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L.A. City Limits: African American Los Angeles from the Great Depression to the Present

Josh Sides
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 302
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  • Book Info
    L.A. City Limits
    Book Description:

    In 1964 an Urban League survey ranked Los Angeles as the most desirable city for African Americans to live in. In 1965 the city burst into flames during one of the worst race riots in the nation's history. How the city came to such a pass-embodying both the best and worst of what urban America offered black migrants from the South-is the story told for the first time in this history of modern black Los Angeles. A clear-eyed and compelling look at black struggles for equality in L.A.'s neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces from the Great Depression to our day,L.A. City Limitscritically refocuses the ongoing debate about the origins of America's racial and urban crisis. Challenging previous analysts' near-exclusive focus on northern "rust-belt" cities devastated by de-industrialization, Josh Sides asserts that the cities to which black southerners migrated profoundly affected how they fared. He shows how L.A.'s diverse racial composition, dispersive geography, and dynamic postwar economy often created opportunities-and limits-quite different from those encountered by blacks in the urban North.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93986-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Mary Trimble stood on the porch of her Los Angeles home in 1950 and spoke openly with a local newspaper reporter about her decision to migrate to the city seven years earlier. Born in 1898 in Keithville, Louisiana—a heavily segregated rural town in the heart of America’s infamous “black belt”—Trimble understood that her educational and occupational opportunities there had been hopelessly limited. Educated in separate and patently unequal schools, confined to the most menial and degrading jobs, and always fearful of wanton racial violence, African Americans in Keithville and other small towns throughout the American South had to...

  6. CHAPTER 1 African Americans in Prewar Los Angeles
    (pp. 11-35)

    W. E. B. Du Bois’s statement, penned in New York shortly after a visit to Los Angeles, exemplified a common perception among many black Angelenos that Los Angeles was a kind of racial paradise for African Americans. Jefferson L. Edmonds, editor of the black Los Angeles newspaper theLiberator, also expressed this sentiment in 1902 when he declared, “California is the greatest state for the Negro,” and in 1911 when he elaborated:

    Only a few years ago, the bulk of our present colored population came here from the South without any money, in search of better things and were not...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Great Migration and the Changing Face of Los Angeles
    (pp. 36-56)

    World War II initiated a fundamentally new era in African American life and history. The deepening labor shortage, coupled with the rising demand for defense production, forced employers to reconsider, often reluctantly, their exclusive preference for white male labor. Accelerating this trend was the Fair Employment Practice Committee, which threatened to revoke federal defense contracts from discriminatory employers. Throughout the country, African Americans responded to these circumstances by journeying to the nation’s burgeoning defense centers in search of better jobs and racial equality.

    Generally in their twenties and early thirties, and often parents, members of the “Great Migration generation” resolved...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Window of Opportunity: Black Work in Industrial Los Angeles, 1941–1964
    (pp. 57-94)

    World War II initiated an era of economic prosperity in the United States that would continue for more than two decades. Sustained by the country’s heavy manufacturing industries, this boom created thousands of new jobs and laid the foundations of a new standard of comfort for American workers that included union membership, home and automobile ownership, and expanded discretionary income. Having been swiftly integrated into the nation’s industrial workforce during the war, California’s African Americans stood poised to share in this postwar prosperity. One 1947 survey concluded that Los Angeles and San Francisco were among the ten cities providing the...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Race and Housing in Postwar Los Angeles
    (pp. 95-130)

    In the two decades after World War II, few issues evoked more passion from average Americans than the racial integration of neighborhoods. Most passionate about the issue were African Americans, who suddenly found that significant barriers to integration had begun to crumble. The landmark Supreme Court decisionsShelley v. KraemerandBarrows v. Jackson, handed down in 1948 and 1953, respectively, effectively abolished racially restrictive housing covenants, the most entrenched barrier to neighborhood integration. And more African Americans than ever were earning incomes that allowed them to consider buying homes, especially in Southern California, where housing prices remained relatively low....

  10. CHAPTER 5 Building the Civil Rights Movement in Los Angeles
    (pp. 131-168)

    America’s modern civil rights movement was born during World War II, although most Americans did not recognize its presence until the late 1950s. The Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, the desegregation battle in Little Rock in 1957, and the sit-in campaigns, Freedom Rides, and rallies of the early 1960s grabbed the nation’s attention, leaving little doubt that an aggressive movement for black equality was afoot in the United States. But for urban blacks, especially in the western United States, the dramatic events of the 1960s were the culmination of at least two decades of struggle for equality. Leading that struggle...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Black Community Transformation in the 1960s and 1970s
    (pp. 169-198)

    For both black and white Los Angeles, few moments were more terrifying or more memorable than the six consecutive days in August 1965 when African Americans—mostly young men—rampaged through the streets of Watts and South Central, looting and burning retail stores, beating passing motorists, and attacking the firefighters and police officers who had been sent to quell the disturbance (see figure 13). The grim results—thirty-four deaths (twenty-eight of those who died were black), more than one thousand injuries, four thousand arrests, and $40 million in property damage—sent chills down the spines of whites and blacks across...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 199-206)

    In 1998, seventy-three-year-old Sylvester Gibbs sat at the Watts Senior Citizens Center on East Century Boulevard, reflecting on the decision he had made fifty years earlier to leave Mississippi and move to Los Angeles.

    After serving in the Navy during World War II, Gibbs returned to his native Lauderdale, Mississippi, a changed man. Emboldened by his military service and now twenty-one years old, Gibbs wanted to be treated like a man. He began resisting the rules of racial etiquette, refusing, for example, to call white men “sir.” “The bad part about this,” Gibbs remembered, “was that the white folks, when...

  13. Maps: The Historical Geography of African American Los Angeles
    (pp. 207-216)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 217-254)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-278)
  16. Index
    (pp. 279-288)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-289)