Living the California Dream


Living the California Dream

African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era

Alison Rose Jefferson

366 pages
25 photographs, 8 illustrations, 2 maps, 1 table, index


January 2020


$55.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

January 2020


$55.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

January 2020


$55.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

2020 Miriam Matthews Ethnic History Award from the Los Angeles City Historical Society

As Southern California was reimagining leisure and positioning it at the center of the American Dream, African American Californians were working to make that leisure an open, inclusive reality. By occupying recreational sites and public spaces, African Americans challenged racial hierarchies and marked a space of black identity on the regional landscape and social space.

In Living the California Dream Alison Rose Jefferson examines how African Americans pioneered America’s “frontier of leisure” by creating communities and business projects in conjunction with their growing population in Southern California during the nation’s Jim Crow era. By presenting stories of Southern California African American oceanfront and inland leisure destinations that flourished from 1910 to the 1960s, Jefferson illustrates ho these places helped create leisure production, purposes, and societal encounters.

Black communal practices and economic development around leisure helped define the practice and meaning of leisure for the region and the nation, confronted the emergent power politics of recreational space, and set the stage for the sites as places for remembrance of invention and public contest. Living the California Dream presents the overlooked local stories that are foundational to the national narrative of mass movement to open recreational accommodations to all Americans and to the long freedom rights struggle.

Author Bio

Alison Rose Jefferson is an independent historian and heritage conservation consultant. She is currently working on public history projects, including the research and narrative production for the Central Avenue heritage trail with Angels Walk L.A. Previously she was a historian at Historic Resources Group in Southern California and has worked as a consultant with the Center for Oral History Research at the University of California, Los Angeles.


“Jefferson brings the multi-decade campaign for black access to leisure areas into the long civil rights movement and reminds us that recreation and racial justice propelled black Southern California’s desire to enjoy the beaches, lakes, and valleys of the region.”—Quintard Taylor, Scott and Dorothy Bullitt Professor of American History (emeritus) at the University of Washington, Seattle, and founder of

“This is an important book. It brings to life those Southern California places fundamental to the construction of an African American California Dream. And it does so by thoughtfully considering the lives of those people whose tough struggles for a piece of the California sun were marked by inspirational courage.”—William Deverell, director of the Huntington–USC Institute on California and the West

“In this meticulously researched work of historical reimagining, Jefferson offers a southern California leisure world of African American place-makers and community builders during the Jim Crow era. Seaside recreation, black-owned businesses, and a refusal to give up. What’s here is new and important.”—Krista Comer, professor of English at Rice University and author of Surfer Girls in the New World Order

“From Bruce Beach in Manhattan Beach to Eureka Villa in the San Clarita Valley, Jefferson’s book unearths a fascinating and forgotten—if not willfully obscured—history of African American leisure sites in the Golden State. This remarkable study broadens our understanding of black life, leisure, and struggles for integration in early twentieth century California, underlines the complex relationship between the promise of the American West and the realities of Jim Crow, and emphasizes the need to protect more diverse African American sites that have been heretofore underappreciated.”—Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, National Trust for Historic Preservation

“Jefferson’s pathbreaking study places African American leisure at the heart of Los Angeles history, African American, urban, and suburban history, and the histories of recreation and Civil Rights, and reclaims their places of leisure, demonstrating why they matter to us all.”—Lawrence Culver, author of The Frontier of Leisure: Southern California and the Shaping of Modern America

“Alison Jefferson interrogates five sites of memory in Southern California to illuminate how African Americans challenged established racial hierarchies while occupying public spaces and sites of recreation. Jefferson’s path-breaking scholarship reclaims these frontiers of leisure and reanimates their contested, hidden histories, locating Black Angelenos in their own pieces of the California Dream. Jefferson’s account reveals how de facto Jim Crow operated openly in California—contrary to the Golden State’s popular reputation as an Edenic place of equal opportunity and access.”—Anthea M. Hartig, director of the National Museum of American History

“Alison Jefferson’s important and timely work creatively expands our understanding of the possibilities and limits of the California dream for Black Americans. Jefferson demonstrates how the desire and the struggle to enjoy the leisure opportunities of the region reveals much about how Black Angelenos confronted and struggled against racism that was a painful and resilient as that which they hoped to have left behind when they migrated west in search of the California dream.”—Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and author of Call the Lost Dream Back: Essays on History, Race, and Museums

Table of Contents

1. Historical Context of Leisure, the California Dream, and the African American Experience during the Jim Crow Era
2. The Politics of Remembering African American Leisure and Removal at Bruce’s Beach
3. Race, Real Estate, and Remembrance in Santa Monica’s Ocean Park Neighborhood
4. A Resort Town Mecca for African American Pleasure Seekers at Lake Elsinore
5. African Americans and Exurban Adventures in the Parkridge Country Club and Subdivision Development
6. Race, Leisure, Subdivisions, Promoters, and Gambling on the California Dream at Eureka Villa


2020 Miriam Matthews Ethnic History Award from the Los Angeles City Historical Society

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