Educating Compton: Race, Taxes, and Schools in Southern California’s Most Notorious Suburb

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[For more on Compton and its complex demographic change see an earlier ToM piece, "Compton as the Bellwether for Urban America"] "I want [my children] to have more success in life," Ismenia Guzman told an L.A. Weekly journalist in 2010. "I want to change the cycle ... I want them to have more than I have," Guzman, mother of two, one a first grader at Compton's McKinley Elementary and the other a student attending Watts Charter High School, succinctly summarized the goals of Parent Revolution as it attempted to reform Compton's troubled grade school. 1 Parent Revolution, a product of the Los Angeles Parents Union, organized disgruntled Compton parents frustrated over McKinley's poor … [Read more...]

Riding the Big Red Car: Work, Leisure, and Community in Multiethnic L.A.

Pacific Electric car through Redondo Beach, 1939 | Photo: Metro Library and Archive/Creative Commons

A subway to the sea, new mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, told reporters in 2005, "would be the most utilized subway in the nation, maybe the world." According to a Los Angeles Times survey at the time, voters identified transportation related issues as their primary concern outside of education; for both issues, nearly a quarter of the electorate demanded improvement. 1 Yet, such promises often take time to develop and implement. Nearly ten years later, this past November officials finally broke ground on the Metro Purple Line Extension. The groundbreaking ceremony at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art drew rail proponents, elected officials, and transit administrators who all expressed … [Read more...]

Building Subways in the Post World War II World: Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

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In a September 2014 issue of the Beverly Hills Courier, a front page story declared that the construction of a new subway stop for the proposed L.A. Purple Line would make Beverly Hills High an ISIS target. ”I’m extremely concerned with this type of information … The symbolic nature of a school holding our children, our hopes and dreams for the future,” Superintendent Gary Woods told the paper, “if this is attacked in essence they’re attacking the core of our being of, our culture.”[1] Yet if one travels back two years, Beverly Hills officials drew upon a very different rationale for its opposition to the proposed Purple Line stop. In July 2012, officials and others told the New York … [Read more...]

Karachi: A Sensory History

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Karachi is one of the world’s largest cities—by some measures, the second largest in terms of population, and likely the world’s biggest “Muslim” city. (In this way, it is like the Indonesia of cities.) More than twenty million people live in this messy, dynamic, fractured megalopolis, the center of Pakistan’s financial and media industries and a major commercial entrepôt on the Arabian sea. Pakistan itself has a population of close to 200 million people, making it sixth in the world, just behind Brazil and ahead of Nigeria. This fact reveals a sobering reality: as Bangladesh places eighth in total population, the Indian subcontinent of the former British Raj counts some 1,611,000,000 … [Read more...]

East of East: Mapping Community Narratives at Mountain View H.S.

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Hello Everyone on the Internet! In continuing our live-blog on History in Action, here is the second of our entries on “East of East: Mapping Community Narratives in El Monte & South El Monte”. Yesterday, we held our first event at Mountain View High School on the east side of El Monte California. I gave a talk and then a discussion with students studying journalism. Michael Weller teaches journalism, his students this year have been involved in a yearlong collaboration with KCET Departures. With the help of Ruby Fregoza, students from five different schools in El Monte and South El Monte have learned to become student-journalists and citizen activists. At Mountain View High School the … [Read more...]

The Shifting Cultures of Multiracial Boyle Heights

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[Editor's Note: Fifteen years ago, a a group of Jewish and Latino activists began efforts to renovate and save the historic Breed Street Shul as a means to highlight the community's diverse history. With 2015 upon us, ToM thought it would be a good opportunity to revisit these efforts and place them in historical context] 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 … [Read more...]

Letting It All Burn: How A 2013 “Best of” serves as a reminder of 2014’s “Worst of”

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“This police department here in Philadelphia could invade Cuba,” Mayor Frank Rizzo told reporters. “What I’m saying is that we are trained and equipped for war.” Rizzo’s appraisal might have been made nearly 30 years ago, but it now seems eerily prescient. With the events of the last few months, few films from the past couple years capture the current angry zeitgeist like Let the Fire Burn (2013) a documentary investigating the disastrous May 1985 confrontation between the Philadelphia Police Department and the back to earth, black power, anti-technology, commune/organization known as MOVE. After all was said and done, three city blocks, about 60 houses, lay in ruin and eleven MOVE members, … [Read more...]

“The Plan Keeps Coming Up Again”: Conspiracy Theories, Policing 1970 D.C., and Creating Model Neighborhoods in Model Cities (Best of UHA, Part 4)

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Today's post wraps up our coverage of the Urban History Association's Seventh Biennial Conference in Philadelphia.  You can find overviews of other great panels on everything from "cartographies of protest" in Boston to the Mafia-like dark arts of the PTA here, here, and here.  If you want to check out Kenneth Jackson's bikini bod, though, you'll have to settle for TMZ. Kwame Holmes, "Paranoia as Prescience: The Plan, Black Conspiracy Theory and the History of Black Displacement in a Post-Civil Rights Chocolate City" "Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you,” wrote Joseph Heller in the novel, Catch 22.  Few places reflect this reality like 1970s … [Read more...]

Beyond the Bakesale: PTAs, Education Reform, & the Best of UHA 2014, Part 1

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Several times a year, the intrepid reporters of Tropics of Meta follow the academic conference beat, checking out panels on everything from the Illuminati to Asian American basketball leagues and sissy rap. At their best, conferences offer a window into the freshest and most innovative historical scholarship, and our reports on panels aim to give readers an early look at the groundbreaking articles and books of tomorrow.  This year's Urban History Association conference was the organization's eighth biennial meeting, and the world's hardest working urbanists braved the persistent drizzle of "always sunny" Philadelphia to attend panels and plenaries on the campus of the University of … [Read more...]

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...]

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