigan Ave. where her grandfather was pastor from 1936-1944. She attended Grant Elementary School, John Adams Jr. High, and Santa Monica High School. After receiving an elementary teaching credential, Carolyne taught at Roosevelt Elementary School in Santa Monica, until retiring in 2000.

Carolyne’s husband Bill had grown up in Texas before coming to California to join the U.S. Army. Ironically, in his youth, he was interested in history and now has a large collection of historic artifacts of which he is very proud. He was stationed in Germany for a year and a half. After the army, Bill returned to Santa Monica, where he began working in the school district and coaching Pop Warner football in his spare time. It was then that he met Carolyne. She explains that even with different backgrounds, “We had a lot in common. We enjoyed doing the same kinds of activities. Bill is kind-hearted and generous with his time. When you see one of us, you see the other. We work well together. We were married in 1979.”

In September, 2017, a group, Santa Monica Remembers, was created at the Santa Monica History Museum for seniors who wanted to share what Santa Monica had been like years ago. They had guest speakers who talked about the past and shared many fond memories of their childhoods with each other. Carolyne and Bill were very active in the group, which stopped meeting temporarily when the COVID-19 began.

After both retired from the school district, they decided to bring to the surface the hidden history of the Black and under-represented populations in Santa Monica.

Today, “Santa Monica is completely different from when we were kids,” Carolyne says. Before Third Street was “the Promenade,” it was just “downtown,” where they could go to the Red Goose shoe store and see their feet under an X-ray. Many of the mom-and-pop stores and landmarks of her youth are gone, which is, Carolyne explains, one of the reasons they are trying to get historic recognition of the Broadway Black neighborhood. It was a self-sustaining community made up of businesses, churches, and various organizations, predominately African Americans, though other ethnic groups resided there as well.

As a result, Carolyne and her husband Bill began the Quinn Research Center in 2011, which aims to preserve and promote the history of the Black community in the Santa Monica Bay area. Bill shares his life experiences to fill in background information when there are questions concerning a particular aspect of the research.

“In order to build for the future, you have to gather information from the foundation of the past,” Carolyne describes. “You learn from the things that you would like to improve on.” As an example, Carolyne is also a member of the Philomatheans, the African American women’s club that houses three businesses in their building on Broadway and celebrated their centennial in 2021. Members of this charitable organization provide scholarships for academically qualified high school graduates. “Most people may not know about this group unless they’re exposed to its history.”

When Carolyne was a student at Santa Monica High School, “History to me was mostly memorizing dates. I didn’t see the relevance,” she notes. “With the Quinn Research Center, we try to make it meaningful to people, asking questions like what was going on in the world in December of 1945, and how does that relate to Santa Monica today? Who was in Santa Monica at that time? How did it impact their lives?”

The Center started with Carolyne’s own family history: the “stories, facts and items that my parents and grandparents thought that we should have a knowledge of and pass on down.” It has since become a community project, which involves interviewing people in their homes (and now, during the pandemic, by phone) to collect oral histories. This is something Bill especially enjoys. In the process, interviewees often refer family or friends who can add their memories to the record. At the Quinn Research Center, “We are doing the same thing as the generations before us,” Carolyne says. “We pass this knowledge on.”

Last month, we promoted an exciting exhibit coordinated by Bill and Carolyne Edwards about the Broadway Community and the Quinn Research Center. It was to be held on February 5 at the Santa Monica History Museum. Executive Director John Kearns sent us a message that “Due to the increasing cases of the Omicron variant, and for the safety and concern of our staff, volunteers, and visitors, the museum will now reopen on Friday, April 1.” For more information, please visit their website at www.santamonicahistory.org, or call 310-395-2290.


By Anne Wallentine

Editor’s Note: Clara Wright and Diane Margolin contributed to this article.

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