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The Great Black Way L.A. in the 1940s and the Lost African-American Renaissance

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  29 ratings  ·  10 reviews
This book, like a major archaeological dig, unearths a littleknown, now vanished civilization and changes how we understand history. In the 1940s, when FDR opened up the defense industry to black workers, it inspired a massive wave of black migration to a small area of Los Angeles along Central Avenue—and cultural ferment in the arts, culture, and politics. In a neighborho ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published June 12th 2006 by PublicAffairs
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A very disjointed book about Black LA in the early 20th century. The book looks at how the influx of southern blacks to Los Angeles help change the culture in the years leading up to World War II. The focus is all over the map: from labor strikes and civil rights struggles to jam sessions, blackface comedians, and gay bars. There isn't a clear focus other than to present vignettes of life along Central Avenue in LA. The book really could have used another round of editing as some of the sentence ...more
I was tempted to give this four stars because I wanted it to go on for at least another hundred pages. I wanted more about what movies the journalist and editor John Kinoch went to see when he disappeared for days at a time into area theatres. I wanted to know what the hell Slim Galliard was doing between sets, I wanted more about Ellington vocalist Ivie Anderson. Hey, I'm greedy.

Smith did a great job and gives maximum respect to the creative ferment that his subject lived and thrived in the mid
This book was a fantastic non-fiction about Los Angeles. The author does a great job of telling the story of historically black Los Angeles Central Avenue.

The one criticism is that the book became primarily about the musical talents that arose along the avenue...but perhaps I was just more interested in the lives than the music, so my own prejudice.
Interesting subject, presented fairly well. Maybe a little too much focus on the jam session phenomenon in the later chapters. The earlier chapter cover World War II, the zoot suit riots, strikes, and other political and race-relation material that had a lot more pull for me personally.
Smith digs up the history of Central Ave and unearths little pockets of LA history long ignored or forgotten. A great book to bring to the corridor, Little Tokyo and former Bronzeville and read while you look at how the area's changed, and how it remains the same.
Peter Campbell
This is an excellent book that paints a vivid picture of life of African Americans in 1940's. From a personal perspective, I would like to have seen more attention given over to the music of the period but this didn't prevent my enjoying the book as a whole.
Nov 12, 2009 Mary added it
Shelves: non-fiction
My only complaint is that this book tells the history from the point-of-view of men. Some women were interviewed but none are featured. However, I'm sure that women existed and operated in the 1940s!
Robert  Baird
A totally engrossing collection of biographical sketches on key figures during the heydays of Central Avenue. Essential reading for the recreational Los Angeles historian.
I've been mildly curious about this period in LA's history since reading Chester Himes's If He Hollers. I'm glad I picked this book up. I learned a lot.
Mary Jo
what an interesting read! a part of american history I knew nothing about. the author writes in a very approachable way.
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R. J. Smith has been a senior editor at Los Angeles magazine, a contributor to Blender, a columnist for The Village Voice, a staff writer for Spin, and has written for GQ, The New York Times Magazine, and Men’s Vogue. His first book, The Great Black Way, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller and recipient of a California Book Award. He lives in Los Angeles.
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