"Across the country, Confederate monuments are tumbling. Museums are stripping effigies of racist presidents past. Here in Los Angeles, indigenous activists toppled a statue of Junipero Serra, a canonized saint who founded the mission system that enslaved and brutalized generations of California Indians into abandoning their traditions.
The aftermath of George Floyd’s death while in police custody has created a moment for radical truth-telling. So here’s some ugly truth about the city of Los Angeles: Our freeway system is one of the most noxious monuments to racism and segregation in the country.
Most Angelenos don’t think about it as we spew carbon monoxide across the city on our way from Point A to Point B, but our toxic exhaust fumes feed into a pot of racism that’s been stewing for nearly a century. To understand exactly how that works, you have to know what things were like here before freeways came to dominate L.A.’s landscape.
Los Angeles was never a paradise of racial acceptance, but in 1910 some 36% of L.A.’s African Americans were homeowners (compared with 2.4% in New York City) — tops in the nation. L.A.’s comprehensive Red Car transit system, which offered easy, unsegregated access to the region’s growing economic opportunities, was fundamental to this success. Integrated, racially diverse neighborhoods like Watts and Boyle Heights emerged and thrived along these transit corridors.
When the 1944 Federal-Aid Highway Act allocated funds for 1,938 miles of freeways in California, planners used the opportunity, with full federal support, to obliterate as much as possible the casual mingling of the races."