Becky Nicolaides examines the working-class Los Angeles suburb of South Gate between 1920 and 1960, describing the transition from “rough-and-tumble” community for new migrants who treated their home as a place for production and income. After the war, the community reoriented as it expanded its economic prosperity. This reorientation also introduced racialized white homeownership focusing on the protection of communities from intruding non-white people.
Prior to World War II, South Gate “stood midway between farm and city” divided among middle-class merchants and working-class laborers. The ability for the working class to enjoy mobility, leisure, work, and consumption led to a fragmented community. Working class people embraced the New Deal, but did so opportunistically to justify discriminatory housing policies to protect their economic gains. Postwar, conservatism intensified as the working-class enjoyed greater prosperity. The conservatism of the working class shifted their view of home and property from a place of production to a place of identity. The ideology served to erase class divisions among merchants and working-class, while divisions instead formed around race. Nicolaides lays bare how the working class could be pro-union in the workplace but conservative at home and neighborhood. By the 1950s, South Gate leaned on racial politics to resist integration and fuel a white suburban conservatism.