As a historical and sociological work, L.A. City Limits presents interesting, enlightening and revealing stories of the black experience from days of rural slavery to the often frustrating and regularly disappointing life in the city and its environs…
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His hypothesis: In the end, and throughout the twentieth century, white society failed to understand “the critical historical dimensions of the subject”(Sides 5), and despite laws and edicts passed over time, and the hopeful predictions of many African American leaders, racial equality in Los Angeles never actually became reality and urban life in America’s cities not the great opportunity for advancement they’d hoped.
In the work and giving it added credibility, Sides draws on census data, local media of the time, federal records, civil right documents, labor organizations and oral records to paint a literary portrait that is clear, concise, informative and moving of a despised people, resentful of the bigotry they had experienced in the south, longing for acceptance and opportunity, found instead many of the same restrictions. In many respects, the book can be summarized in Sides own words. “...enticed by well-advertised job opportunities” and “cautiously optimistic about the potential for racial equality in America’s big cities” (Sides 2) they came. That optimism is reflected in the words of writer W.E.B DuBois: “Nowhere in the United States is the Negro so well and beautifully housed...Here is an aggressive hopeful group—with some wealth, large industrial opportunity and a buoyant spirit. (DuBois in Sides 11) Similar favorable predictions came from writer Cary McWilliams in his article “Southern California: An Island on the Land” as late as 1946. “Today there can be no question that Los Angeles is destined to be one of the great centers of Negro life in America” (Sides quoting McWilliams 36) Both quotes seem echoes of the overall optimism of the time as reflected in the modern opera, Porgy, and Bess, as the ensemble sings “I’m gonna live the high life in New York,” as in high expectation one of their number boards the train going from the plantation to New York City.
DuBois’s, McWilliams’ and perhaps even Gershwin himself paint fanciful portraits that exclude the reality of racial incidents as experienced by Caleb Holden, who as early as 1912 was charged one dollar for a beer his white companion paid a nickel (Sides 12).
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