In Search of Fairfax

Fairfax High School

Fairfax High School experienced quite a drastic demographic transformation during the late 1960s and early 1970s. While estimates suggest that about 90% of Fairfax High was white and Jewish during the mid-1960s, by 1973 about 26% of the student body was African-American. Two events in particular helped initiate these demographic changes. First, in 1968 the Los Angeles Board of Education slightly redrew Fairfax's zoning boundaries to include the heavily African-American area South of Pico Boulevard. Furthermore, the San Fernando Earthquake of 1971 destroyed much of the predominantly African-American Los Angeles High School. In response to the earthquake, the board instituted double sessions at Fairfax High School. While Los Angeles High School reopened after a semester, some of the transferees continued to stay at Fairfax. “The change,” as the Los Angeles Times noted, “is best illustrated perhaps by a cartoon hanging on the office wall of principal William S. Layne, showing students’ heads—some with yarmulkes, others with Afros."
Jewish responses to the shifting social composition of the student body varied. Many Jewish parents overwhelmingly opposed the board’s decisions. In response to integration measures, parents of Fairfax students inundated the school board with complaints of bureaucratic negligence, declining education, and safety concerns. As Mr. and Mrs. Louis Weintraub explained to the board following their decision to transfer African-American students to Fairfax High School, “the education of our children will deteriorate completely. We are extremely concerned for the safety of our children.” Perhaps the most common form of protest, defiant parents frequently voted with their feet by taking their children out of the Fairfax High and its feeder schools. Many parents obtained permits to enroll their children in overwhelmingly white LAUSD schools that were located further west. Others saw integrated schooling along with declining property values as a sign to relocate altogether, often moving to the suburban San Fernando Valley.

Fearful that a continuous decline in white, Jewish enrollment would lead to the all-too-familiar pattern of re-segregation and exacerbate the schools’ academic problems, the parents who spearheaded the Fairfax Advisory Council and Jewish community leaders, however, committed themselves to "making integration work." They were motivated by a pragmatic form of liberalism that sought to bring together a concern for social stability and a belief in the importance of neighborhood schools with efforts to promote and manage ethno-racial diversity. The Jewish Federation's Community Relations Council, for example, lobbied the school district for the funds to hire additional personnel (educational aides, tutors, counselors) in an attempt to “alleviate anticipated problems” that might derive from having black and white, Jewish students on the same campus. Likewise, Jewish advisory council parents called upon the Los Angeles Board of Education to help maintain a stable racial balance by altering its transfer permits policies.

What followed was a paradox of sorts: while Fairfax High's white Jewish population gradually dwindled throughout the course of the 1970s, Fairfax High became one of the only schools in Los Angeles to achieve an integrated racial balance without mandatory busing and received funds from the district to develop a multicultural education program. Indeed, in the midst of the school desegregation crisis that was sweeping Los Angeles during the mid-to-late 1970s, the Board of Eduction branded Fairfax High as a "model school." 

Sources: Gerald Faris and Skip Ferderber, “Fairfax: Lower East Side of the West,” Los Angeles Times, February 18, 1973; “Frustrated at Fairfax,” Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1971.Garnt Lee, “Fairfax--It’s Still Where the Heart Is,” Los Angeles Times, December 21, 1975; Claudia Luther, “Fairfax High Makes Integration Work: Fairfax High Integration” Los Angeles Times, December 19, 1976; Mr. and Mrs. Louis Weintraub, “We Are Vehemently Opposed,” February 19, 1971, folder 1, box 1,193, Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education records, 1875-2012, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles; Clifford Schireson, “Fairfax Student Learns From L.A. High Visitors,” Los Angeles Times, March 11, 1971.

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