Cornerstone Theater Company


Jordan Downs Transformation by the Decade-1950’s

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -Gandhi

As we prepare to open A Jordan Downs Illumination on May 18th, we’re highlighting some of the important moments of change in the area.

Originally designed to house war workers in the 40’s, the plan was for Jordan Downs to represent the best of America: a melting pot where neighbors take care of each other. The Housing Authority planned dozens of communities, just like Jordan Downs.

The City Housing Authority in 1948 reflecting on their 10 year anniversary.

When the war ended, however, Many White community members moved on to other neighborhoods. A federal agency called the Home Owners Loan Corporation, graded neighborhoods based on income and number of minorities living in the area. Areas that were “red” were refused mortgages. This practice, called “redlining”, and other discriminatory practices were common and limited the areas where Black, Latinx and Asian citizens could live.

Redline map of Los Angeles 1939

Many Angelenos were questioning: What will happen to the war worker housing communities, several of which were not even completed?

The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) decided to turn the war worker housing into low-cost public housing. HACLA employee Frank Wilkinson spearheaded the effort in a passionate attempt to fully integrate public housing and make it accessible to all. Unfortunately, during this time, anyone who wanted anything “for all” was considered… suspicious.

Anti-communist propaganda from the 1950’s

Accused of communist activities, Frank Wilkinson and several other HACLA employees were brought in front of the California State Un American Activities Committee in 1952. The HACLA employees interrogated included the manager of Jordan Downs, Adina Williamson.

Frank Wilkinson testifies.

Ms. Williamson held her own, cooperating when she could, but refusing to feed into the Witch Hunt or violate her own rights.

Excerpt from Adina Williamson’s testimony

She was fired along with several other housing employees. Frank Wilkinson would go on to fight for the abolishment of the House Un American Activities Committee.  Later, he would sue the FBI for access to all 132,000 pages of his file.

Fred Wilkinson with some of his files.

Jordan Downs was practically forgotten about. At this point, the housing project was mostly occupied by Black citizens and housing was no longer viewed as favorable by the voting public.

Jordan Downs in the 1950’s

This left the residents of Jordan Downs feeling isolated, left-out and discriminated against. The simmering tension would soon reach a boiling point as the Red Scare died down and the Civil Rights movement reached its peak.

Community meeting at Jordan Downs in the 1950s.

Adina Williamson could not have predicted the role she would play in history. She stood up for what was right at great personal cost. This goes to show that you don’t have to be a celebrity or politician to make an impact. As Gandhi famously said, “we should all aspire to be the change we wish to see in the world”. Share with us how you try to be the change. Have you ever made a small action that had big impact?

This blog series was created by Lindsay “LJ” Jenkins, A Jordan Downs Illumination Producing Associate. The material within these blogs was collected during the creation of A Jordan Downs Illumination premiering May 17-26, 2019 at the Jordan Downs Recreation Center in Watts. CLICK HERE to find out more and purchase tickets.

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