Several years ago, we lived in a house much like this one, (but not quite as fancy) in West Adams, which at that time was a mostly middle class African-American enclave somewhat West of USC, in the heart (or some would say the belt buckle) of Los Angeles. We--white and Jewish, clinging to middle class by our fingernails--were fortunate to have found this warm, friendly, politically engaged neighborhood at that particular time.
The area had been built at the turn of the 20th century. Houses ranged from mansions to more-than-comfortable homes. By the Great Depression, the fancy part of town had moved North and West to Country Club Park. During those tough years of the 1930's, many of the great homes of West Adams took in boarders while paint faded on their mammoth walls.
In 1947 and 48, the first Negroes (as they were then called in polite company) moved in. These were the educated and the well-to-do--lawyers, insurance company owners, teachers, nurses, doctors, even movie stars on the order of Hattie McDaniels, the first African-American to win an Oscar. Their success didn't matter. The rude response was burned crosses, minor riots and white flight.
Soon the neighborhood was known as Brown Sugar Hill, an almost completely African-American neighborhood with a smattering of Asian, mostly Japanese.
But it turned out, our block had someone of color who had moved in long before 1947. According to a neighbor down the street, her great-aunt had built their sweet Craftsman cottage in 1908, when that branch of the family was passing for white. They were obviously passing successfully. In fact, Nonny, (not her real name) said that one uncle was an Admiral. In the U.S. Navy.
My husband's family are Holocaust survivors. On one side alone, the family lost several adults, and at a cousin reunion ten years ago, there were seven missing, corralled, starved or exterminated, in countries across Europe and also in Siberia. This is no surprise, as most Jewish children who survived were blond and light-eyed--in other words, they were able to pass, like these Jewish children, photographed after WWII in an orphanage in Bratislava, Slovakia.
My neighbor's story, those of my husband's family, combined with other complex ethnic tales from our 'hood sot start me on the long road to writing my novel, The Color of Safety. The Color of Safety is about a century of African-American and Eastern-European Jewish history, and the parallels therein, as told through the inhabitants of one fine old house in West Adams. I have just began to submit the novel. I'm excited about the interest being shown.
It's obvious that this country needs a new way to approach issues of race and bigotry. I am eager to become a passionate part of that passionate conversation.
P.S. Enjoy looking at these lovely ladies from our old neighborhood, or from just south of us. Don't you wish you could join this coffee clutch?