Johnson is examining the impact of World War II on the East Bay to illustrate how the growing defense industry, war housing, and urban development affected people involved in the transformation.


Notes that most urban historians focus on structural changes in the economy and how World War II affected urbanization. Citing Roger Lotchin’s Martial Metropolis, she finds the book’s conclusion about “recent wars and defense spending brought lasting changes to many cities, accelerating the development of some, precipitating the decline of others.” (p. 2) She claims to add to this discussion by moving past the structuralist discussion to explore the “human dimension of the war experience.” (p. 2)

(p. 2) “In West Coast cities, defense migration and the human drama of the war boom would be the most enduring legacy of World War II. Between 1940 and 1945, millions of war migrants headed for the Pacific Coast, increasing the racial and cultural diversity of its cities and transforming social relations and cultural life.” She argues that World War II was “one of the most powerful forces in the spatial rearrangement of the population in the twentieth century.” (p. 2) Between 1940 and 1947, twenty-five million people migrated in search of military and civilian work (in comparison, only 13 percent moved in 1935-1940). Many of these migrants were nonwhite.

She cites Jacquelyn Dowd Hall’s Like a Family (1987) and James N. Gregory’s American Exodus (1989) as demonstrating how rural and regional migration shaped the social and cultural life of industrial communities in the South and West. Specifically, these works show “how migrants created their own social world through distinctive religious, familial, and cultural practices.” (p. 3)

She also seeks to engage the historical debate about the impact of World War II. Many previous works, like Gerald D. Nash, look at the war’s importance in expanding regional economies, accelerating urbanization, and local racial and gender relationships, but provides little in the way of personal perspectives and sociological focus of a community study. (p. 3) She positions her work as similar to Marc S. Miller’s The Irony of Victory, the “first community-based study of World War II,” (p. 3) and his examination of Lowell, Massachusetts. Miller argues the war was a temporary boom in the long-term decline of the city and finds prewar social and cultural trends perpetuated. Johnson sees the opposite story in Oakland, finding a “more positive, growth-oriented saga of western cities that grew at the expense of those in the Northeast.” (p. 3) The Bay Area, as neither Sunbelt nor Rustbelt, “exhibited elements of both types of economies, allowing us to see how western cities and their residents coped with wartime social change and the postwar dislocations that followed.” (p. 3)

Why does the East Bay work as a good case study?

  • “defense migration, more than the economic changes that triggered it, permanently transformed life in the East Bay” (p. 4)
  • Federal programs “transformed the spatial and social relations of these communities. The construction of war housing projects with corresponding social service systems served to isolate defense migrants within certain sectors of the city, augmenting their physical and psychological separation from the native community.” (p. 4)
  • Mass defense migration resulted in conflicts between natives and new-comers over material resources, political power, social prestige, and public behavior. “World War II thus reversed the historic roles of native and immigrant, creating a complex and unstable social hierarchy.” (p. 4)
  • Wartime struggles between newcomers and old-timers “played out on city streets under the banner of crime control.” (p. 5) Local elites turned to control of public space through law and order, which “provided the ideological underpinnings for urban redevelopment and helped fuel white flight to the suburbs.” (p. 5)
  • World War II also provided “opportunities for a class-based challenge to the conservative business interests that had long ruled East Bay cities.” (p. 5)

Community studies of this sort, argues Johnson, provides a way to explore social relationships in the family, neighborhood, and city. This gets the story beyond the structural implications of the war to understand the social experiences of individuals and communities. In this way, “we can better understand the options and limitations of East Bay residents and their families and the choices made by urban policymakers both during and after the war.” (p. 5)

Lotchin / Nash / Johnson

How do they differ?