Skip to content Skip to navigation

Salinas: The History of Race and Resilience in an Agricultural City

Wednesday, February 24, 2021 - 2:00pm

Event Description

Dr. Carol McKibben and Professor Michelle Anderson will discuss the historical development of Salinas, CA, an urban center defined by its rural, agricultural economy. Cities like Salinas that blur the distinction between rural and urban complicate our understanding of race relations and urbanization, immigration, and political identity in America. 

This conversation is inspired by the work being published in Dr. McKibben's forthcoming book, SALINAS: The History of Race and Resilience in an Agricultural City (Stanford University Press, 2021). 

From the Publisher on SALINAS: The History of Race and Resilience in an Agricultural City:

This book analyses how Salinas, an agricultural and majority Latinx city with a significant population of multiple Asian groups and European origin whites evolved to confront some of the most profound challenges of the last three centuries. We explore questions about city building, race relations and labor rights,  demographic change, and the impact of international, national, regional and local events on city life and how these reflected life in California and the nation. We discuss what it means for a city like Salinas to be marked as a success or failure, and how its residents coped with such designations over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Carol Lynn McKibben draws on extensive original research, including oral histories and never-before-seen archives of local business groups, tracing Salinas’s ever-changing demographics and the challenges and triumphs of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Mexican immigrants, as well as Depression-era migrants from the Dust Bowl region of the South and white ethnic Europeans. McKibben takes us through Salinas’s early years as the economic engine of California’s Central Coast, the Lettuce Strike of 1936 that would inspire John Steinbeck, the incarceration of Japanese Americans in WWII, the bracero program and its implications for postwar immigration policy, farmworker strikes in the 1960s and ’70s, and the city’s response to fiscal crises and rising gang violence and crime rates in the 1980s and ’90s, including nearby Soledad Prison as an example of how mass incarceration reinforced racial inequality. The book ends with a reflection on how the Covid-19 epidemic has disproportionately affected communities of color, particularly farmworkers who already live on the margins. 

Throughout the century-plus of Salinas history that McKibben explores, she shows how the political and economic stability of Salinas rested on the ability of nonwhite minorities to achieve a measure of middle-class success and inclusion in the cultural life of the city, without overturning a system dependent on an ideology of white supremacy. This timely book brings complexity to our understanding of race relations, economic development, patterns of settlement and urban development, and the impact of changing demographics on regional politics in urban California and in the United States as a whole. 


Michelle Anderson
Professor of Law, Stanford Law School
Robert E. Paradise Faculty Fellow for Excellence in Teaching and Education, Stanford Law School

Michelle Wilde Anderson is a scholar of state and local government law. Her work combines legal analysis, empirical research, and humanistic reporting to understand concentrated poverty and municipal fiscal distress. Her recent publications explore restructuring (such as bankruptcy, disincorporation, and receiverships) in cities and counties facing chronic poverty related to deindustrialization. These issues affect not only Rust Belt capitals such as Detroit, but also post-industrial cities in California, rural counties in the West and South, and small towns across the country. She is currently writing a book about what we need most from local governments in America’s high-poverty, post-industrial areas.




Carol McKibben
Lecturer, Departments of History and Urban Studies, Stanford University
Affiliated Scholar, The Bill Lane Center for the American West

Dr. Carol Lynn McKibben is an Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer. She has been teaching courses in California history, Urban history and Immigration history for the Department of History and Urban Studies at Stanford University since 2006 and for the bill Lane Center for the American West since 2020. She has also engaged in numerous community based research projects on the Monterey Peninsula for thirty years. As Director of The Salinas History Project Dr. McKibben is currently engaged in a community based research project that aims to re-examine the historical development of the city of Salinas in regional, state, and national context.






Contact Email: