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Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America

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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" fo 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.


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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" fo 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.

40 review for Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Corinne

    A good book for understanding African Americans in LA and the influences from the south.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    This was solid and well-researched history. The main historical thesis is that there was no true golden age for the black comunity in LA, but there was a time when it was not too bad, and hope of achieving a better future could exist strong and well. I like that distinction. He also argues that in their struggle for equality and freedom, Black folks were entirely pragmatic and willing to try anything once, and I think he did pretty well in showing that. I loved how many people were involved in o This was solid and well-researched history. The main historical thesis is that there was no true golden age for the black comunity in LA, but there was a time when it was not too bad, and hope of achieving a better future could exist strong and well. I like that distinction. He also argues that in their struggle for equality and freedom, Black folks were entirely pragmatic and willing to try anything once, and I think he did pretty well in showing that. I loved how many people were involved in organisations on both sides of the Washington-DuBois debate for example, and then joined up with Garvey and a few other things here or there, a brilliant example of why strictly intellectual or 'great-man' focused histories don't get you too close to what lived reality or struggle was like on the ground. Of course, having worked so long in LA this was fascinating reading and there was so so much here I didn't know, I'm excited to go back and trying and hunt down some of the landmarks, though urban renewal has destroyed so many. 'Negro' removal indeed, it has erased even the history from an area I actually know pretty well through my work. I'm a bit dubious about his definition of middle class, I think it takes more than aspiration. However you define this class of those attempting to be upwardly mobile, this book is entirely focused on them, with only a nod to the large majority. The fact that so many of them could pass as white I found quite curious, and again, points to the way that issues dividing the black community itself weren't touched on with any great depth. And again, I was restless in the absence of any analysis of the pragmatism of black tactics and strategies, how those have shaped the black struggle today and the immense distance between the middle-class and those who continue in the ghetto, why people like Charlotta Bass turned from them to become more anti-capitalist. But I suppose that would be another book. Still, Charlotta and Big Joe Bass? They feel like family, makes you proud to be part of a tradition of struggle for a better world.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Seth

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey

  5. 4 out of 5

    michaelben

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alexz721

  7. 5 out of 5

    Leni Sorensen

  8. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Browne

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jason

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sara

  11. 5 out of 5

    Alexandria

  12. 4 out of 5

    Charles

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  14. 4 out of 5

    Luz-Maria

  15. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael Block

  17. 5 out of 5

    Janice Costales

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Blumenthal

  20. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    Great LA history

  21. 4 out of 5

    Minic Uros

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tannie Bradley

  23. 5 out of 5

    Hispanicpundit

  24. 5 out of 5

    Reggie

  25. 4 out of 5

    Yasmin

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Bradley

  27. 5 out of 5

    Scott Ross

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michael Strode

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nikhil P. Freeman

  30. 4 out of 5

    Beth Fowler

  31. 4 out of 5

    Daynelee

  32. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie McGarrah

  33. 4 out of 5

    Micheline Jade

  34. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

  35. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

  36. 4 out of 5

    Diana

  37. 5 out of 5

    J

  38. 4 out of 5

    Joanna

  39. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  40. 5 out of 5

    Laura

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