Los Angeles and the Automobile: The Making of the Modern City


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First, Los Angeles's magnetic appeal to successive waves of Latin American, Asian, and European immigrants ensured that the black freedom struggle would develop in a strikingly multiracial context. The effect of this racial diversity on blacks in Los Angeles has not been static; rather, it has changed through both time and space. This arrangement, coupled with the vast size and low population density of the city, mitigated the harshest social and psychological effects of racial segregation by diffusing the racial animosity usually reserved exclusively for blacks in other cities.

Economically, however, the multiracial character of the city worked against blacks by generating increased competition for the menial labor and manufacturing jobs that would have gone to them easily in a city like Chicago or Detroit. After World War II, the vast influx of blacks and the changing social status of other racial and ethnic groups in Los Angeles created a situation where black isolation, rather than the multiracial integration of the prewar era, became more common.

As industrial employment opportunities for nonwhites expanded in the two decades after the war, African Americans increasingly understood Mexicans to be competitors for coveted jobs. Between the s and the s, the multiracial character of Los Angeles moved from being a qualified blessing to a qualified curse for blacks, particularly those in blue-collar occupations. Second, while histories of the rust belt north emphasize the crucial role of deindustrialization and overall urban economic decline in perpetuating racial inequality, the story in Los Angeles is far more complicated.

In striking contrast to the steady decline in manufacturing jobs that began in the s in Chicago and Detroit, Los Angeles gained thousands of new manufacturing jobs through the s, thanks in large part to the crucial aerospace industry. Like its northern counterparts, however, Los Angeles did lose many of its automobile, steel, and rubber tire plants during and shortly after the recession of the mids. Beginning during World War II, African Americans in Los Angeles had fought for complete integration into these jobs, and by the s they had achieved a measure of success. More important, these jobs had created the economic foundations for a rising class of homeowning, blue-collar black workers.

Thus, the swift disappearance of those jobs was traumatic for an important element of black Los Angeles. But the decline in these older smokestack industries cannot alone sufficiently explain persistent racial inequality; in fact, even as Los Angeles was suffering this selective deindustrialization, it was also experiencing a dynamic wave of reindustrialization. But, again, blacks found that they did not share equally in Southern California's continuing economic boom. That such inequality persisted despite the creation of new jobs suggests that just as African Americans were challenging and conquering relics of historic discrimination, new barriers emerged.

Although race "declined in significance," to use William Julius Wilson's oft-quoted phrase, blackness continued to be a significant handicap long after legal segregation ended. Before World War II, the vast geographic size and relatively low population density of Los Angeles distinguished it from other major American metropolises. This dispersion, combined with the proportionally small size of the black population, the rigid racial segregation of the workplace, and the city's heavy dependence on private rather than public transportation, created an atmosphere in which compulsory social interaction between blacks and whites was minimized, thereby allowing black residents in prewar Los Angeles to avert many of the racially degrading or violent encounters typical in other cities.

For blacks in Los Angeles, and their friends and families who visited, this distinction was palpable and lent some credence to their glowing characterizations of opportunity in the city. Paradoxically, however, it also allowed civic leaders and whites in general to completely ignore the rising cost of racial segregation. African Americans remained essentially out of sight and out of mind until World War II, when the sheer volume of black migration finally forced white Los Angeles to recognize the consequences of housing segregation in the overcrowded slums of Little Tokyo.

But even as civic leaders grappled with the problems of segregation, many white residents and homeowners responded to the flood of black migrants by more aggressively defending racial segregation in both public and private spaces.

Los Angeles and the Automobile: The Making of the Modern City - Scott L. Bottles - Google Книги

Thus, whatever benefits blacks accrued from the city's special arrangement prior to World War II quickly disappeared in the postwar years. In the process of writing this book, I have read countless other books, articles, dissertations, and theses. I have consulted the records of more than thirty federal agencies, civil rights groups, labor organizations, and individuals; and I have analyzed and interpreted eight decades of census data and labor statistics.

I have read hundreds of issues of the two largest black newspapers of the era, the California Eagle and the Los Angeles Sentinel, as well as the Los Angeles Times and a handful of smaller newspapers. I have consulted numerous oral histories and conducted some of my own interviews with longtime residents of South Central Los Angeles, the heart of black Southern California.


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I have studied hundreds of photographs, maps, pamphlets, and letters from the era. And I have spent time in South Central, walking the streets, looking and listening for history's fading cues. All of this research has pointed to one central idea: Race is not simply a category of analyses that can be applied or removed from a map of the "real" urban landscape like a thematic overlay. Rather, it is a concept that has been integral to the way American cities have developed and the way urbanites of all backgrounds have made decisions.

Before the war, policy decisions on such issues had been made almost exclusively by whites, who certainly continued to dominate the urban decision-making process long after the war. But beginning during the war years, African Americans increasingly influenced that process in several ways. Blacks most often affected the evolution of the city simply by making everyday choices about where to work, where to live, where to send their children to school, and where to relax at the end of the day.

