In the 1920s and early 1930s, Robert P. Shuler, head of Trinity Methodist Church, rose to fame in Los Angeles as a tireless evangelical muckraker. Shuler, via Bob Shuler’s Magazine and his popular radio station KGEF, charged that many powerful Angelenos were involved in various vice pursuits—drinking, drug use, even prostitution—and that the city’s image as a moral, middle-class metropolis was just a facade. Using Shuler’s writings, Los Angeles City Council files, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce minutes, and local newspapers, I argue that Shuler headed an alternative grassroots power structure in Los Angeles, founded during Prohibition. In those years, Shuler’s efforts found a receptive audience among the many midwestern migrants who had arrived in Los Angeles during previous decades. The city had once rigorously enforced alcohol restrictions, but in the 1920s, police officers and political leaders often protected illegal leisure activities. City leaders eventually retaliated against the preacher, and his power precipitously declined after the end of Prohibition, but for a time Shuler held a unique power to shape local public discourse. This essay reveals one of the battles over Los Angeles’s public image that shaped the city’s prewar rise.
“Truth Is the Keenest Weapon Ever Drawn”: “Fighting Bob” Shuler’s Crusade to Expose Los Angeles’s Sins
Maxwell Johnson is a humanities instructor at Culver Academies. In 2018, he received his PhD in American history from Indiana University. A previous article, “Borderlands Fortress: Newspaper Magnates, Preparedness, and the Rhetoric of Progress in World War I–era Los Angeles,” was published in the Pacific Historical Review in May 2017. His book manuscript Vital Yet Vulnerable: How Los Angeles Elites Forged a Connected Metropolis 1890–1965 is under contract with the University of Nebraska Press.
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Maxwell Johnson; “Truth Is the Keenest Weapon Ever Drawn”: “Fighting Bob” Shuler’s Crusade to Expose Los Angeles’s Sins. California History 1 May 2021; 98 (2): 50–73. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2021.98.2.50
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