Living History at Eso Won Books

The 1990s brought new changes to the world. The Cold War had just ended as the Berlin Wall fell months before, bringing a hope of peace and safety. A new generation of style and music began as my generation was born. In 1990, a small bookstore opened in Los Angeles. James Fulgate and Thomas Hamilton started Eso Won for African American literature. It has developed into a center of community and culture.

We celebrate Black history this month as a nation, but Eso Won Books celebrates Black history every month and has for over two decades. The last sixty years have shown a progression in Civil Rights from Martin Luther King Jr. to affirmative action as the world searches for equality. History is a fascinating thing to me, it changes year after year bringing new complexities into the fold. The history of a place is impacted by each person who enters. Bookstores are no different. Eso Won is proud of its strong African American culture and history as well as its strong connection to Los Angeles. Eso Won is the place to go to find books by President Obama or Alice Walker or Jerry Rice; its wide range allow for different histories and perspectives to be presented.

Eso Won 13
The Early Years

Fulgate and Hamilton met at an event for Nelson Mandela. Neither one came from the LA area in which they built their store, but rather Fulgate is from Detroit and Hamilton is from Canada. Both men brought their love of literature to their new business. They admired the Leimert Park area for its strong African American culture and were happy to move there years ago.

Eso Won Books is a place of comfort and discussion in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. It has been dedicated to African American literature and culture and therefore its history is incomplete without looking at African American history in the United States. Eso Won has served as a Parnassus on Wheels for Los Angeles as it brings authors and books to the people. Just as the professor brought books he believed would best serve the people and entertain them so do Fulgate and Hamilton. They stock their bookstore with books of good quality as wells as books the people want as Laura Miller describes as “booksellers tended to earn the respect of their peers when their store selections went beyond the popular novels so much in demand, and when they became a guiding force in their customers’ reading habits” (57). Eso Won serves as a haven for African American literature and has gained that reputation with customers who will come to them. Year after year, Eso Won restock with books that sell and the customers love.

The video shows Eso Won’s participation in a shop local movement.

Eso Won has moved a few times. For the past seven years it has been in the Leimert Park area, Fulgate and Hamilton’s ideal location for the store. Eso Won has been welcomed into the neighborhood. It has participated in the Leimert Park Village Art and Music Festival. The latest move for the bookstore was simply across the street. Eso Won has tried to engage with its community and has established its place with the people.

The history of the bookstore can be measured by the people who have visited. Their website will inform an visitors who the next writer is, currently it is Misty Copeland with her story as a ballerina. Eso Won has played host to hundreds of individuals, each with their own history and story. Eso Won celebrates and remembers Civil Rights displays such as marches, protests, and great speeches. Eso Won has many book signing and author events for people involved in the Civil Rights Movement as well. Some authors are popular and famous individuals and others are just starting a successful career, such as the young man who came in 1995 with his book “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance” and then became the president about thirteen years later. Barack Obama was one of the many authors who found the niche that Eso Won had fulfilled to be so interesting. Nor was Obama the only president, years earlier Bill Clinton has the guest at a book signing event. Eso Won brings new authors and books to the people just as the professor did, educating, inspiring, and entertaining the masses through the books and writers. There are even as many as three events in three days and with these stories of Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The store’s history is written with these events as they draw in new people and old customers. Some events are high profile or political such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s book signings and some are a different kind of celebrity, Jerry Rice and Russell Simmons. Eso Won tries to represent African American culture from entertainment to the football field to the White House.

Barack Obama was the featured author in a 1995 book signing event and returned over a decade later as key political figure in American politics. Obama’s victory in the 2008 Presidential election showed that race could not stop a man from becoming one of the most powerful individuals in the world. Whether or not people agree with his politics, they must recognize the impact that his presidency has on African American history. Eso Won celebrated Obama’s entrance into the White House as the community gained a role model for success. His achievement is a part of the history to the African American bookstore.

Eso Won Books Timeline

To many members of my generation, the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s feels so long ago, but it was not something of another generation for Fulgate and Hamilton in 1990. James Bradley was still the mayor of LA, a position he been elected to in 1973, at which point he was only the second African American mayor in America. Affirmative Action gained strength in the 1970s and 1980s with the goal of raising minorities to equality in education and industry. African Americans were becoming more educated and more successful. Eso Won welcomes people of all education levels as the store is a place of commerce, culture, and conversation. I do not think the Civil Rights Movement will never really be over. As long as people feel disrespected and belittled, reform will be demanded. Change in politics is constant, just as the inventory of a bookstore is bringing in new books so elections bring new people and ideas. Eso Won is a place where politics and current events can be discussed. It is a place of living history.

This past summer the deaths of a few young African American individuals at the hands of police officers brought politics and minorities to national attention as they battled over the ideals and practices of justice. Eso Won displayed its support for the protests through a Facebook post and I am sure heated discussions within the store. These moments of tension emphasize the need Eso Won provides for its neighborhood as a place of conversation and culture with the books for great legends there to serve as examples. There will always be moments of politics that bring people together, in agreement or debate, and Eso Won. They are defining moments in our history

Just as “The Jewish Bookstores of the Old East Side” of New York served their neighborhood and people so has Eso Won. With each writer that comes to the store the community is invited to enter into a new dialogue “[a]s you enter and engage in conversation with the proprietor” others will join in (The Outlook 21). The writer was describing the atmosphere of the Jewish bookstores, but Eso Won is just as inviting and the book store plays a similar cultural hub for people to wak in and out and always be able to engage with an issue. Fulgate and Hamilton crate that atmosphere by establishing a standard of quality books and hosting writers. It is their history that allows them to have such an array of talents.

I think it would be comforting to have a bookstore like this be a part of my neighborhood. I would be able to depend on them to bring in new books and authors every year. Eso Won is a center of culture that has established its place its neighborhood through its extensive guest list. Each person who visits adds to the culture of the store, the reputation, the customers. Eso Won knows its customers and plays a part in the African American culture of the city, nation, and world.

Works Cited

Eso Won Books website

“Affirmative Action.” CivilRights.Org. The Leadership Conference. Web. February 2015

Claire Andre, Manuel Velasquez, and Tim Mazur. “Affirmative Action: Twenty-five Years of Controversy.” Santa Clara University, The Jesuit University in Silicon Valley. Web. February 2015.

Discover Los Angeles. Historical Timeline of Los Angeles. Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board. 18 November 2014. Web. February 2015.

“The Jewish Bookstores of the Old East Side.” The Book Peddler. 17 Amherst, (1992): 20-23.

Kellogg, Carolyn. “Bookstore of the week: Eso Won Books.” Los Angeles Times. 13 January 2011. Web. February 2015.

Werris, Wendy. “Eso Won Books to Move Follwing Sale of Building.” Publishers Weekly. 19 February 2012. Web. February 2015.

Images and Media

Chen, Anna. “Eat, Shop, Play Crenshaw: Eso Won Books.”Oneline video clip. 9 January 2015. Web. February 2015.

LA Times Festival of Books

Several Photos from Eso Won Facebook