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Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis

Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis: Housing Policy in Postwar Chicago

Preston H. Smith
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 456
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  • Book Info
    Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis
    Book Description:

    Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis examines housing debates in Chicago, showing how class and factional conflicts among African Americans actually helped to reproduce stunning segregation along economic lines. Preston H. Smith II reveals a surprising picture of black civic leaders who singled out racial segregation as the source of African Americans’ inadequate housing rather than attacking class inequalities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7947-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xx)

    In the introduction to the 1962 edition of St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton’s classic workBlack Metropolis, the white sociologist Everett Hughes describes an outlying area of the black community as a “peaceful middle-class area of one-story brick bungalows and two-flat buildings, probably built for second or third generation Irish, Czechs or Poles. Men were washing their cars, mowing the lawn, or painting the back porch on that Saturday morning. Women were coming and going from the shops, or could be seen dusting in the front room. All at once, I saw that one industrious householder had a...

  5. 1 Black Civic Ideology and Political Economy in Postwar Chicago
    (pp. 1-20)

    All citizens of the United States suffered through the postwar housing crisis brought on by pent-up demand and little construction during World War II. The situation for African Americans, however, was worse. The mass migration of blacks to northern and western cities added more home seekers to communities that were already poorly housed. Furthermore, the fact that the newcomers were forced to fit within racially enforced boundaries increased the urgency of the housing situation. Housing conditions in the black community were so bad that the Chicago city council formed the Subcommittee on Negro Housing, chaired by Alderman Earl B. Dickerson...

  6. 2 Racial Democracy and the Case for Public Housing
    (pp. 21-40)

    Of all the housing policies, public housing most closely embodied social democratic principles since it advocated for adequate housing for citizens regardless of their ability to pay. The way in which public housing policy was formulated and implemented, however, severely limited its ability to meet the shelter needs of society’s most vulnerable. The opposition of the real estate industry to public housing is legendary. Yet shared assumptions and strategic mistakes by housing reformers, white and black, were equally responsible for the failure of public housing. These missteps stemmed from the public housers’ embrace of slum clearance and urban redevelopment, hoping...

  7. 3 Black Factions Contesting Public Housing
    (pp. 41-66)

    In the process of advocating for public housing, African American policy elites had to battle both white and black opponents. The white opponents—the real estate industry, local politicians, and anxious homeowners—were well known, powerful, and responsible for racializing public housing by largely restricting it to blacks in the ghetto. Not as easily identifiable, on the other hand, were black opponents, including the black upper and middle classes, who felt their hard-earned affluence threatened by the proximity of public housing. Although black civic leaders used both class and racial criteria to criticize affluent blacks’ opposition, they stayed within the...

  8. 4 Fighting ʺNegro Clearanceʺ: Black Elites and Urban Redevelopment Policy
    (pp. 67-102)

    In their influential bookBlack Metropolis, St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton comment on the ambivalence that black Chicagoans felt toward residential segregation. On the one hand, they took pride in Bronzeville, which represented territory that had been won through urban trench warfare with hostile whites since the turn of the twentieth century. On the other hand, all black Americans resented being told where they could live and considered the freedom of residential choice a civil right.¹ While some courageous and ambitious blacks, mainly middle class, breached the ghetto’s walls into white enclaves in search of better housing and neighborhoods,...

  9. 5 From Negro Clearance to Negro Containment
    (pp. 103-126)

    Black civic elites and neighborhood activists correctly predicted the massive displacement of blacks resulting from slum clearance on the Mid-South Side. The impact of displacement on African Americans, however, was uneven across social classes. While public housing would accommodate some low-income blacks, the majority of blacks earned incomes too high to qualify for public housing and therefore needed the most attention during the implementation of the city’s redevelopment program.¹ The black defenders of slum clearance counted on the fact that city officials, wanting to prevent relocation obstacles from slowing down redevelopment, would initiate plans to house displaced blacks in integrated...

  10. 6 Black Redevelopment and Negro Conservation
    (pp. 127-156)

    While black civic and policy elites concentrated their efforts on getting government to protect the interests of displaced black homeowners and tenants by relocating them to housing that suited their tastes and their pocketbooks, other influential blacks organized their own resources to better defend their homes and neighborhoods. Though protests and self-help rehabilitation efforts could not prevent a neighborhood from being replaced by the upscale Lake Meadows apartment buildings, affluent black residents felt it was still possible to rescue their nearby neighborhoods that were threatened by a continued land-clearance offensive. At the height of the slum clearance debate within black...

  11. 7 Racial Violence and the Crisis of Black Elite Leadership
    (pp. 157-190)

    Racial violence in postwar Chicago united black elites more than the issues surrounding slum clearance and public housing had. This issue generated no split between national and local elites of the sort evident in the debate on the city’s redevelopment program. Nothing represented a greater threat to all African Americans, regardless of class, geography, or affiliation, than violence targeted at a person or persons because of their race. Nothing better dramatized the restrictions that blacks experienced seeking improved housing than the harassment, intimidation, and violence committed by whites to keep blacks in the ghetto. Despite the ambivalence African Americans felt...

  12. 8 Class and Racial Democracy
    (pp. 191-220)

    While their responses to racial violence proved ineffective, black policy elites met with some success in attacking federal housing discrimination in racially restrictive covenants. While such covenants were private agreements among white property owners not to sell or lease their property to racial and religious minorities, the courts’ enforcement of these practices gave them legal sanction and formal status. In thesub rosaworld of discriminatory and segregative housing practices, the government’s sanction of racially restrictive covenants offered the most visible target. It was also the discriminatory practice most insulting to black elites who claimed first-class citizenship and class status...

  13. 9 Selling the Negro Housing Market
    (pp. 221-254)

    The track record of the private housing industry in producing housing for racial minorities was woeful. Between 1940 and 1950, only 100,000 of the 9 million new private housing units produced nationally went to nonwhites.¹ Since 1940, black policy elites had recognized the importance of fighting this severe racial disparity. While they accepted the role of private enterprise in producing housing for African Americans in Chicago and other U.S. cities, they decided to confront its racially discriminatory practices. Every facet of the industry—construction, development, and finance—had long discriminated against African Americans, producing residential segregation. Black housing officials in...

  14. 10 Self-Help and the Black Real Estate Industry
    (pp. 255-296)

    In early 1941, black real estate professionals Elmore Baker, based in Chicago, and William Occomy published a clarion call titled “A Real Estate Program for Negroes” in the pages ofOpportunity, the National Urban League’s journal. When the authors asked its black readership, “Just what can we do for ourselves?” it was clear that the new program was formulated in a black self-help idiom. Baker and Occomy called for a national trade organization to organize thousands of black real estate professionals and provide leadership to black property owners in the areas of property acquisition and mortgage financing. Their call, at...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 297-302)

    Many observers of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have commented on the existence of a class divide within the nation’s African American population. While this class inequality reflects the recent widening of the divide within the larger American political economy, both the mechanisms and indicators of class division in the black community were evident as early as the 1950s. The mechanisms were particularly marked in a housing system that rewarded those with the income and culture of the middle class, whether black or white, with quality housing and good neighborhoods, but punished those who lacked either by denying...

  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 303-306)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 307-408)
  18. Index
    (pp. 409-434)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 435-435)