Watts Labor Community Action Committee

Last updated

The Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) is a non-profit, 501 (c) 3 organization incorporated in the State of California, in 1965. Its mission "is to improve the quality of life for the residents of Watts and neighboring communities." [1]


The WLCAC was established by Ted Watkins, who was part of the United Automobile Workers Union shortly before the Watts riots in 1965 Watts, California.

United Automobile Workers

The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, better known as the United Automobile Workers (UAW), is an American labor union that represents workers in the United States and Canada. It was founded as part of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the 1930s and grew rapidly from 1936 to the 1950s. The union played a major role in the liberal wing of the Democratic party under the leadership of Walter Reuther. It was known for gaining high wages and pensions for auto workers, but it was unable to unionize auto plants built by foreign-based car makers in the South after the 1970s, and it went into a steady decline in membership; reasons for this included increased automation, decreased use of labor, movements of manufacturing, and increased globalization.

Watts riots 1965 riots in Los Angeles, United States

The Watts riots, sometimes referred to as the Watts Rebellion, took place in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles from August 11 to 16, 1965.

Watts, California

Watts, California, was a city of the sixth class that existed in Los Angeles County, California, between 1907 and 1926, when it was consolidated with the City of Los Angeles and became one of the neighborhoods in the southern part of that city.

Theodore Watkins, better known as Ted Watkins, founded the Watts Labor Community Action Committee. Watkins was born in Meridian, Mississippi in 1912. He moved to Los Angeles, California at the age of 13 after receiving a lynch threat, and soon began working for Ford Motor Company. Shortly thereafter he joined the United Auto Workers, quickly gaining prominence within the union. Throughout his years of involvement with the local chapter of the United Auto Workers, Watkins witnessed many instances of discrimination towards workers in the community. Eventually, with the help of the United Auto Workers, he founded the Watts Labor Community Action Committee. It grew to prominence as a community self-help agency aiding thousands of residents in gaining employment and essential services.

Through the WLCAC, Watkins initiated various programs aimed at alleviating poverty in Watts and generally improving the quality of life for members of the community. During his lifetime, Watkins was involved in the construction of a financial institution and hospital in Watts, as well as the development of low-income housing and youth programs. Following the 1981 riots in London, England, the British prime minister contacted Watkins to fly out to London and help the British government by applying methods used by the WLCAC in the aftermath of the Watts riots. Aided by the relationships he was able to form with public officials and policymakers, Watkins implemented a multitude of programs through the WLCAC.

Right before his death in 1993, Watkins helped to rebuild the WLCAC after it was burned down in the Los Angeles riots of 1992.


WLCAC was initiated largely due to the absence of essential infrastructure in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles such as: Intra-community transportation, housing, senior programs, employment training, job placement, homeless services, health services, and businesses. Watts lacked an advocate to advance concerns regarding the high unemployment rates, poverty, and inadequate living conditions.

The WLCAC's headquarters is located at 109th and Central Avenue in Watts, California. [2]

War on poverty

The War on poverty, proposed by Lyndon B. Johnson to address the national poverty rate of about nineteen percent, led to the creation of the Economic Opportunity Act, which then established the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) to administer the local application of federal funds targeted against poverty. [3] OEO was created to fix the high unemployment rates rising in poverty areas. But from "1965 until 1970, OEO scrambled for an average of about $1.7 billion per year" which "the amounts never amounted to more than around 1.5 percent of the federal budget." [4] The War on Poverty failed to provide the funds and services it promised to areas such as Watts, which led to the creation of many local programs to aid their communities.

Lyndon B. Johnson 36th president of the United States

Lyndon Baines Johnson, often referred to as LBJ, was an American politician who served as the 36th president of the United States from 1963 to 1969. Formerly the 37th vice president from 1961 to 1963, he assumed the presidency following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. A Democrat from Texas, Johnson also served as a United States Representative and as the Majority Leader in the United States Senate. Johnson is one of only four people who have served in all four federal elected positions.

The Office of Economic Opportunity was the agency responsible for administering most of the War on Poverty programs created as part of United States President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society legislative agenda.


