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  • Bridges of Reform: Interracial Civil Rights Activism in Twentieth Century Los Angeles
  • Roger W. Lotchin
Bridges of Reform: Interracial Civil Rights Activism in Twentieth Century Los Angeles. By Shana Bernstein (New York, Oxford University Press, 2011) 339 pp. $24.95

This is an able book, an outgrowth of a deeply researched thesis. It is repetitious in places, but mostly well written, especially its thesis sentences. It tells an important story of interracial civil rights. Among its strengths is its recounting of the origins of interracial civil-rights efforts and their continuity through the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Another asset is the author's claim that the 1950s were not merely a victim of Cold War repression but also a time when reform groups made substantial gains, largely by purging their leftists elements—even the renowned Cary McWilliams—thereby making themselves immune from the charge of communist infiltration. Its picture of rights groups working together is original and full, but does not shirk the gloomy side of the picture. As they fought for urban space, especially in East Los Angeles, Jews (and, to a lesser extent, Japanese Americans) forged ahead of African Americans, Hispanics, and Filipinos, incurring considerable interethnic resentment while maintaining their stores and property in the old neighborhoods. In her forthright discussion of this conflict, Bernstein makes an important contribution to deconstructing the confusing term Anglo into some of its constituent parts.

As she notes, not all of the white people in the story were Anglo-Americans. Jews especially made outstanding contributions to civil-rights [End Page 484] reform and thus stood out from inclusion in the catchall, homogenizing, and oversimplifying term "Anglo." Finally, the author is not afraid to assert the role of activists from Los Angeles, like Loren Miller, in leading the country toward broader, national civil-rights victories by laying the foundations for achievements like Brown v. Board of Education, and Shelley v. Kraemer, delegitimizing miscegenation laws, prompting Hispanic school integration, and so forth. Earl Warren internalized and carried a lot of this California and Los Angeles reform tradition to Washington when he became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Bernstein shows that Warren was no simple racist, as he is often pictured for his role in the Japanese relocation.

Should the author undertake a sequel, she would do well to heed a few reservations about this one. For one thing, she overemphasizes racism, although she has a lot of company in this tendency. She pictures the Zoot Suit Riots as an outcome of "Los Angeles racism," but they were led by U.S. sailors, not Angeleno residents (66). Scholars have also shown that the seamen had suffered frequent abuse and beatings from Hispanic males of the East Los Angeles neighborhoods, as is documented in many complaints to the Navy authorities. Moreover, the riots arose over the sailors' courting of young Hispanic women, a mark of esteem, not disrespect, let alone racism. Finally, "discrimination" did not cause the upheavals; since they occurred on Hispanic turf, Hispanics did not suffer discrimination (66-72). The author should have been more careful and analytical in this presentation.

Along this same line, she is not clear about exactly who the other players, besides the civil-rights reformers—Jews, Japanese Americans, blacks, Mexican Americans—were. Her deconstruction of words and phrases does not include terms like mainstream society, white racial thinking, et al. (164). About whom, in the variegated ethnic Los Angeles society, is she speaking—Iranians, Israelis, Protestants, Yugoslavs, Italians, Armenians, Canadians, or German refugees? She should have deconstructed the term Anglo beyond dissociating Jews from the supposed mainstream. Perhaps civil rights is, by its very nature, irredeemably Manichean, but a discussion of everyday politics that indicated who received what, where, when, and in what amount would have been helpful.

Finally, what about the other side of the civil-rights coin? Bernstein discusses red baiting in the Joseph McCarthy era, and the 1940s, but says nothing about the baiting of those on the right by those on the left, another continuity. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Henry Wallace, Samuel Dickstein, President Harry Truman, and others employed the same linguistic devices during the 1940s that McCarthy did and...


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pp. 484-486
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