Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Lessons on Freedom: Jefferson High School and Black Los Angeles, 1920 - 1950

  • Author(s): Slaughter, Michael Anthony
  • Advisor(s): Aron, Stephen
  • et al.

Lessons on Freedom: Jefferson High School and Black Los Angeles, 1920 - 1950 uses Jefferson High School as a lens to explore the African American experience in Los Angeles in the second quarter of the twentieth century. My approach rests on the notion that Jeff was one of the most dynamic institutions in the city's "South Central" section and thus offers a unique vantage point to view the interplay between forces shaping black Los Angeles. I argue that Los Angeles educators were pioneers in the use of color-blindness and notions of racial tolerance to mask racial inequalities. I suggest that city school's official policy of non-discrimination not only effectively blunted charges of racism, but also worked to absolve the schoolhouse of its role in racialized outcomes. By maintaining racial neutrality, school officials erased the connections between education and other structures, allowing them to establish a position of racial innocence.

In spite of these claims of innocence, black activists saw educational, housing and employment policies and practices as intimately bound up and co-constitutive. As their multi-pronged strategies reveal, they understood the salience of these interactions but struggled to pin racism down as school officials "passed the buck." Attesting to the conundrum that "race neutrality" posed to African American equality, blacks responded to discrimination in various ways that were often at odds. Ultimately, I propose that these uses of color-blindness and these assertions of racial innocence in the midst of racial disparities were foundational to arguments rooted in majority victimhood in post-affirmative action era California.

Main Content
Current View