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My Blue Heaven: Life and Politics in the Working-Class Suburbs of Los Angeles, 1920-1965 (Historical Studies of Urban America)by Becky M Nicolaides
Synopses & Reviews
In the 1920s, thousands of white migrants settled in the Los Angeles suburb of South Gate. Six miles from downtown and adjacent to Watts, South Gate and its neighboring communities served as L.A.'s Detroit, an industrial belt for mass production of cars, tires, steel, and other durable goods. Blue-collar workers built the suburb literally from the ground up, using sweat equity rather than cash to construct their own homes.
As Becky M. Nicolaides shows in My Blue Heaven, this ethic of self-reliance and homeownership formed the core of South Gate's identity. With post-World War II economic prosperity, the community's emphasis shifted from building homes to protecting them as residents tried to maintain their standard of living against outside threats—including the growing civil rights movement—through grassroots conservative politics based on an ideal of white homeowner rights. As the citizens of South Gate struggled to defend their segregated American Dream of suburban community, they fanned the flames of racial inequality that erupted in the 1965 Watts riots.
In the 1920s, thousands of white working-class migrants helped build suburbs of Los Angeles such as South Gates, Watts, and Bell Gardens from the ground up, constructing their own homes with their own labor. Families raised chickens and grew gardens in their backyards, men labored long hours in nearby factories, and communities revering hard work and self-reliance were forged. With the economic prosperity that followed World War II, these blue-collar suburbs struggled to assume a middle-class identity. In their quest for the suburban good life, residents fought to preserve their neighborhoods from perceived threats of social diversification-including working mothers, tenants, and black neighbors-all in the name of white homeowner rights. Nicolaides reveals how these political aims paved the way for the emergence of Nixon's "silent majority" and inflamed the racial enmity that erupted in the 1965 Watts rebellion. Through her exploration of these conflicts, she reminds us how suburbs have played, and continue to play, a central role in American history.
About the Author
Becky M. Nicolaides is an associate professor of history and urban studies and planning at the University of California, San Diego.
Table of Contents
Building independence in suburbia — Peopling the suburb — The texture of everyday life — The politics of independence — "A beautiful place" — The suburban good life arrives — The racializing of local politics — South Gate weave (photo essay).
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