The significant challenges in unemployment, housing, transportation and low education levels of the Watts area highlighted the urgent need for an effective community organization in the Watts area. By 1965, the unemployment rate in the Watts area escalated to "10.7 percent, compared to only 4.2 percent for the city as a whole." [5]

In the summer of 1965, under the leadership of Ted Watkins, local activists and labor union representatives officially founded WLCAC. UAW was instrumental in the creation of the WLCAC as UAW president Walter Reuther and western regional director Paul Schrade "helped build a core of support for the new organization." [6] They saw the War on Poverty as an "opportunity in which long-standing policies and practices were open to question and change" and believed that the way to "create change…is by building community organizations." [7]

Walter Reuther Labor union leader

Walter Philip Reuther was an American leader of organized labor and civil rights activist who built the United Automobile Workers (UAW) into one of the most progressive labor unions in American history. He saw labor movements not as narrow special interest groups but as instruments to advance social justice and human rights in democratic societies. He leveraged the UAW's resources and influence to advocate for workers' rights, civil rights, women's rights, universal health care, public education, affordable housing, environmental stewardship, nuclear nonproliferation, and democratic trade unionism around the world. He survived two attempted assassinations, including one at home where he was struck by a 12-gauge shotgun blast fired through his kitchen window. He was the fourth president of the UAW, serving from 1946 until his untimely death in 1970.

To further emphasize the crisis in Watts, the Watts Riots in August 1965 led the federal and local governments as well as private organizations to pay attention to the inadequate living conditions and lack of federal and local support in the Los Angeles area. It is alleged that those who participated in the Watts Rebellion "were prompted as much by unemployment, bad housing, and lack of decent education" as they were by the mistreatment of the "white-dominated LAPD." [8]

Ted Watkins

Watkins was born in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1912. At the age of thirteen he moved to the Los Angeles area in flight from a lynch mob that targeted him for allegedly disobeying a white resident. After high school, Watkins landed a job on the assembly line at the Ford Motor Company. [9] There he joined the local chapter of the UAW and in 1949 became the "international representative for UAW." [10] Aside from union activities, Watkins also involved himself "in various civil rights organizations, including the Watts chapter of the NAACP and the United Civil Rights Committee." [11] These programs protested against poor housing conditions and the lack of services in inner-city Los Angeles. Watkins active participation made him an adequate candidate to lead the WLCAC. When, in 1966, UAW sought a leader for the WLCAC, Watkins had the experience and organizational skills to lead the Watts community.

Two main objectives Watkins sought to accomplish was the establishment of a hospital and a financial institution. The necessity for a hospital near the Watts area prompted Mr. Watkins to work with County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn to build community support for the construction of a local hospital. As a result, the Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital in Willowbrook, California was built in 1972.


From its establishment, WLCAC had an advisory board composed of major labor unions that provided financial assistance. In specific the labor unions consisted of the United Auto Workers (UAW), the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, Building Service Employees, the International Association of Machinists, the Teamsters, the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen, United Packinghouse Workers, and others. [12] These unions alone "contributed a combined $100,000" the first two years of WLCAC existence.

In 1971, WLCAC utilized a $2 million loan from UAW-Chrysler to purchase property in order to expand on the initial "thirty homes built with funds from the state of California." [13] In addition, grants from the Ford Foundation served as a great contribution to the organization. The money from the Ford Foundation grant went "to pay administrators and project staff and also to establish a Minority Enterprise Small Business Investment Corporation." [14] As a non-profit, 501 (c) 3 organization, WLCAC continues to compete for and administer awarded funds from various programs at the City, County, State and federal and local level.

Current Activities

The WLCAC campus centers around WLCAC's main headquarters, which include a youth center, employment training programs, family wellness programs, as well as the Ted Watkins Center for Communications, which includes a theater, galleries, exhibition spaces, and civil rights history museum. Within a 1-mile radius are additional sites providing senior and child care services, permanent supportive housing, employment training and more. [15]

In April 2012, California State Parks announced the award to WLCAC of $4.9 Million in Proposition 84 grant funds for a new urban farm park and community center in Watts. The urban farm park is named MudTown Farms in honor of the historic name for the area, MudTown. It is a self-sustaining community center with education, job training, community gardening, farming, and entrepreneurship for stakeholders of all ages and backgrounds. Construction on the project is slated to begin in 2017.

Today, WLCAC employs more than 200 local residents, with an annual operating budget of approximately $10 million.


The Greater Watts Development Corporation was formed to move homes affected by the construction of the Century Freeway (Interstate 105), which began in 1981, to Watts as part of a low-income home ownership program in partnership with the City of Los Angeles.

