Hal Draper

Excerpts from a Forthcoming Workers Party Pamphlet:

Jim Crow in Los Angeles – I

(February 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 5, 3 February 1947, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.



Today, in the South, men are hunted and lynched by mobs, a man is beaten into blindness, helpless women are shot down in cold blood – all because their skin is dark —

Today, the second “war for democracy” has left less democracy than before in a terrorized Europe —

Today, everyone must be told of the crimes being committed against the Negro people under our very noses, in the city of Los Angeles. That is the job of this pamphlet.

Its author, Hal Draper, has been in the forefront of the fight against race hatred in this city, in words and action. His pamphlet, The Truth About Gerald Smith, is still the only full-length exposé of America’s No. 1 fascist. As Los Angeles organizer of the Workers Party, he led the first mass-picket demonstration against Fascist Smith in June 1945.

Jim Crow is not a local Los Angeles question but a national evil that splotches the entire country. But the fight for freedom begins at home. This pamphlet will make better fighters against Jim Crow. When we understand the roots of the evil, we will be able to tear it out of the soil that nourishes it.


Over a hundred thousand people in Los Angeles live in a concentration camp.

Not the kind you read about over in Europe. No barbed wire, no gas chambers. That isn’t the only thing that makes a concentration camp.

Racial segregation, restriction of liberty, brutality in uniform, vigilante storm-troopers on the loose – these make the concentration camps that exist in American cities, and in Los Angeles.

They are the Jim Crow ghettos. Behind them is the shadow of barbed wire and totalitarianism.

That’s pretty strong language. Is it justified? After all, John Smith, white American, was brought up to think that it’s only right for colored people to live with their own and not to mix with white folks.

That’s not prejudice, says John Smith, that’s just the way things ought to be.

We’ll get around to talking about the way things ought to be. Let’s start by seeing how things ARE.

Home, Sweet Home

First of all, did you ever try living in a chicken coop – you and your family?

Things are tough all over, and maybe you don’t have an extra bedroom for Junior. But –

“Spot surveys in some sections indicated nearly all available garages, sheds, and in some cases even chicken coops were occupied for living quarters.”

That’s the City Health Department reporting on the south-central Negro district for 1944–45. People are living there like prisoners in a concentration camp, not because they want to, but because they are chained there by racial segregation.

Here’s the whole picture:

During the war years, the demand for labor brought a quarter million newcomers to Los Angeles. Seventy thousand Negro people came along with the rest. Without them, the city could not have boomed into the major industrial area it is now.

The Negro population of Los Angeles more than doubled from 1940 to 1946 – from about 63,000 to over 133,000.

Their labor was welcomed, the fat war contracts and free government plants could now grind out the profits for industry. But were they given a chance to live decently?

Even back in 1940 more than 84 per cent of the Negro population were living in the area of poorest housing in the city. Then when the influx started —

Of the quarter-million arrivals, three-fourths had the whole city to settle in because their complexions were whitish. Even so, we all know what the squeeze was like.

The other fourth, the Negro workers, had to squash into the limited number of sections open to non-whites – the very sections that were already the most crowded in the city!

A Negro population that had doubled, as the result of the appeal to keep the war industries going, was jack-knifed into the overflowing ghetto by the Jim Crow system of “restrictive covenants.”

If you want it in official language, here’s the City Housing Authority reporting to the Mayor on September 17, 1945: “We therefore have approximately 125,000 people living, for the most part, in shelter facilities which were primarily substandard and seriously overcrowded when they housed only 67,000 people before the war.”

That sounds impossible. Just try to imagine how it was done! The “secret” is explained by such things as a public health nurse’s report which gives typical cases like the following: A family of eleven, including eight children and a new infant, live in a garage, sleeping two and three together in bunk beds, with no running water, bath or toilet except in the front house.

There is not an inch of space to which they can escape from this inhuman existence without crossing the magic line of the Jim Crow ghetto.

Jim Crow Over the Housing Projects

The family in the above case was waiting for a vacancy in the Aliso Village housing project. So are thousands of others – 5,465 of them. This is the number of eligible applicants that were waiting as of September 1, 1945, and actually 59 per cent of them were Negro families.

Public housing projects provided homes for only about 9,000 Negroes. Private housing developments accounted for possibly 2,000 more. That is why around 50,000 were condemned to live in garages, chicken coops and crowded quarters.

Are the city housing projects open to Negroes? At least three are deliberately kept lily-white, at the demand of the real estate boards and banks. That does not mean that the others are “open.”

There is a racial quota.

This system was legal and official up to about 1941. Now it is just “understood” practice. If a Negro family moves out, another moves in – no more. The quota may vary from 2 to 15 per cent or it may be only a token family or two. But there is no room for the expansion of the Negro population in such projects, in the already congested Negro communities with the resultant overtaxing of already inadequate transportation and public facilities, as in the Watts area.

The overwhelming majority of Negro families which are settled in projects are to be found in the temporary units – jerry-built houses which unavoidably degenerate into near-slums a year after erection. As the Los Angeles Sentinel reported:

“It is estimated that members of the Negro race are some 300 per cent worse off than members of the white race in regard to housing. This has reflected in a growth of crime and illness figures in the crowded Negro districts which has caused a staggering financial loss to the entire community.”

Anybody who talks nice words about “interracial understanding” is talking up a spout as long as the Jim Crow practices which bring such conditions about, are winked at.

Behind the Restrictive Covenants

The heart of this vicious system is the instrument known as the restrictive covenant.

This is a “private” agreement by householders in a particular area. It binds them and their successors to refuse to rent or sell to non-whites. The courts enforce these Jim Crow contracts. A present owner cannot rent or sell to a Negro even if he wants to, because of a covenant made 25 years ago by somebody else. Even if a Negro owns the property, he cannot use or occupy it.

The United States, “home of the free,” according to the song, is the ONLY nation, in the world where a citizen can be deprived, solely for his race and color, of the right to live in his own home. That is the fact – the rest is only a song.

Last updated on 6 January 2022