Location: The open-access archives of the Southern California Library in Los Angeles, California.
Expert: Cindy I-Fen Cheng, Professor of History and Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin

The Southern California Library is more than just a library to its community, according to Cindy I-Fen Cheng, Professor of History and Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin; it’s a hub of community organization, archival history and enrichment. For those who want to do research—from a high school student writing an essay to a history buff off the street, the South California Library is a goldmine. “It is amazing that a place like this is still around,” says Cheng, who explains that anyone can walk into the archives and see the rich cultural and social activist traditions and struggles of the past.

The library was founded by Emil Freed. A member of left-thinking political movements, Freed started to save pamphlets and political materials in an attempt to preserve the “historical legacy of leftist thought.” During the McCarthy era, where people were punished for harboring “anti-American” political ideals, Freed’s fear of losing this history heightened. It is because of his preservation efforts (which involved keeping the materials in his garage) that the Southern California Library archive has such an extensive collection of pamphlets and political ephemera from social justice causes. Among its substantial holdings are hallmarks of local activism, such as primary documents of the Black Panther Party and the Los Angeles Protection of the Foreign Born, which were saved by local residents during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.

Artwork outside the library. (Courtesy of the Southern California Library)

Today, visitors are greeted by artwork adorning the outside of the building, including a mural depicting the history of women in the labor movement and an Olmec mosaic (the first major civilization in Guatemala and Mexico). The library itself continues Freed’s preservation efforts by asking visitors to add to “the history that is being made today, through amplifying community voices and by preserving history from the community’s point of view.” It also includes a community garden that opens its doors to the homeless. “It makes visitors think about why certain histories are forgotten while others are remembered. It shows how a community archive is a social justice center that preserves and keeps alive the stories of the working class and other minoritized populations,” says Cheng.

Want to check it out for yourself? The library recommends that visitors make an appointment to conduct research. Timeslots are available Wednesday through Saturday from 11:00am until 5:00pm.

The Southern California Library in 1992 after the civil unrest, when everything around it burned down. (Courtesy of the Southern California Library)

How to Find the Southern California Library Archives:
The archives are accessible by car and public transportation, 5-7 miles from the University of Southern California.

This story is the ninth in a series about amazing historical travel destinations in America. Read expert recommendations on where to go in Ohio, Florida, Idaho, MassachusettsKansasKentucky, Washington D.C. and Illinois.