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Race and Color in A California Coastal Community: The Seaside Story

In the following article Dr. Carol Lynn McKibben, Director of the Seaside History Project, City of Seaside, California, and Lecturer, Department of History, Stanford University, describes the subject of her research, Seaside, California, and specifically the unusual history of the African American community in this coastal city.

Minority-majority cities are formed. They do not just happen because minorities are forced into moving there. “Cities of Color” (a term coined by Albert M. Camarillo) become that way when citizens who are members of minority groups make the choice to take an active role in political action, social and cultural life, and economic development, thus forging a city identity that is publicly acknowledged, accepted, and that persists over time. In Seaside, blacks formed the largest minority group, but they were never a majority of the city’s population. Why then was Seaside perceived as a black city in the post World War II era?

In the first decade of the 20th Century Seaside was an unincorporated suburb of Monterey, located only a mile from the famous Del Monte Hotel. Its founders in the 1880s, many of whom still resided in the community twenty years later, were a group of middle class whites who had envisioned Seaside as a resort destination. In 1917 as the United States entered World War I, the federal government established Fort Ord as a military training base for soldiers stationed in the nearby Presidio in Monterey. The locating of the sprawling base there discouraged both housing and infrastructure development and led to Seaside’s reputation as a less desirable community than neighboring Monterey. The Depression in the 1930s reinforced that perception as migrants from the American Dust Bowl flocked into Monterey for work in the canneries. They quickly settled in Seaside, where property values were lowest in the area. In fact squatters often simply claimed a piece of land and built a home on it. World War II brought expansion of Fort Ord and another new population infusion of

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