Structured Unrest: The Rumford Act, Proposition 14, and the Systematic Inequality that Created the Watts Riots

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 If “you keep telling people that they are unfairly treated and teach them disrespect for the law,” Chief William Parker told reporters in the aftermath of the Watts Riots, then violence is inevitable. Parker’s commentary, an attempt to deflect his own department’s culpability for the civil unrest veered into increasingly racist territory. In Parker’s worldview, trouble only started “when one person threw a rock, and like monkeys in a zoo, others started throwing rocks.” Calls by assemblyman Mervyn Dymally for a civilian police review board were little more than a “vicious canard,” argued the imperious police chief.[1]The legacy of the riots, fifty years old next year, has reverberated … [Read more...]

“Taking Compton National”: Schools, Race, and Modern Suburbia in 20th and 21st Century California

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 “Our nation is moving toward two societies, One Black, One White – separate and unequal,” announced the 1968 Kerner Commission. In 1967, following riots that had erupted across urban America, President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted the commission, appointing former Illinois Governor Otto Kerner Jr as its chairman, to delineate the causes of American unrest; unsurprisingly, the report concluded that poverty, segregation, and lack of economic opportunities corroded urban minority neighborhoods while whites fled to middle and upper class suburban environs, taking income and businesses with them.Undoubtedly, the Kerner Commission correctly identified many of the systematic problems afflicting … [Read more...]

Golden State Urbanity: 28 History Books That Get At The Heart of Metropolitan California

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For many Americans, the phrase “California history” sounds like an oxymoron. Born out of a Gold Rush and two World Wars, the Golden State, to easterners, has always seemed like the new kid on the block. Californians might have aided in such perceptions, notes the 1970s dean of West Coast literature, Joan Didion. “You might protest that no family has been in Sacramento Valley for anything approaching ‘always,’” she wrote, “But it is characteristic of Californians to speak grandly of the past as if it has simultaneously begun, tabula rasa, and reached a happy ending on the day the wagons started west.” For Didion, such depictions of the past cast melancholy over “those who participate in it,” … [Read more...]

“Capital within a Capital”: Covert Action, the Vietnam War, and Creating a “Little Saigon” in the Heart of Northern Virginia

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“That flag is the symbol of the spirit of the refu­gee,” Springfield resident and Vietnamese American talk show host Liem D Bui told journalists in 2012. The flag to which Bui referred is that of the fallen South Vietnam government and it along with an American flag fly over Eden Center shopping plaza in Falls Church, VA, a symbolic embodiment of Vietnamese American culture that some call “a capital within a capital,” for D.C.’s 80,000 residents of Vietnamese descent. Unfortunately, in recent years, the shopping center has garnered attention for more than its restaurants and markets. A murder-suicide left two men dead in July of 2012 and gambling raids in 2011 linked Eden Center and its flag … [Read more...]

Diving into Integration: Sammy Lee, Historical Memory, and the Complexity of Housing Segregation in Cold War California

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Even with the clearest of minds, personal and historical memory ebb and flow. Recollections of our own past and that of the society around us often become shaped by current circumstance and selective recall. If one adds dementia to the mix, personal memories become scattered vestiges of our former selves that bound across the mind. Lest one thinks society as a collective operates any better, it does not. You need only point to the occasional survey of American knowledge of U.S. history to know the past might stalk us invisibly at every moment, but as Americans we seem blissfully unaware. When two-time gold medal Olympic diver Sammy Lee disappeared for several days this past April, the … [Read more...]

125 Years of 4th of July Parades and Liberalism in Maryland’s Takoma Park

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“We’re compromised,” an exasperated Julie Boddy told a Washington Post journalist in 2012. As a sitting member of the Nuclear Free Takoma Park Committee, Boddy and other committee members expressed sharp reservations about a recent city council decision. “What kind of reputation do we have if we fall down in that way?” Ian Barclay, a town native agreed. “It’s just a slippery slope … when you start letting this slide then where are you going to end up.” The issue at hand you ask? Town librarians had ordered a set of Hewlett Packard computers to replace older outdated models. However, HP’s historical association with the production of nuclear weapons led librarians to “stash” them away in … [Read more...]

Hurting for Healthcare: Veterans, the Elderly, & the Disabled in US Health Politics

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Every year, the sycophants of the mainstream media get to rub shoulders with famous attractive people (actors) and famous ugly people (politicians).  The White House Correspondents Dinner is an orgy of self-congratulatory back-patting, which attendees lovingly refer to as "nerd prom." Well, the biennial Policy History Conference is not exactly prom, but it is definitely the nerd equivalent of some kind of major social event.  Nerdstock? Wonkapalooza?  If tax policy or brownfield mitigation is your bag, then you will surely be making your way to Albany, Frankfort, or whichever button-down cowtown the conference happens to be held in that year.  This year Policy History rolled into the … [Read more...]

Much Ado about Nothing: The Times’ Non-Story about Eduardo Galeano’s Non-Apology

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Last Friday The New York Times published an article claiming that Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano now “disavows” his seminal work, Las venas abiertas de América Latina (Open Veins of Latin America). The book, originally published in 1971, “argued that the riches that first attracted European colonizers, like gold and sugar, gave rise to a system of exploitation that led inexorably to ‘the contemporary structure of plunder’ that he held responsible for Latin America’s chronic poverty and underdevelopment.” For generations of Latin American leftists and students of Latin America Las venas abiertas has been “the canonical anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist and anti-American text.” It has been … [Read more...]

Memorial Day Reveille

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We here at ToM hope that your Memorial Day weekend has gone swimmingly.   Over the years, our writers have explored various aspects of foreign policy and military history, from the American Civil War and the idea of "total war" to the impact of the all-volunteer military and the efficacy of intervention in Iran and Syria. In honor of the holiday, we've gathered our most relevant pieces below. Was the American Civil War the First Total War? Alex Sayf Cummings (ASC) asks the question and surfs through the historiography to find the answer. Crayons, Fraternities, and Military Historians: The Perception and State of American Military History Georgia State University's John Southard traverses … [Read more...]

The Reagan Revolution Part II: The Thinnest of Hip Hop Primers on Rap’s Rejection of Ronald Reagan, 1980 – 2013

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 Over the last twenty or thirty years, historians have tried to situate the United States in a more transnational frame, avoiding stories about “American exceptionalism” and thinking about how events unfold only within our borders. Instead, Thomas Bender, Charlotte Brooks, Stephanie Smallwood, Andrew Zimmerman, Robin D.G. Kelley, and numerous others, in their own ways, have demonstrated how events, capital flows, and politics within the U.S often reflected the force of political, economic, and social currents extending beyond domestic affairs. In an a well regarded essay for the Journal of American History (JAH), Kelley argued that black historians, due in part to discrimination and the … [Read more...]

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