Watts Labor Community Action Committee (1965- )

Ted Watkins (foreground) and applicants, Watts Labor Community Action Committee Project Center, South Central Los Angeles, 1967
Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Digital Collections (00036548)

Since 1965, the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) has operated as the key antipoverty agency in South Central Los Angeles.  Union members and community activists established the WLCAC largely because of the failure of the city and county of Los Angeles to establish a War on Poverty agency.  They also were inspired by some of the ideas of black nationalism and motivated by the desire for community control of economic resources, self-empowerment, and self-determination.

Under the leadership of Ted Watkins, a United Auto Workers (UAW) representative, the WLCAC began to receive funding from local, state, and federal agencies, as well as private organizations like the Ford Foundation, for its various antipoverty programs.  One of WLCAC’s first community institutions was a credit union.  Previously, Watts residents had to go outside the area to obtain a loan and often they faced problems receiving approval. The WLCAC credit union helped many Watts residents obtain loans.

In the early 1970s, the WLCAC became a Community Development Corporation (CDC).  These quasi-public, quasi-private organizations stressed community control and planned economic development to address the problems of poverty and unemployment.  As a CDC, the WLCAC emphasized a comprehensive approach focused on community control.  In addition to the community credit union, WLCAC established a community owned and operated service station, poultry farm, grocery store, laundry, furniture and appliance shop, and food stamp centers.

The ideology of black power infused many WLCAC programs.  One WLCAC program, the Community Conservation Corps (CCC), not only provided summer jobs for teenagers, but also provided educational classes on black heritage and culture.  The WLCAC also provided support for the Watts Summer Festival, an annual community celebration of Afro-American culture that began in 1966 on the anniversary of the Watts Revolt.

The WLCAC continues to serve the residents of Watts, although that population is changing.  Latinos now constitute well over 50% of the population of Watts.  As a result, the WLCAC has incorporated programs celebrating Latino culture and emphasized multiracialism to the people of its community.