The Center

Watts Labor Community Action Committee in the Present Day Today the Watts Labor Community Action Committee is headed by Tim Watkins, son of the late Ted Watkins. A seven-acre complex located in Watts dubbed "The Center" serves as its hub. According to the WLCAC's website, the Center is meant to "dispel and redefine misperceptions" about Watts. The facility is used as an administrative center for staff as well as a tourist attraction, showcasing various permanent and temporary exhibits throughout the year.

The main exhibit at the Center is the three-part Civil Rights Tour. The tour features a scale model slave-hold as well as an array of photographs memorializing the Civil Rights Movement. It features the photographic collections Countdown to Eternity by Benedict Fernandez, The Panthers by Howard Bingham, a sixteen and a half foot bronze statue by Nigel Binns named The Mother of Humanity, and an exhibit named "Americana: The Hall of Shame" that contains images and documentation of "the unauthorized commoditization of the Black Image." According to the Watts Labor Community Action Committee's website, "Americana: The Hall of Shame" is meant to "expose the uses of these images as an extension of slavery." There are also multiple murals displayed, including The Resurrection of Watts by Ras Ammar Nsoroma, Concrete Jungle by Richard Franco and Toni Love, Space Station by Richard Arturo, and Danny Franco, Mound Bayou by PeQue, BrowHands by Rondell, Malcom X and Muhammad Al by EnkOne, Central Avenue Jazz by an unknown artist and Community Heroes by Elliot Pinkney.

Apart from a multitude of permanent exhibits that can be viewed year-round, the WLCAC has built a number of facilities at the Center that cater to community members of Watts and the surrounding cities within South Los Angeles. The Center includes a play space named "Kaboom" as well as a skate park, and even holds arts classes for kids. The Howard Bingham Multimedia Institute is open to people of all ages, and allows community members access to technology they can utilize for a variety of purposes. For the more artistically inclined, the Cecil Fergerson Gallery provides a space for artists and art viewers to convene and hold exhibits, signings, lectures, or any other type of gathering. The gallery is located in the Ted Watkins Center for International Communication, a thirty-five thousand square foot building that also includes Phoenix Hall, a theatre, and Freedom Hall. The Universal Access Theatre provides a variety of resources for young people, including laundry machines, computers with internet, help with phone calls/mail to potential employers, snacks, games, books and magazines, an entertainment system, as well as tutoring, mentoring, and counseling. The Watts International Marketplace houses studios for embroidery, silk-screening, ceramics, fine arts, glass blowing, wood working, and photography. The Watts Labor Community Action Committee is currently developing a retail restaurant, library, and farmer's market for the marketplace. On the last Friday of every month, the Center holds Bones and Blues in its Phoenix Hall. This event presents adult residents with live music as well as other performances.


The Dolores McCoy Villa I housing complex for homeless families was created in 2011 by the partnership between the Watts Labor Community Action Committee and Affordable Housing CDC Inc. The project was funded by a $3 million loan by the PSP Lending Program and the California Community Reinvestment Fund. The sixty-four unit complex is located near the intersection of 92nd Street and Compton Avenue, not far from the WLCAC center itself. It provides housing for tenants earning less than 60% of the median income (other source says 30%, 35%, and 50%) in the surrounding area. The housing complex Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles' Permanent Supportive Housing Program receives Section 8 rental subsidies for each unit, and rent is 30% of tenants' household incomes. The Dolores McCoy Villa was created with homeless people as well as the formerly incarcerated in mind, given that certain housing practices prevent formerly incarcerated people from eligibility. The website states that the project was developed in an effort to provide "much needed housing and on-site support services for single mothers re-entering the community after being incarcerated." According to the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United States' website, The Dolores McCoy Villa provides various services to its residents, including case management, financial management, employment training and placement, academic counseling, access to health care, substance abuse services and other opportunities focused on families and independent living skills.

The Watts Labor Community Action Committee provides an array of services for the community members of Watts and surrounding South Los Angeles aimed at alleviating poverty and fostering economic growth.

The WLCAC also funds a number of programs for youth and their families. Among these are The Greater Watts Child Care Center, which provides low-cost childcare; the Family Source Center, which provides social services such as job training and health services among many others; Gang Reduction and Youth Development, which provides preventative programs for younger members of the community; WorkSource center, which provides employment training, support placement and retention services for thousands of job seekers and multiple local employers.

