“A Down Brother,” looks at the role Earvin “Magic” Johnson played in the redevelopment of South Central Los Angeles in the wake 1992 civic unrest. Johnson famously teamed up with several multi-national brands to build a series of movie theaters, coffee shops, and restaurants in the area. While his business moves have been well chronicled, almost no one has taken seriously his ideas. Johnson claimed that recycling black dollars, not state action, was the best way to rebuild. His actions placed him in a long line of nationalist-tinged race men. But more than that, they reflected the thinking of many South Central residents, who themselves adhered in the wake of the riots to a broad, and sometimes vague, set of nationalist ideas. In the end, Johnson’s schemes didn’t rebuild South Central, and he eventually walked away from the area, raising questions about in his particular notion of black capitalist development with its reliance on service jobs and outside dollars. Yet, Johnson’s very popularity and the popularity of his ideas highlight the enduring importance of nationalist ideas in California’s Long Civil Rights Movement.
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