Although pervasive racial discrimination continued to limit their options, by making those choices, black residents thrust themselves into the public spaces and civic consciousness of the city of Los Angeles in ways that forced civic leaders to react. Blacks also shaped the urban decision-making process by explicitly challenging discriminatory employers, racist police, insensitive city councils and mayors, and obstinate white co-workers and neighbors through pickets, boycotts, protests, and organized electoral political activity. Ultimately, African Americans were not peripheral to the history of Los Angeles or other large American cities but were, rather, important shapers of urban destiny in ways that have yet to be fully appreciated.

By locating my study of postwar African American history in Los Angeles, I hope to offer more than simply a corrective to our near-exclusive reliance on the northern rust belt story. Understanding the history of modern black Los Angeles may give us an opportunity—to borrow a phrase from Mike Davis—to "excavate the future. Indeed, over the past forty or so years, many of America's sunbelt cities have come to resemble Los Angeles in their rapid growth, their sprawling landscapes, their new immigration, and their diversified economies, often bolstered by heavy federal investment.

Because de facto racial inequality still plagues our nation, we would be well served by a comprehensive understanding of how our most modern cities have incubated it. Finally, I must acknowledge the limitations of this study. In my investigation of the Los Angeles African American community, I have focused chiefly on those aspects of life that have historically been at the center of black struggles for equality: Readers seeking greater insight into the many rich spiritual, artistic, and cultural traditions and contributions of Los Angeles's black community may find this book lacking.

Its Rise and Fall, three comprehensive works on the history of black music in the city and state. Far less documented is the fascinating history of the city's many black churches and influential pastors, as well as the story of its visual artists and writers. GPO, , 1: In some cities, in fact, a growing proportion of dissatisfied African Americans actually began migrating back to the South.

For information on slowing black in-migration and increased black out-migration, see James H.

A number of excellent studies have explored the impact of this migration. Knopf, ; Albert S. Broussard, Black San Francisco: University Press of Kansas, ; Marilynn S.

Nobody Walks in L.A.: The Rise of Cars and the Monorails That Never Were

Johnson, The Second Gold Rush: University of California Press, The growth rate of the black population in Los Angeles from to was 1, percent. Black growth rates for other large northern and western cities are as follows: Louis, percent; Philadelphia, percent; Baltimore, percent; Washington, D. Data drawn from the following U. Bureau of the Census publications all published in Washington, D. Sixteenth Census of the United States: C, General Social and Economic Characteristics, pts.

See, for example, Richard M.

LOS ANGELES AND THE AUTOMOBILE. THE MAKING OF THE MODERN CITY

Columbia University Press, For an excellent description of this process, see Johnson, Second Gold Rush, 60— Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma: Harper and Brothers, , ; St. Clair Drake and Horace R. University of Chicago Press, , The New Press, A Report Los Angeles, , 3. One of the earliest articulations of the concept of the "underclass" can be found in E. For an excellent overview of this debate, see Michael B.

Views from History, ed. Princeton University Press, , 3— The most influential and historically minded work on the underclass has been William Julius Wilson, The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Race, Class, and Ethnicity in the s and s Chapel Hill: Massey and Nancy A. Segregation and the Making of the Underclass Cambridge: Harvard University Press, ; Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, — Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ; Gregory D.

Temple University Press, ; William J. Brookings Institution, , —; William J. Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged: Bauman, Public Housing, Race, and Renewal: Try the Kindle edition and experience these great reading features: Share your thoughts with other customers. Write a customer review. There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later. I have been researching the development of modern cities and this book provided a different perspective than most in this category.

Provides excellent background of the social, economic and political forces that made America's first major auto dependent city.

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This book was written during the Reagan administration and takes a sympathetic and somewhat idealized view of the automobile and sprawl with no discussion or acknowledgement of draw backs even though it is quick to point out the failings of mass transit and New Deal policies. Bottles assumes the supremacy of the automobile and does not seem to be aware that in Asia and Europe there are several examples which contest his ultimate conclusion. Still it is a valuable book and worth reading and study. Arrived in perfect condition, exactly as advertised.

Why did the urban transportation system in Los Angeles die? This book takes a very multifaceted approach and looks beyond the automobile as its cause. The title is a little misleading. The book covers the downfall of public transpiration in California and how the car impacted life in southern California.

There is actually very little urban analysis done here but it covers the public policy of early 's very well. You get a sense for how the municipalities and federal government responded in California and see the way in which the auto shaped those policies. The auto was very influential in the downfall of public transportation and I was surprised to see how many auto related interests owned stakes in public transport companies. For those just getting started on urban history this is a good book to start with and he sites the great source on suburbs Crabgrass Frontier well worth the time to read.

Very well written and fun especially if you grew up around LA.

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One person found this helpful. OK, I have to issue a full disclosure here; the author is my brother. But that said Scott has written a great little book. We grew up in LA and had always heard stories about how the auto companies ruined public transportation in LA in order to sell more cars. The result is this book. So if you want to know the truth about how LA came to be the automobile centered city it is, read his book.

See all 4 reviews. Amazon Giveaway allows you to run promotional giveaways in order to create buzz, reward your audience, and attract new followers and customers. Learn more about Amazon Giveaway. The Making of the Modern City.

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