Kenny Washington Square

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On February 27th, 2014, the City of Los Angeles and the Kenny Washington Stadium Foundation formally dedicated Kenny Washington Square at the intersection of North Broadway and Lincoln Park Avenue.

Although it had been a week of atypical rainstorms in the City of Angels, the skies opened that morning and the event was bathed in sunshine.  The rain returned later that afternoon and for many days that followed.

Keynote speaker for the day was Councilmember Gilbert Cedillo who authored and submitted the motion to the City Council for the establishment of Kenny Washington Square.

Other speakers included:  Adam Rank (NFL.com), Michael McKnight (Sports Illustrated), Bob Guerrero (UCLA/Athletic Director), Jim Mora Jr. (UCLA Head Coach), Councilmember Tom LaBonge (4th District), Tom Bateman (Bring Back The Los Angeles Rams), Willard Love (Washington Family Friend), Robert Granados (Lincoln High School Alumni Association), Benny Padilla (reading a letter from NFL Referee Emeritus Jim Tunney), and Kenny’s grandson Kirk Washington.

Although the event was over 7 years in the making, it was a memorable day for all.

Below is text of Los Angeles City Council Motion 13-1690:
Presented by Gilbert Cedillo, Councilmember 1st District
Seconded by Curren D. Price, Jr., Councilmember 9th District
Seconded by Tom LaBonge, Councilmember 4th District

Kenneth “Kenny” Stanley Washington was a groundbreaking pioneer in the integration of professional football in the United States. His contract signing with the Los Angeles Rams on March 21, 1946 broke the color barrier in the modern National Football League (N.F.L.) and paved the way for generations of African-American athletes to follow. From his humble beginnings as an adolescent in the Lincoln Heights community of Los Angeles until his untimely death in 1971, Mr. Washington lead a celebrated life as an athlete, respected local businessman, L.A.P.D. officer and civil rights leader.

While growing up in one of the first African-American families within the Lincoln Heights community, Mr. Washington lead the Lincoln High School Tigers to 1935 City Championships in both football and baseball while garnering first team All-City selections in both sports. His connection to the school and his Lincoln Heights roots continued throughout his life.

During his career as a U.C.L.A. Bruin, Kenny Washington distinguished himself as one of the greatest college football players of his era. After leading the nation in total offense during his senior year of 1939, Mr. Washington was named recipient of the Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Award – a predecessor to the Heisman Trophy – as the nation’s top player. Liberty Magazine named Mr. Washington the nation’s collegiate “Back of the Year” and the Helms Foundation presented him with their Southern California Athlete of the Year Award. He was the first U.C.L.A. Bruin to be named to the nation’s All-American football team and the first player in the school’s history to have his number (#13) permanently retired. To this day in his honor, the U.C.L.A.’s annual Offensive Player of the Year is bestowed the “Kenny Washington Award”. Mr. Washington was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1956.

Despite a highly decorated collegiate career and selection to play in the prestigious 1940 College All-Star Game against the Green Bay Packers, Kenny Washington was initially denied the opportunity to play in the N.F.L. because of his race. A league-wide ban on African- American players was in effect which prevented Mr. Washington from being a participant in the college players draft. Undaunted, Mr. Washington played minor league professional football on the West Coast for seven years primarily in Los Angeles and was one of the Pacific Coast League’s marquee players. A featured attendance draw because of his popularity, his games were frequently billed as “Kenny Washington and the Hollywood Bears”.

Upon the relocation of the Cleveland Rams to Los Angeles in 1946 and with pressure placed upon the team to integrate by the Los Angeles African-American community, the Rams sought out Kenny Washington to be a member of their team due to a large degree because of his past exploits as both a local prep and collegiate star. Mr. Washington became a fan favorite despite debilitating long-term knee injuries sustained prior to joining the Rams. The signing of his historic contract in March of 1946 laid the foundation for other African-American athletes to pursue a career in professional football at its highest level. While there were documented cases of overt racism displayed by some opponents, Mr. Washington maintained his dignity and calm demeanor throughout the course of his brief three year career in the N.F.L.. Upon his retirement on December 12, 1949, Mayor Fletcher Bowron declared “Kenny Washington Day” in the City of Los Angeles.

After retirement, Kenny Washington’s post athletic career included roles as an actor in Hollywood films, a respected career as an L.A.P.D. officer, celebrity product endorsements, various civic leadership positions and work as a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Upon his death in 1971 at the age of 51, newspaper obituaries from across the country wrote glowing tributes to him. In the words of contemporary sports writers, Kenny Washington was remembered as a Los Angeles sports hero, a U.C.L.A. gridiron legend and as a pioneer in the history of the National Football League.

I THEREFORE MOVE that the City of Los Angeles recognize the great contributions of Mr. Kenneth Stanley Washington to the people and community of Lincoln Heights and to the City of Los Angeles by naming the intersection of North Broadway and Lincoln Park Avenue as “Kenny Washington Square” in recognition of Mr. Washington’s athletic achievements, community service, and commitment to racial equality in professional sports.

I FURTHER MOVE that the Department of Transportation, with the assistance of other City departments, as needed, and in consultation with Council District One, be directed to design and install the appropriate sign(s) at this location to implement the above action during the month of February 2014.

Submitted: December 13, 2013