February 23, 2006

The Three Eras of Martin Luther King Blvd. in Los Angeles

A reader writes:

I read your review of Jared Diamond's books, and wanted to thank you for your insightful writing.

In it, I wrote:

Ironically, when I left the "Collapse" exhibit [based on Diamond's bestseller], with its warnings about overpopulation, at Los Angeles's Natural History museum, I turned out of the parking lot onto Martin Luther King Boulevard, where the billboards were in Spanish. In LA, the African Americans have been pushed off even MLK Blvd. by Latin American immigrants.

My reader goes on:

As far as your shock at how the area around Martin Luther King Blvd looks, with its signs in Spanish, it is amazing. Amazing to me Steve, because I grew up in this area. My parents lived about 2 blocks from the LA Coliseum. This was in the late 50's. Back then the Coliseum was the home of The Dodgers baseball team. As a kid of around ten years old ,I would play baseball on various empty parking lots on Saturdays with a bunch of other kids. The strange thing about this was that the other kids were all different ethnicities and races. Some of the kids were black, white, chinese, mexicans, germans [including me], italians, cubans, and who knows what else. We were all regulated, so we wouldn't fight ,by an older mexican girl named Nan. She made all of us custom teeshirts. This was not part of some organization ,but just kids meeting to play.

All of this seems like a dream now. I relate this to you as it reminded me of some of your writings on citizenism. Sure, sometimes some of the kids would fight about stuff, but all of them fought in English. And by the way, Martin Luther King Blvd. was called Santa Barbara Blvd., at that time. And also, the parents of the different kids didn't really hang out with each other, but they would sometimes greet each other with at least an hello.

Of course, at that time, immigration was slow, few in numbers, and orderly, and I think that may have been why things kind of worked out better between the races. I'm not really sure. Now, however, it seems as if Los Angeles or even California is headed towards something ominous, a total breakdown. I hope not. Thanks again for all your work.

This is similar to the description in Colin Powell's autobiography of the integrated Harlem neighborhood he grew up in a little earlier. The state of housing segregation in the U.S. at the time was complicated. In LA, for example, upper middle class neighborhoods were almost completely segregated due to racial covenants in home ownership contracts, but rental neighborhoods could be integrated. (In Chicago, however, working class neighborhoods were segregated, sometimes by violence.)

Then, two great migrations put huge stresses on non-Southern cities and overwhelmed housing integration. The first was the black migration that kicked into overdrive during WWII, especially following the mechanization of cotton-picking. This sent a lot of the more unskilled Southern blacks north. Then, when northern states raised their welfare payments in the early 1960s, this attracted a particularly feckless, and crime-prone group of Southern blacks.

Then, the Latin American influx (first Puerto Ricans in the 1940s and 1950s in NYC, then Mexicans everywhere else) overwhelmed integration.

The point is, however, that ethnically stable cities can often work out reasonable solutions. But when the ethnic balance is rapidly tipping, bad things can happen, as in the formerly black areas of Los Angeles that are being ethnically cleansed by Hispanics, where racial gang violence is widespread (as reflect in the recent LA jail riots between blacks and Latinos).

My in-laws saw the dire effects of rapid ethnic change first hand, to their intense cost. My late father-in-law was a classical musician and union leader and my late mother-in-law was a public school special ed teacher. When their working class neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago started to integrate around 1966, many of their friends told them to sell out as soon as possible, before the neighborhood tipped to all black.

But, as good liberals, they believed in integration. And the first blacks moving in were middle class. So, they joined an anti-tipping liberal group run by Father Edward McKenna (a classical composer who has written a couple of operas with librettos by Father Andrew Greeley), where neighborhood homeowners swore to each other they wouldn't sell no matter how black the neighborhood got.

Well, the crime rate, which had been non-existent when the neighborhood was all white, started to soar, housing prices fell, and pretty soon the middle class blacks were selling out because underclass blacks were moving in. The members of the pro-integration group started to break their promises and move out. My in-laws stuck with their vows. But, then in 1968, black rioters looted all the stores in the neighborhood after Martin Luther King was murdered, and their small children were mugged three times. So, they finally sold, losing about half of their live savings, and bought a farm 65 miles out of town, where they didn't have indoor plumbing for two years.

The last time I visited their old neighborhood in the 1990s, it looked like a war zone, with about 1/3rd of the houses abandoned or torn down.

On the other hand, just to the west is the independent suburban municipality of Oak Park (Hemingway's hometown), which has perhaps the most architecturally distinguished domestic architecture in America, with dozens of Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie-style homes. There, with even more to lose, homeowners successfully resisted Oak Park tipping all black by instituting the "black a block" program in which real estate agents were only allowed to sell one home per block to blacks. It's completely illegal, but highly successful.

Something that is almost completely overlooked is the beneficial aspect that the great black migration of 1945-1970 had on the South, which made the civil rights revolution grudgingly acceptable to Southern whites over 1965-1970. Southern whites had denied Southern blacks the vote since roughly 1877 because in many locales blacks had the majority. But the great black migration out of the South strengthened the white majority in the South, making equal voting rights easier to accept for whites.

With the exception of some urban disasters like New Orleans, today, the South is better governed than when white Democrats ran it in Jim Crow days. The business-oriented white GOP controls most Southern states today, and has helped make them more economically competitive than in the days of the Democrat's Solid South when all the emphasis on keeping blacks down got in the way of economic development.

A reader adds:

I work for the Census so I interview a lot of rental units. I find it interesting that small multi-unit apt complexes (4-12 units or so) are often 100% of one ethnicity or another. It's pretty clear the land-lord is making a conscious decision to rent to only one ethnicity. Landlords are almost always upper-middle-class whites. So I don't think it's a case of some ethnic land-lord making enclaves for their peeps. No, I think it's land-lords trying to make an attractive living arrangement (ie ethnically homogenous) for his tentans. But there's probably self-selection by prospective tenants as well.

Oh, and all this is illegal but is widely done.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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