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Devon Cash

Professor Carol McKibben

History 260
April 29, 2015
California 1880-1930
The Interplay of Race and Migration in Establishing Spatial Divides
In California cities in the period 1880-1930, the large-scale migration of
Blacks, Latinos, and Asians heightened racial tensions in the region, contributing
to the development of racialized borderhoods. Overall, white middle-class
maltreatment of migrant ethnic groups (in the form of racially restrictive housing
covenants and racial intimidation), discriminatory federal policy (in the form of
inequitable Supreme Court rulings and home financing programs based on
scientific racism), and the upward mobility of European immigrants into better
jobs and whiter neighborhoods significantly contributed to the spatial divides in
cities like San Francisco, Seaside, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and Oakland.
However, the unique racial dynamics of cities like Santa Barbara with its once
dominant mestizo population and Seaside with its military culture shed light on a
much more nuanced process of spatial division. Further, size dynamics, as in the
case of greater Los Angeles, complicate the matter as larger land area allows for a
more scattered dispersal of population. Needless to say, a balancing of the most
generalized patterns of development and the social elements idiosyncratic to each


of the major cities listed is necessary to properly analyze spatial division within
the region.
Immigration to California in the period 1880-1930 was due in large part to
the growth in industry and, consequently, labor opportunities. Inspired by tales of
the Gold Rush, the expanding web of railroads in the region, and inexpensive
land, Asians, Latinos, European immigrants, and African Americans descended
upon California with fervor. Early Chinese migration to San Francisco, for
example, was the result of the demand for labor to construct the Transcontinental
Railroad. In fact, some 10,000 Chinese were contracted in the period 1850-1900
to work on the railroad and in the mines (McKibben, California 1880-1920).
The immigration of foreign-born Mexicans (not to be confused with the native
mestizos) can also be linked to the growth of railroads, though the impact of
Mexican immigrants was most felt in southern California. In this period there is
also a migration (via Hawaii) of Filipinos, Japanese, and Koreans to the state as
Americas imperial hand began to meddle in East Asian affairs. Aside from the
obvious economic benefits to potential immigrants, there is also a sociopolitical
element that made California extremely desirable. Many Southern and Eastern
European immigrants, for instance, moved to the region during the buildup of
World War II, with about 2 million immigrants arriving to the US in the period
1900-1910 (McKibben, The Federal Government, Racial Segregation, and Urban
Development during the Great Depression). Finally, Californias social history


of minimal anti-black violence, convinced a growing number of African

Americans to head west (Sides 15). Thus, the stage was set. Economic
opportunity for foreign immigrants and a lesser-charged racial atmosphere for
Blacks made California a major destination for an extremely diverse group of
people and established the background for many of Californias minority-majority
Response to this massive immigration was rather hostile on the part of
white communities in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Oakland. This is the
general case in California except for in the cities of Seaside and Santa Barbara,
which will be dealt with in greater detail later. Overall, however, nineteenth
century California reflects greater American society in that it was marred by the
persistence of blatant racism. Color linesthough not affirmed with the same
furor as in the Jim Crow Southwere nonetheless a reality in California cities.
The main targets of bigotry were Asians in this period of virulent anti-Chinese
sentiment (McKibben 689). Many of these sentiments are attributable to white
paranoia. It is worth noting that all of the major cities in California had one of two
goals: to develop a tourist/attraction economy or an industrial garden,
emphasizing a most unusual combination of city, suburban, and country life,
closely associated with, yet distinct from, business (Self 28). Both goals had
their desire for whiteness in common: white people, white neighborhoods, and
white values. The influx of ethnic migrants seemed, at least in their minds, to


