CORE's Fight for Fair Housing in Los Angeles

tags: civil rights, African American history, Los Angeles, urban history, Fair Housing, Southern California, CORE

M. Keith Claybrook, Jr. is an Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach where he teaches classes on history, the social sciences, and critical thinking. His research interests include the history of Black Los Angeles, the Black Freedom Movement, the Black Student Movement, 21st Century Black student activism, 21st Century Pan Africanism, Reparations, and Hip Hop. He is the author of Building the Basics: A Handbook for Pursuing Academic Excellence in Africana Studies. He is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Beyond the Spectacle: The Intellectual Work of the Black Power Era in Los Angeles, 1965-1975.

It has been 60 years since the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) targeted racially segregated housing in Los Angeles. Although the main stage of the Black Freedom Movement was the American South, the struggle stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. The Black population in Los Angeles grew exponentially after WWII, settling largely in the “socially isolated and physically dilapidated South Central and Watts” while others would integrate the historically white areas of West Adams and Compton. This resulted in white flight. By November of 1961, CORE turned its attention towards integrating housing in Los Angeles with a renewed sense of power and faith in the ability to challenge and change racially discriminatory practices after the success of the Freedom Rides. Like chapters in Brooklyn, NY and Seattle, WA, CORE in Los Angeles started the “special Freedom Dweller campaign” targeting the areas of Glendale, Burbank, Torrance, Monterey Park and the Centinela Valley. The Freedom Dweller campaign executed the CORE strategy of research and dialogue before taking nonviolent direct-action. And according to Andrea Gibbons, “By early 1962, CORE had tested thirty-three buildings, and was involved in litigation and campaigning around several of them.”

Consider the 35-day sit-in in a Monterey Park tract east of downtown Los Angles in March and April of 1962. This effort initiated the first CORE chapter in the West to engage in housing sit-ins. The demonstrations sought to bring attention to racial discrimination when Montgomery Ross Fisher refused to sell a house to a Black family. Sylvia Richards, a spokeswoman for CORE, praised Earl P. Snyder, head of Kenbo Corp. and owner of the land for acquiring full possession of the tract through foreclosure and selling it to Bobby Liley, the 29-year-old Black physicist who purchased the house for $25,000.1 

Philadelphia and Los Angeles CORE chapters were among the first chapters to launch “Operation Windowshop” in late spring and early summer of 1962; a strategy whereby CORE would guide Black groups on tours of suburban developments to look at model homes. In Los Angeles, CORE launched a two-day project on June 23 and 24. CORE was testing the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the Hawkins Fair Housing Act which prohibited discrimination by real estate brokers, salesmen, builders, developers, apartment house owners, and managers. Operation Windowshop sought to put individuals and businesses on notice that Jim Crow housing will no longer be tolerated in California while simultaneously acquainting racialized communities of their rights.   

In November of 1962, CORE launched a campaign after Black postal worker James H. McLennan and his family were denied the opportunity to purchase a home at the Sun Rey Estates tract in Wilmington. Twenty-one CORE members began a dwell-in after white CORE tester, Charlotte Allikas, put down a deposit to give the McLennan family time to renegotiate their loan. CORE demonstrated in front of the property twenty-four hours a day. The Dwell-in and Dwell-out consisted of CORE protesters picketing, sleeping on the lawn, and sitting on the porch after doors had been locked. Some residents complained that the protestors singing caused a disturbance of the peace, and kept their children awake. The CORE members and their allies were harassed, assaulted, and stoned. CORE members suspected collusion between white residents and police. Forty had been arrested in ten days.  CORE was accused of trespassing and simply searching for headlines. After being arrested and charged, Judge Howard E. Crandall of San Pedro Municipal court denied the plea of the CORE members on November 20, 1962. Charged with trespassing, illegal occupancy and disturbing the peace, “Judge Crandall ruled that such actions in a disputed sale ‘cause infractions of the law because anyone could take it upon himself to act in that manner and in so doing would destroy property rights.’” 

Read entire article at Black Perspectives

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