By Victoria Moore
Despite how California is depicted in popular booster declarations, the reality is its history is a combination of the good and the bad.
Curious after embarking on a dissertation while still in graduate school, Alison Rose Jefferson, continued doing research on the African-American experience and later turned it into a book. The result is “Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites During the Jim Crow Era.”
Intensely painful, yet profound, it’s an important piece of non-fiction that reveals a compelling story about race relations.
Opening with a map of African American leisure sites and Southern California before the freeway system existed, the book is divided into six chapters detailing each location fully. Unfortunately, while most are forgotten due to lack of historical recognition, the lively existence of Bruce’s Beach, Ocean Park, Lake Elsinore, Parkridge Country Club and Eureka Villa are revived through personal accounts, black and white photos, and historical facts.
“I learned, from my journey, that there’s still so much about African-American history that hasn’t been told,” Jefferson said. “I hope people realize that there’s still so much to be known.”
That revelation is what makes the book so compelling and memorable. No matter how much the author recounts, the reader is left wanting to know more.
Colorful, yet enterprising, the founders of these landmarks are another aspect of the book that sparks one’s imagination.
Willa and Charles Bruce, the entrepreneurs who created Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach in 1912, are perhaps the most interesting and tragic. The beach was forcibly closed in 1927 and the Bruce family became a casualty of the racism that plagued African Americans at the time.
“California presented a complex web of laws and practices regulating housing, land ownership, labor and marriage for communities of color,” Jefferson writes.
African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities who have experienced similar bias and prejudices will be able to relate and gain additional knowledge about an unpleasant chapter in the state’s history. In addition to history buffs and preservationists, “Living the California Dream” is written for teachers and educators who want to expand their lesson plans to include civil rights and other interrelated topics.
“While it’s true most colleges have an ethnic studies program, I believe it would be beneficial to develop a comprehensive one for the elementary public-school curriculum too,” Jefferson said.
Ultimately her wish is that people will view their lives as important and significant enough to believe their stories are worth telling.
The book started out as an outgrowth from a dissertation and a culmination of 10 years of research, but since its publication in 2019 it has become a significant part of California history.
Besides being an author, Jefferson also works as an historian and heritage conservation consultant, for the city of Santa Monica and for Angels Walk L.A.
For more information about Jefferson and her many endeavors, visit her website at www.alisonrosejefferson.com.
“Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites During the Jim Crow Era” is available at amazon.com and other places where books are sold.