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

January 2022


$30.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
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January 2020


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eBook (PDF)
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January 2020


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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 how 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 a scholar in residence with the Institute for the Study of Los Angeles at Occidental College, working to re-center the African American experience in local history and heritage conservation efforts. Previously she did research and narrative production for the Belmar History + Art project and Central Avenue heritage trail with Angels Walk LA.



"Alison Rose Jefferson documents a world I knew little about before reading her new important book. . . . Her book is a credit and an homage to the Black folk who toughed it out, bearing the indignity of police surveillance, arson, and financial and psychological violence so that their descendants could prosper."—Eisa Nefertari Ulen, Los Angeles Review of Books

"This work persuasively highlights the importance of public history and memory to combat the erasure of Black and local history. With the research from this book also being used to support campaigns to recognize African American leisure sites, like Bruce’s Beach, via plaques, site renaming, and through public education, Jefferson simultaneously demonstrates the more practical application of public history."—Jeanelle K. Hope, Western Historical Quarterly

"This book is a timely reminder that many hands built California, perpetuated its myth and legend as a western paradise, and those hands were not all white. This book brings Black people into the California story, raises them from obscure footnotes to important roles worth remembering, acknowledging, and memorializing."—Brian Tanguay, California Review of Books

"[Jefferson] shows that African American leisure pioneers deserve accurate representation. This, then, can lay the groundwork for economic justice."—M. Alison Kibler, New Mexico Historical Review

"Jefferson’s book is a recommended read not only for public historians, but for the general public interested in understanding how easily local history can be lost, and how crucial the work to reclaim these overlooked narratives is in better understanding the past, present, and future of our nation."—Melissa A. Esmacher, Public Historian

"Going forward, this book should continue to shape and inform how communities, in Southern California and beyond, remember and learn from their pasts."—Andrew W. Kahrl, Southern California Quarterly

"In Living the California Dream, Jefferson recognizes and responds to the urgency to collect and preserve the diverse geography of race embedded in Californian leisure sites during the Jim Crow Era."—Azariah M. Reese, Journal of Geography

"Jefferson's work is simultaneously a powerful indictment of white racist practices, an inspiring revelation of Black entrepreneurial courage, and a much-needed call for a more robust public history of African American self-determination."—Reynolds J Scott-Childress, Journal of American History

"Jefferson's meticulous research and voluminous notes make this book an important contribution to the scholarship of California and the West. Most importantly, she brings these important historic sites back to life."—Gretchen Sullivan Sorin, Journal of African American History

"Living the California Dream helps us understand the relationship between race, public space, and historical memory. It reveals the exclusion of African American experiences in and contributions to Southern California's recreational landscapes. Drawing on a rich collection of archived records, newspapers, maps, and photographs, Jefferson produces a new image of the Black experience in the West and makes a valuable contribution to the scholarship on African Americans in California."—Joy Miller, Journal of San Diego History

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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