The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Behind the Glitz:
The Violent, Racist History of Palm Springs, California

May 29, 2023

Two-hundred fifty former residents of Palm Springs, California, joined by 100 descendants of former residents, have filed a reparations claim. They are seeking up to two billion dollars in damages from the city, based on the fact that, in the 1950s and ‘60s, these residents were brutally driven out of their neighborhood known as Section 14—in order to make room for commercial development. Today this one-square-mile tract about 110 miles southeast of Los Angeles is home to the downtown of one of the most famous resorts in the country, including a casino, a spa, a convention center, hotels, and condo developments.

Section 14 is owned by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Back then, the tribe was the only owner in Palm Springs willing to rent to Black and Latino tenants—who then had to build their own houses on small plots of land that they leased from the tribe. The claimants say they expect more people to join the reparations claim since, in the 1950s, as many as 2,000 families lived on Section 14—mostly families of workers who built and maintained Palm Springs, and workers who served Southern California’s business and entertainment elite who vacationed there.

The City of Palm Springs did not even provide basic sanitation services, such as trash pick-up and adequate water supply to Section 14. But when big developers and the city’s business elite wanted to see the area cleared out of its people to make room for hotels and shops, city officials used the unsanitary conditions in Section 14 as a pretext to target the neighborhood for demolitions.

By the late 1950s, the city’s attack on Section 14 residents had turned into outright, KKK-style terror—to a degree that a 1968 state of California investigation called it “a city-engineered holocaust.”

City crews were sent to Section 14 at a time of the day when family members were at work or at school. When no one answered the door, they destroyed the house, by either bulldozing it or setting it on fire—sometimes with residents’ belongings inside. There was no compensation afterwards either. The perpetrators openly bragged about the racist terror they unleashed on Section 14 residents. This 1961 entry in a Fire Department anniversary book stated: “Several old buildings on Section 14 seemed to suffer from ‘spontaneous’ ignition at different times throughout the year … These were no-loss fires, the only losses being in the form of firemen’s sleep and part of the city’s water supply.”

The attack on Section 14 was ordered and overseen by court-appointed “conservators” and “guardians,” after Congress declared Agua Caliente tribe members “incompetent” to handle their own business affairs! And these conservators and guardians included real estate agents, a judge, the chief of police, and Mayor Frank Bogert.

For more than a decade, many families refused to move, despite the continuing terror and fires. But by the end of the 1960s, none of the original residents were left. The only places these families were allowed to move to were either desolate areas nearby without electricity and running water, or areas 25 or 30 miles away, from where they had to commute to work.

In the wake of the protests against the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, surviving Section 14 residents and their family members got together to seek justice. They forced the Palm Springs City Council to issue a formal apology, and also to remove from in front of City Hall, a bronze statue of Bogert, the mayor who presided over the brutal assault on Section 14 residents.

But the city officials refuse to admit any liability for all the damages and, so far, have refused to pay anything. These politicians, and behind them the big business interests that profit from Palm Springs’ lucrative resort facilities, are apparently hoping that they can once again sweep under the rug their city’s violent, racist, and anti-worker past, upon which their own fortunes were built.