threaten that vision, eliciting a negative reaction from them. Racial intimidation
was quite common in those times with the Ku Klux Klanintimidating,
threatening, and sometimes attacking minorities who moved into white areas
(Sides 18). The overwhelming feeling of white superiority was not limited to
LAs KKK. It was a pervasive racism that laid the foundation for the de facto
segregation that kept ethnic minorities from venturing to nicer, whiter areas.
Many minorities kept near work opportunities and to areas designatedfor
industry (Camarillo 145, Self 33). Clearly, white California desired to keep
minority communities distinctly separate.
This need to preserve color lines, especially in regards to housing, began
to be codified as well. Racially restrictive housing covenants were present in all
California cities of importance, beginning with San Franciscos 1890 City
Ordinance. The covenants were so explicit as to call for the banning of people of
minority races. Status, privilege, and wealth provided no exemptions to the tight
checks of these covenants as was the case when a prominent Native
Americanattempted to take advantage of inexpensive land in Seaside and build
a home there, [and] no contractor would agree to build it (McKibben 438). This
sort of attitude stemmed from the scientific management proposed by the
Progressive Movement and its logic was affirmed by the federal judicial in
Corrigan v. Buckley, [where] the US Supreme Court upheld judicial enforcement
of racially restrictive housing covenants (Sides 18). With Herbert Hoover as a


spearhead, the development of white suburbia became more than just the ideals of
wealthy whites; it became national agenda based on sound economic and social
research. The goal was to provide working- and middle-class families the
economic wiggle room to become stable homeowners, especially in the era of the
Great Depression. Agencies like:
Home Owners Loan Corporation and later the Federal Housing
Administration sent evaluators across metropolitan areas throughout the
nation to assess the investment risks for possible government-sponsored
loansNeighborhoods with substantial numbers of poor people and
people of color were typically outlined in red. (Camarillo, Navigating
Segregated Life 652)
Herein lies the notion of redlining, which completely barred communities of
color, especially Blacks, from receiving federal safety nets in the housing market.
As such, many ethnic minorities were forced to remain in the substandard
conditions of their borderhoods.
These racist mortgage programs also had the added effect of increasing the
socioeconomic mobility of Southern and European immigrants. It is important to
know that in the early nineteenth century, the same covenants that were used to
protect the integrity of homogenous white communities also had the effect of
creating some of the most racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the
country (Sides 18). Immigrants from Europe had lived in racially diverse


enclaves alongside Blacks, Asians, and Latinos up until the start of redlining. By
the time this became a mainstay of federal policy, many European immigrants
took advantage of the economic mobility to fully assimilate into white-white
culture. As European immigrants dispersed to newer and better housing in
working and middle-class areas, the once multiethnic borderhoods became racial
borderhoods (Camarillo, Navigating Segregated Life 651). The upward
mobility of essentially white Europeans coupled with the near underclass status of
minority groups due to unemployment and economic downturn was an
irreversible blow to the diversity of Californias urban life. In sum, racial
intimidation, government-sanctioned housing discrimination, and a mobile
European immigrant class served to establish the spatial divides that would
contribute to the development of Californias minority-majority cities. However, a
closer look must be given to Santa Barbara, Seaside, and greater Los Angeles as
there is a much more nuanced process of spatial division at work.
Though Mexican immigration to the United States played a significant
role in the shaping of California cities, it is important to recognize the impact of
already present Mexican populations and their contribution to the spatial divides
in the area. The native-born mestizos of Santa Barbara were situated in a
historically unique position. Their ranks included landed elite and government
officials. Prior to the Americanization of the barrio, Mexican culture dominated
the city and was manifested in the adobe constructions and social events.


However, with the marketing of Santa Barbara as a tourist destination, Santa

Barbara saw a dramatic influx of white Americans. Though initially resistant to
this demographic shift, the mestizo community began to lose influence in the
region as the pastoral economy sunk into a deep decline. The loss of economic
power was followed by a loss of power in city governance. This downturn led the
way for an Anglo takeover and the wholesale destruction of the adobes in favor
of a Santa Barbara along lines that reflectedmidwestern and eastern
backgrounds (Camarillo 59). In what was essentially gentrification, Anglos
displaced mestizo homes and business. This development along with the
disinterest of mestizos in congregating with the Anglo population led to the
barrioization of the Mexican populationthe formation of residentially and
socially segregated Chicano barrios or neighborhoods (Camarillo 53). Unlike in
other cities in California, the isolation of the ethnic community in Santa Barbara
was somewhat desired as it allowed mestizos to function within a closed
Mexican social universe (Camarillo 53). A history of racial antagonism did more
than any housing covenant did in this region to ensure the separation of the races.
The shame of having being stripped of political power, the destruction of the local
adobe architecture, and the new wave of foreign-born Mexicans at the turn of the
century left many mestizos in Santa Barbara all but glad to keep to themselves in
their own circles.


