A Look at Enduring Segregation in L.A. Neighborhoods
There’s no doubt that Los Angeles continues to experience major racial stratification. The latest census data shows that 60% of African American Angelenos live in neighborhoods where there are no whites. It’s also assumed that this separation stems from personal choice and a deliberate desire to live amongst people of one’s own race. But as one expert points out, that is not necessarily the case.
Much of the racial segregation that persists in L.A. to this day is in fact a relic of New Deal-era housing policy, according to Richard Rothstein, research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, in an article published by the Los Angeles Times.
During World War II, more than 10,000 African American families moved to Los Angeles for jobs in military production, and government-mandated segregation moved west. Desperate for labor, companies were hiring black workers for the first time, yet unless these migrants could find housing, war mobilization would stall. Although the city’s public housing authority had vacancies in white neighborhoods, it denied them to African Americans. The federal government had to intervene.
Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica employed 44,000 workers. When Washington proposed a Venice housing project, white residents objected to African Americans living nearby. When one was planned in Compton, also then all-white, there were more protests. The government relocated both projects to Watts. Before the war, Watts had been integrated, with about equal numbers of whites, blacks and Latinos. By 1958, it was 95% black. Public housing policy was largely responsible for this segregation.
Discriminatory FHA policies were another factor. Then in places like Westwood and Culver City, residents -- sometimes with the help of local governments -- succeeded in making sure that African Americans would not live alongside them in these neighborhoods.
In 1948, a black family moved to all-white Eagle Rock. A police officer led a mob that included Chamber of Commerce members and the local Kiwanis president to burn a cross on an adjacent lot. The officer was in uniform, confident that his superiors approved. From 1950 to the 1965 Watts riots, more than 100 bombing and vandalism incidents attempted to eject African Americans from white L.A. neighborhoods, but just one arrest and prosecution resulted, and that happened only because the California attorney general intervened when local prosecutors claimed police could not identify the perpetrators.
Finally, in 1968 came the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discriminatory housing practices. But it would take another 20 years to get a robust enforcement mechanism in place.
That institutional segregation may be over, but the effects of those policies endure to this day, Rothstein writes. Now the question is what, if anything, should be done about it.
It’s clear where Rothstein stands. He would like to see municipalities take up the cause of L.A.’s segregated neighborhoods and try to right the wrongs of the past. To remedy the situation, he proposes a number of controversial policies, including changes to zoning laws and rental subsidies.
You can read his entire article here.