Teaching Activities (Free)

Stealing Home: Eminent Domain, Urban Renewal, and the Loss of Community

Teaching Activity. By Linda Christensen.
Teaching about patterns of displacement and wealth inequality through the history of Chávez Ravine and the building of Dodger Stadium.

Time Periods: 20th Century, Cold War: 1945 - 1960, 21st Century
Themes: African American, Economics, Latino, Laws & Citizen Rights, Racism & Racial Identity, Social Class
Stealing Home: Eminent Domain, Urban Renewal, and the Loss of Community (Teaching Activity) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History

May 8, 1959: Aurora Vargas is carried by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies after her family refused to leave their house in Chávez Ravine. Image: Hugh Amott, Los Angeles Times.

Desiree Barksdale’s description reveals the pain that many students feel when their home is stolen—through eviction, divorce, court orders that place them in foster care, or gentrification that pushes low-income and people of color out of our school’s neighborhood and into the “numbers,” as the students call the outer ring of Portland where they have landed.

I knew it was the eviction notice that came no matter how hard [my mother] worked, how good we were, how friendly of a neighbor we were. I was young, but I wasn’t stupid. I knew we were going to have to move again, but so soon this time? Would we end up in a shelter again? Would we have to switch schools? Again? Tears swelled my eyes and poured down my dirty, 8-year-old cheeks. My tiny fists clenched so tight my knuckles turned white, my whole body shook with angry sobs. Barely brushing 4 feet tall, I was going to destroy the whole world for what they were doing to me: for taking away my security, my happiness, my home.

After hearing students like Desiree discuss the gentrification of Jefferson High School’s neighborhood, Dianne Leahy, the insightful and hardworking teacher with whom I co-taught junior English for the last two years, and I decided to create a yearlong curriculum we christened “Stealing Home.” In the unit, we look at the history and literature of stolen homes and land—from Native American “removals” to reservations, to the violent expulsions of African Americans during the 1920s and ’30s, to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. We look at the resistance that emerged. The last segment of our unit—eminent domain and urban renewal—brings the teaching back to our neighborhood and the students’ anger over gentrification that initiated our investigation.

To understand how eminent domain works, students consider Chávez Ravine, where Dodger Stadium now lives, and Albina, the historic African American neighborhood that Jefferson High School anchors.

Lesson originally published by Rethinking Schools | Zinn Education Project

rsmag_summer2013This lesson was published in the Summer 2013 issue of Rethinking Schools magazine. For other lessons and articles in this issue, visit www.rethinkingschools.org.


Teacher Testimonial

As an economics teacher, housing is a subject that tends to come up as we talk about the role of government in the macroeconomic section and in particular the topic of eminent domain. Because our text gives only a short bit on the concepts and are generally pro-government/capitalism, I search out a few materials to help fill out the entire story.

I liked the lesson by Linda Christensen because many of my students in northwestern Arizona have some tie to California and many are baseball fans and the article discusses the building of Dodger Stadium. Or actually more importantly, how eminent domain is often used in a way I think most people recognize as prejudiced. The first hand accounts and the variety of resources (many of which can be found online) help to paint a more complete picture of how these generally "good" public works projects are far more complicated then they seem at first.

In particular I like the literary elements like the poems that really add not just a human element but also the art and opportunity for students to examine and delve deeper than just the words on a page. It keeps this from being a basic academic/philosophical issue and shows the effect that is had on human lives.
—Jim Skommesa
HIgh School Social Studies Teacher, Kingman, Arizona