19 November 2012
The City of Angels: Black, White and Brown
Racial tensions, racism, and racial hegemony have all played a major role in shaping the city of Los Angeles, both geographically and socio-politically. While there has been an increase in recent years in the number of émigrés from the Middle East and Asia, the main divisions have been between white, black, and Latino populations in the ‘City of Angels’.
In the early twentieth century, Los Angeles was viewed by many conservative Anglos as a potential all-white enclave. Joseph Widney, an early president of the University of Southern California argued in his 1907 book, Race Life of The Aryan Peoples, that Los Angeles was fated to become the model city for Aryan dominance. Wealthy white investors and land speculators fueled the early growth of Los Angeles, creating neighborhoods that fought tirelessly to maintain a status of exclusivity, which in turn insured that property values would remain high. The wealth, and subsequent influence, in Los Angeles’ early years were centered on the Downtown district, before gradually expanding westward as the city grew after World War II.
The creation of an all-white utopia required cheap labor, and that labor was provided by either Chicano residents, largely employed in the service sector, or blacks—who were migrating from the South in droves, lured by the dream of a better life in sunny Southern California. There were jobs in the auto industry, and in other manufacturing centers, but both groups were woefully underrepresented in City Hall and largely ignored as revenue was poured into Downtown projects, rather than low-cost housing for the poor, or social services. As a result, the Chicano population was relegated to the Eastside district, while the black residents—banned from home ownership by most Westside homeowners’ associations and their ‘Jim Crow’-style restrictive covenants—were confined to Los Angeles’ Southside.
The plight of Los Angeles’ black...