The WLCAC operates a senior citizen program providing recreational activities, educational programs, health screenings, field trips, day care, in-home care, transportation and escort assistance for shopping or medical appointments, and referrals to other social service providers. It also includes a program that delivers meals to senior at its satellite sites.

Related Research Articles

Watts, Los Angeles Neighborhood of Los Angeles in California, United States

Watts is a neighborhood in southern Los Angeles, California. It is located within the South Los Angeles region, bordering the cities of Lynwood and South Gate to the east and southeast, respectively, and the unincorporated community of Willowbrook to the south.

Alliance for Retired Americans senior citizen organization

The Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of retired trade union members affiliated with the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Federation, as well as non-union, community-based members. Its predecessor organization was known as the National Council of Senior Citizens.

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles also known, as CHIRLA is a Los Angeles county-based organization focusing on immigrant rights. While the organization did evolve from a local level, it is now recognized at a national level. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles organizes and serves individuals, institutions and coalitions to build power, transform public opinion, and change policies to achieve full human, civil and labor rights. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles also has aided in passing new laws and policies to benefit the immigrant community regardless of documented status.

The Employment Development Department (EDD) provides a variety of services to businesses, workers, and job seekers. The EDD administers several multi-billion dollar benefit programs including the Unemployment Insurance (UI), Disability Insurance (DI), and Paid Family Leave (PFL) programs that provide financial stability to workers and their communities. The Department also provides critical employment service programs to Californians, collect the state’s labor market information and employment data, and serve as one of the nation’s largest tax agencies through our collection of payroll taxes.

2008 California Proposition 6

California Proposition 6, also known as the Safe Neighborhoods Act and The Runner Initiative, is a statutory initiative that appeared on the November 2008 ballot in California. This proposition was rejected by voters on November 4 of that year.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is the State of Minnesota’s principal economic development agency. Its mission includes supporting the economic success of individuals, businesses, and communities by improving opportunities for growth.

Stephen Phillip Yokich was an American labor union activist who served as President of the United Auto Workers from 1994 to 2002.

Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) is a private, non-profit organization established in 1981 by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Its mission is "to attract, retain, and grow businesses and jobs for the regions of Los Angeles County." The LAEDC was originally formed to facilitate Los Angeles County's industrial bond development program through land development, project financing and marketing activities. Since that time, the organization has grown to encompass a wide range of services, using a broad-based coalition of chambers of commerce, trade organizations, business associations, and government officials. In particular, the LAEDC's conferences, economic forecasts and other professional events, held throughout the year in various locations throughout the Los Angeles County region, provide the business community with a place to interact with each other and individuals from the local schools, government and other constituencies.

PathPoint is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that works with the disadvantaged and disabled. PathPoint aids in the field of supported employment and housing support services. The organization operates in the five California counties of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles and Kern.

Paul F. O'Rourke was a founding member of Operation USA and its first board chair, the first Director of the California State Office of Economic Opportunity, a public health advisor to Senator Robert Kennedy and numerous state and federal agencies, and a Board Chairman of the San Francisco Trauma Foundation.

Welfare in California consists of federal welfare programs—which are often at least partially administered by state and county agencies—and several independent programs, which are usually administered by the counties.

Reggie Jones-Sawyer Member of the California State Assembly

Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, Sr. is an American politician currently serving in the California State Assembly. He is a Democrat representing the 59th Assembly District, which encompasses portions of South Los Angeles, the neighborhoods of Florence-Graham and Walnut Park, and a part of Huntington Park.

The East Los Angeles Community Union (TELACU) is a nonprofit community development corporation (CDC) founded in 1968 for the purpose of servicing disadvantaged communities in Eastside, Los Angeles through economic development. Over the years the CDC has impacted the community through its involvement in local Latino politics, community organization, housing development, scholarship funding, and job creation and training. With a revenue stream stemming from its many for-profit businesses, government grants, and private donations, TELACU has recently expanded its services to the Latino community outside of East Los Angeles, in some cases outside the state of California.

