The Folklore of the Freeway
Race and Revolt in the Modernist City
Publication Year: 2014
When the interstate highway program connected America’s cities, it also divided them, cutting through and destroying countless communities. Affluent and predominantly white residents fought back in a much heralded “freeway revolt,” saving such historic neighborhoods as Greenwich Village and New Orleans’s French Quarter. This book tells of the other revolt, a movement of creative opposition, commemoration, and preservation staged on behalf of the mostly minority urban neighborhoods that lacked the political and economic power to resist the onslaught of highway construction.
Within the context of the larger historical forces of the 1960s and 1970s, Eric Avila maps the creative strategies devised by urban communities to document and protest the damage that highways wrought. The works of Chicanas and other women of color—from the commemorative poetry of Patricia Preciado Martin and Lorna Dee Cervantes to the fiction of Helena Maria Viramontes to the underpass murals of Judy Baca—expose highway construction as not only a racist but also a sexist enterprise. In colorful paintings, East Los Angeles artists such as David Botello, Carlos Almaraz, and Frank Romero satirize, criticize, and aestheticize the structure of the freeway. Local artists paint murals on the concrete piers of a highway interchange in San Diego’s Chicano Park. The Rondo Days Festival in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Black Archives, History, and Research Foundation in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami preserve and celebrate the memories of historic African American communities lost to the freeway.
Bringing such efforts to the fore in the story of the freeway revolt, The Folklore of the Freeway moves beyond a simplistic narrative of victimization. Losers, perhaps, in their fight against the freeway, the diverse communities at the center of the book nonetheless generate powerful cultural forces that shape our understanding of the urban landscape and influence the shifting priorities of contemporary urban policy.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
Series: A Quadrant Book
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
The ideas that inform this book began as the flip side of an argument I made in a chapter of my first book, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles. In the first book I illustrated the way interstate highway construction in postwar Los Angeles supported a dominant civic culture organized around a new white suburban identity. ...
Introduction: The Invisible Freeway Revolt
In this age of divided government, we look to the 1950s as a golden age of bipartisan unity. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, often invokes the landmark passage of the 1956 Federal Aid Highway Act to remind the nation that Republicans and Democrats can unite under a shared sense of common purpose. ...
1. The Master’s Plan: The Rise and Fall of the Modernist City
The American city was in crisis after World War II. The suburbanization of business, retail, industry, and home ownership depleted the urban core of the riches it had hoarded over the past century or so. Against this backdrop, public officials at federal, state, and local levels, many reared within the managerial cultures of the Progressive Era and the New Deal, ...
2. “Nobody but a Bunch of Mothers”: Fighting the Highwaymen during Feminism’s Second Wave
She towers over the city below, clutching a car in her hand. Her miniskirt and bikini top reveal long sturdy legs and heaving breasts. Traffic has come to a halt as people flee their cars in terror. The police cannot stop the destructive march of this buxom giant, who visits her feminine wrath on the city. ...
3. Communities Lost and Found: The Politics of Historical Memory
In 1995 the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the Eight-Mile district of Detroit sponsored a play for its parishioners that dramatized the vibrant history of the black neighborhood it once served. The construction of the Chrysler Freeway in the mid-1950s wiped out this neighborhood, but the sponsors of the play nonetheless staged a dramatic reenactment of its history some forty years later. ...
4. A Matter of Perspective: The Racial Politics of Seeing the Freeway
Though his work defined a marketable image of the suburban good life in 1960s Los Angeles, David Hockney never actually painted an L.A. freeway. The closest he came was his 1980 portrait Mulholland Drive, but this is a road, albeit a fabled one, not a freeway. ...
5. Taking Back the Freeway: Strategies of Adaptation and Improvisation
There she was, suddenly and unexpectedly, appearing on the walls of a dark freeway underpass of Chicago’s John F. Kennedy Expressway on a cold morning in April 2005. In what Chicago highway officials confirmed was the yellowish residue of salt runoff on the concrete wall of an expressway underpass at Fullerton Avenue, Elbia Tello saw the image of the Virgin Mary. ...
Conclusion: Identity Politics in Post-Interstate America
Dwarfing the high-rise office and apartment towers of Honolulu, Hawaii, the Ko‘olau mountain range presides over the island of Oahu. The range was formed tens of thousands of years ago by volcanic eruptions; it has peaks jutting twice the height of the Empire State Building. ...
In the course of writing this book, I had the privilege of working with many bright and talented people: scholars, librarians, archivists, graduate students, and undergraduate students, who provided careful readings, helpful feedback, professional advice, and diligent assistance. ...
About the Author
Eric Avila is associate professor of history, Chicano studies, and urban planning at UCLA. He is the author of Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles.