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A Home Away From Home: Recreation Centers and Black Community Development in the Bay Area, 1920-1960


In this dissertation, I argue that recreation centers played a pivotal role in the black community as sites of racial uplift, political activism, and as a conduit to public service agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area. My work links literature in urban history and African American history to demonstrate the unique circumstances the city landscape presented to African Americans and how they not only responded to those circumstances, but also how they shaped them, especially during World War II. In particular, the project examines the ways in which black-founded and black-directed recreation centers acted as an affirmative alternative to the confrontations and humiliations that awaited them at segregated recreational venues as well as public amusements and accommodations.

In addition, this work explores why, how, and with what consequences these black recreation centers contributed to the changing geography of the Bay Area. Creating their own agendas separate from white reformers and city officials, who believed structured recreation was a way to control and exercise surveillance over delinquent youth, black leaders viewed these recreational spaces as opportunities to provide community members with the necessary tools to challenge the racism they faced at work, school, and in the streets. The most significant scholarly intervention of this historical study is to center the lived experiences of African Americans: to explore thoroughly and critically how these recreational institutions operated in their lives and communities. Put another way, this dissertation uses the experiences of African Americans, both developing and participating in these institutions, as a lens to investigate and illuminate the broader concerns of African Americans living in the Bay Area from 1920 to 1960.

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