Teaching the Article
Exercise 2

Rural California, White Flight, and the State

The demographic and economic changes that World War II created in American cities and the rural West set the stage for the conflict between urban, suburban, and rural Americans over prisons in the postwar years. A surging wartime economy and infrastructural improvements dating back to the New Deal made rural life more comfortable and increasingly appealing for urbanites who looked for nearby areas of recreation. At the same time, the large migration of white and black Americans from the South and Midwest to the West Coast not only increased California’s metropolitan population, it also made those cities much more diverse. This fluid new urban landscape prompted many urban whites to move either to suburban developments or to small rural communities where environmental pollution and traffic was limited and where neighbors were white and native Californian. New and old settlers shared this preference for a racially homogenous white community.

In times of crisis, residents and businesses were grateful for the protection prisoners offered against environmental hazards, such as fires and slides. But as the testimonies of Dr. W. H. Heinzmann and Carmen Wood reveal, newcomers who settled in the once rugged Sierra foothills had a very different understanding of the quality of country life compared to longtime settlers.


For this exercise, divide the class into four groups, each of which will read one of the four documents.

Group 1

Citizens of Weott to the Warden of San Quentin, Feb. 12, 1960, folder F3717:402 Corrections—Conservation Camp Services, Camps–CDF–High Rock, 1959–1961, Department of Corrections Records, California State Archives.

  1. Why did the citizens of Weott write this letter?
  2. Why would this letter have been significant for the Department of Corrections? For the prisoners?
  3. How did the authors of this letter describe the prisoners?
  4. Why do you think the letter writers express the hope that this experience would remind prisoners of their families back home?

Group 2

Dr. W. H. Heinzmann to Governor Earl Warren, Dec. 6, 1950, folder F3640:921, Department of Corrections Jan.–Feb. 1950, Administrative Files, Earl Warren Papers.

  1. Why did Dr. W. H. Heinzmann move to the foothills?
  2. Why did Heinzmann initially support the notion of a prison camp?
  3. What role did the school play in Heinzmann’s position on the prison camp?
  4. According to Heinzmann, what impact on business and property would the camp have?

Group 3

Carmen Wood to Governor Earl Warren, Feb. 8, 1950, folder F3640:921, Department of Corrections Jan.–Feb. 1950, Administrative Files, Earl Warren Papers.

  1. What did Carmen Wood appreciate about the community of Meadow Vista, and how did it compare to nonrural California?
  2. How did Wood measure the value of her property?
  3. How did the camp threaten Wood’s children and her vision of a secure family life?
  4. What grievance did Wood express about the way the Department of Corrections decided on the construction of the Meadow Vista camp?

Group 4

Englewood Lumber Company’s President H. D. Wheeler to Ronald Reagan, Feb. 1, 1971, Conservation folder, box 56, Ronald Reagan Gubernatorial Records Unit 1971.

  1. What dangers did floods and fires pose to southern Humboldt County and the lumber companies?
  2. What benefits had the lumber company gained from the proximity of the conservation camps?
  3. What consequences did the Englewood Lumber Company fear for the business, the workers, and the community if the prison camps closed?
  4. What consequences did the company anticipate for prisoners?