Sunday, 20 March 2011

Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America (George Gund Foundation Imprint in African American Studies)

Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America (George Gund Foundation Imprint in African American Studies)
Douglas Flamming | 2005-01-24 00:00:00 | University of California Press | 485 | African Americans
Paul Bontemps decided to move his family to Los Angeles from Louisiana in 1906 on the day he finally submitted to a strictly enforced Southern custom-he stepped off the sidewalk to allow white men who had just insulted him to pass by. Friends of the Bontemps family, like many others beckoning their loved ones West, had written that Los Angeles was "a city called heaven" for people of color. But just how free was Southern California for African Americans? This splendid history, at once sweeping in its historical reach and intimate in its evocation of everyday life, is the first full account of Los Angeles's black community in the half century before World War II. Filled with moving human drama, it brings alive a time and place largely ignored by historians until now, detailing African American community life and political activism during the city's transformation from small town to sprawling metropolis. Writing with a novelist's sensitivity to language and drawing from fresh historical research, Douglas Flamming takes us from Reconstruction to the Jim Crow era, through the Great Migration, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and the build-up to World War II. Along the way, he offers rich descriptions of the community and its middle-class leadership, the women who were front and center with men in the battle against racism in the American West. In addition to drawing a vivid portrait of a little-known era, Flamming shows that the history of race in Los Angeles is crucial for our understanding of race in America. The civil rights activism in Los Angeles laid the foundation for critical developments in the second half of the century that continue to influence us to this day. Illustrations: 40 b/w photographs, 5 maps
Douglas Flamming has done scholars, historians, and the public a favor by putting out the first in-depth and fully accessible history of African Americans in Los Angeles.

In his work, Flamming focuses on the life of Charlotta Bass, the editor and publisher of the California Eagle newspaper. She came to Los Angeles in 1910 and died in 1969, and saw the world change around her. She was also an activist who sought to improve the lives of African Americans in southern California. But she did not do it alone. Flamming also tells us the stories of Fred Roberts, John and Vada Somerville and the indefatigable Betty Hill.

He also describes the famous places, such as the busy life on Central Avenue before it became known as South Central. There was the Dunbar Hotel, the only place black people could stay in during those years, and the nationally famous jazz club, the Club Alabam, which was a magnet for the biggest names in the country.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you are a student of Black history, California history, or life in Los Angeles just before and after World War II, get this book. Even if you are not, it is still a great read (aside from being thoroughly documented).

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