“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...]

The American Military: Nineteen Histories about War, Society, and the U.S. Military’s Influence on the Nation

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Even today, the category of military history still elicits a bit of head scratching. Our own John Southard noted as much in a 2012 essay for ToM: “Crayons, Fraternities, and Military History.” Southard pointed out that in the last throes of the twentieth century and the first decade of the new millennium, there existed among historians a great deal of doubt regarding the efficacy of military history. At the 1997 meeting for the Society of Military History, John Lynn publicly confided that one of his University of Illinois colleagues inquired, in the best voice of academic condescension one can imagine, if military historians “write in crayon.” At the 2008 meeting of the American Historical … [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...]

Not Bowling Alone: How the Holiday Bowl in Crenshaw Became an Integrated Leisure Space

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In May 2000, the New York Times reported the upcoming demolition of the Crenshaw District's Holiday Bowl. Built by Japanese American investors in 1958, just as Crenshaw and neighboring Leimart Park were reemerging as one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods, the bowling alley served as an integrated leisure space where African, Mexican, and Asian Americans could interact. "It's like a United Nations in there,'' longtime employee Jacqueline Sowell told writer Don Terry. ''Our employees are Hispanic, white, black, Japanese, Thai, Filipino. I've served grits to as many Japanese customers as I do black. We've learned from each other and given to each other. It's much more than just a bowling … [Read more...]

The Shifting Cultures of Multiracial Boyle Heights

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In a critical scene from the 1997 neo-noir "L.A. Confidential," the ambitious and overzealous Detective Ed Exley (Guy Pierce) escorts rape survivor Inez Soto (Marisol Padilla Sanchez) through the tumult of press coverage upon her discharge from the hospital. Soto's testimony proved vital in convicting four black men of murder at the famous Night Owl diner massacre; a case that led to Exley's promotion and subsequent municipal fame. However, in a brief exchange, Soto reveals that while guilty of sexual assault, the four men never stepped foot in the notorious Night Owl. "I don't know what time they left me, I wanted them dead," she tells Exley in a private moment. "Would anyone care that they … [Read more...]

Fighting for Leisure: African Americans, Beaches, and Civil Rights in Early 20th Century L.A.

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"These people worked on the railroad, they saved their money, they put up a resort, and they lost everything," lamented Bernard Bruce in 2007. "How would you feel if your family owned the Waldorf and they took it away from you." Bruce, the grandson of former beach resort proprietors Charles and Willa Bruce, spoke to the Los Angeles Times after a contested Manhattan Beach city council vote of 3-2 confirmed the city's official commemoration of his parents' beach resort as a historic landmark. "There's a kind of tension," longtime resident and local historian Robert L. Brigham added, "between people who are very conscious of the history of Bruce's and those who would rather forget about the … [Read more...]

Filing the Lane, Here and Abroad: Filipino American Identity and Basketball

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[Editor's Note: Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! ToM will be bringing forth several articles on Asian American history and culture over the next three weeks. Be sure to check out our previous post on masculinity, femininity, and Asian American basketball in 20th century California here.] "We played in the barrios too and the whole town would come to watch us," fifteen year old Los Angeles native and Filipino American basketball player Gabe Abe Pagtama told journalists in 1992. "The one bad thing over there is the mosquitoes. We had to make small fires in the hotel rooms to drive them out." Pagtama and his Los Angeles-area teammates traveled to the Philippines to take part in a … [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...]

Fast Times with Valley Girls: 30 Years Later, What Do Two SoCal Classics Tell Us About America?

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[Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared on the KCET Departures website under its Intersections column on February 15, 2013.  It is a pop culture supplemental addition to our Retail California series. Part one can be read here. Part two can be read here, and part three here.] "I hate working the theater," Mark "Rat" Ratner (Brian Backer) laments to friend Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) in the classic comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. "All the action's on the other side of the mall." Indeed, Rat's wide-eyed stare focuses on the food court, populated by establishments like Bronco Burger, Mexican Dan, and, where his new crush Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) works, Perry's Pizza. … [Read more...]

Retail California: Shopping Centers, Malls, and Creating a New Consumerism

Broadway-Crenshaw Center in 1947. Photo by Loomis Dean.

[Editor's note: This article first appeared on April 4, 2013 for the Intersections column at KCET Departures. Part of a 3 part series on Southern California's retail history, Part III (below) explores SoCal's role in popularizing shopping malls  Part II on the convergence of the Big Lebowski and Ralph's as a symbol of SoCal's early embrace of the grocery store and new "advances" in consumerism can be read here. Part I examines Los Angeles' role in creating the drive in market, a precursor to the dreaded strip mall. It can be read here.] "It was a peculiar and visionary time, those years after World War II to which all the Malls and Towns and dales stand as climate controlled monuments," … [Read more...]

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