The dynamics of Seaside as a military town also contributed to a very

different process of spatial division. As with Oakland, Seaside was intended to be
an industrial garden, a hybrid of industry and suburbia for the modest to well to
do. However, with the establishment of Fort Ord, Seaside became the extension of
a military base. This disenchanted many of the potential homeowners and
capitalists as no middle-class familywanted to invest in an area with soldiers
marching through and conducting training maneuvers (McKibben 475). As a
result, development went south and Seaside became wholly unplanned with little
sustainable infrastructure. Further, the Depression Era brought new working
class and poorfrom the Dust Bowl and from southern Europe (McKibben 527).
Land was cheap, taxes were low, and there was abundant agriculture. It was the
perfect place for folks trying to rebuild in the wake of the Depression. This
common desire to put the pieces together after the hard-hitting Depression
transcended racial lines, as evidenced by the multiracial communities springing
up in the city at the time. Though housing covenants were a definite reality in the
community, the working class character of the community delegated race to a
lesser pedestal. (Post-1930 analysis will also reveal that the integrated nature of
the military after 1948 had a direct relationship in shaping integrated civilian life
in the community.)
Los Angeles, too, saw the spatial division of its residence unfold in a
different manner. Los Angeles was a huge city, owing much of its growth to the


railroads connecting it to San Francisco. Because of its sheer size and expansion,
the contact between more well to do whites and poorer ethnic groups was mild.
Further, the vast amount of land allowed Blacks and other minority groups to
move rather freely within certain bounds without encroaching upon white areas.
Unlike in other areas in California, Los Angeles saw no one ghetto or barrio.
Ethnic minorities shared whole communities and were not confined to specific
areas. In fact, the relative dispersal of the black population[was] the product of
the citys greatest asset, space (Sides 16). However, this dispersal did not extend
to the whiter, more middle-class areas. After all, racially restrictive housing
covenants were a reality and offset the fact that Los Angeles had one of the
highest proportion of black homeowners (Sides 13). Simply put, Blacks had the
money but not the means to move into better residential areas in the greater Los
Angeles area. This left Los Angeles scattered with several enclaves of racially
diverse communities.
In sum, there are general patterns of social development in California
society in the period 1880-1930 that led to the spatial divisions that persist today.
Patterns of racial intimidation and racially restrictive housing covenants, federally
backed housing discrimination, and favoritism towards the whiter immigrants in
response to ethnic migrants led to a racialized landscape with whites on one side
and ethnic communities on another. Special attention, however, needs to be paid
to Santa Barbara and its Anglo takeover, Seaside and its military character, and

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Los Angeles and its great size. These differences in communities play out
differently in spatially dividing the region, but all lead to a situation where whites
and ethnic communities are, on the whole, separated.

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Camarillo, Albert. Chicanos in a Changing Society: From Mexican
Pueblos to American Barrios in Santa Barbara and Southern California, 18481930. Dallas: Southern Methodist UP, 2005. Print.
Camarillo, Albert. "Navigating Segregated Life in America's Racial
Borderhoods, 1910s-1950s." The Journal of American History 2013.December
(2013): 645-62. Print.
McKibben, Carol . "California 1880-1920." , . 15 Apr. 2015. Lecture.
McKibben, Carol Lynn. Racial Beachhead Diversity and Democracy in a
Military Town : Seaside, California. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford UP, 2012. Print.
McKibben, Carol . The Federal Government, Racial Segregation, and
Urban Development during the Great Depression, . 8 Apr. 2015. Lecture.
Self, Robert O. American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar
Oakland. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 2003. Print.
Sides, Josh. L.A. City Limits: African American Los Angeles from the
Great Depression to the Present. Berkeley: U of California, 2003. Print.