The Labor Center is a research and extension department at the University of California Los Angeles focused on organized labor and labor rights. It was created in 1964 as the Center for Labor Research and Education and is a unit of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

Eric Mann is a civil rights, anti-war, labor, and environmental organizer whose career spans 50 years. He has worked with the Congress of Racial Equality, Newark Community Union Project, Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Panther Party, the United Automobile Workers and the New Directions Movement. He was also instrumental in the labor and community alliance that kept General Motors’ assembly plant in Van Nuys, California open for ten years. Mann has been identified as instrumental in shaping the environmental justice movement in the U.S. He is also founder of the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles, California and has been its director for 25 years. In addition, Mann is founder and co-chair of the Bus Riders Union, identifying what is now called “transit racism” and resulting in a precedent-setting civil rights lawsuit, Labor Community Strategy Center et al. v. MTA.

Chanchanit Martorell, is an activist, educator, urban planner, and a community development practitioner. She is the Founder and Executive Director of the Thai Community Development Center.

W.T. Chan Fellowships Program, also known as the Lingnan Chan Fellowships Program, is a six-month program established by the Lingnan Foundation in 2001 to commemorate Wing-Tsit Chan, former Dean of Lingnan University and Distinguished Professor of Chinese Philosophy and Religion. Celebrating the Lingnan motto "Education for Service", the program provides challenging educational and leadership opportunities for Chinese Students through service learning and intercultural experiences in the United States. At its core, the program seeks to nurture a life-long commitment to service.

Antonia Hernandez

Antonia Hernández is a Latina attorney, activist, and philanthropist currently serving as the President and CEO of the California Community Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on addressing the needs of marginalized communities in the Los Angeles area, specifically people of color and low income. Hernández is notable through her involvement in Madrigal v. Quilligan (1975), the class action lawsuit filed by ten women of Mexican descent who were involuntarily sterilized at the Los Angeles County Hospital. She is also the first Latina to serve as staff counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee from 1979 to 1980. In addition, Hernández served on the campaign team for Senator Ted Kennedy in his 1980 presidential campaign. She previously served as president and general council of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) from 1985 to 2004.


  1. "Watts Labor Community Action Committee" . Retrieved November 26, 2014.
  2. von Hoffman, Alexander (2003). House by House, Block by Block: The Rebirth of America's Urban Neighborhoods. Oxford University Press. p. 226.
  3. Phelps, Wesley G. (2014). A People's War on Poverty: Urban Politics and Grassroots Activists in Houston. Athens: The University of Georgia Press.
  4. Patterson, James T. (2000). America's Struggle against Poverty in the Twentieth Century. Harvard University Press. p. 147.
  5. Laslett, John H.M. (2012). Sunshine Was Never Enough: Los Angeles Workers, 1880–2010. University of California Press. p. 241.
  6. Bauman, Robert. Race and the War on Poverty. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 71.
  7. Bauman, Robert (January 2007). "The Black and Chicano Movements in the Poverty Wars in Los Angeles". Urban History. 33 (2): 284.
  8. Laslett, John H.M. (2012). Sunshine Was Never Enough: Los Angeles Workers, 1880–2010. University of California Press. p. 240.
  9. von Hoffman, Alexander (2003). House by House, Block by Block: The Rebirth of America's Urban Neighborhoods. Oxford University Press. p. 225.
  10. Brown, Malaika (November 11, 1993). "WLCAC's Ted Watkins Leaves Valuable Living Legacy". LAS. A3.
  11. Bauman, Robert. Race and the War on Poverty. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 73.
  12. Bauman, Robert (1964). Race and the War on Poverty. University of Oklahoma Press: Norman. p. 71.
  13. Lowe, Marshall (March 4, 1971). "WLCAC Gets $2 Million For New Low Cost Homes". LAS. A1: 12.
  14. Lowe, Marshall (March 4, 1971). "WLCAC Gets $2 Million For New Low Cost Homes". LAS. A1: 12.
  15. von Hoffman, Alexander (2003). House by House, Block by Block: The Rebirth of America's Urban Neighborhoods. Oxford University Press. p. 226.

Further reading

Bauman, Robert. 2008. Race and the war on poverty : from Watts to East L.A. University of Oklahoma Press.
Laslett, John H. M. 2012. Sunshine Was Never Enough: Los Angeles Workers, 1880–2010. University of California Press.
Wyatt, Dwayne. 1983. Marketing feasibility study and economic analysis: Watts Labor Community Action Committee, Los Angeles.