A City within a City

A City within a City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 236
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  • Book Info
    A City within a City
    Book Description:

    A City within a Cityexamines the civil rights movement in the North by concentrating on the struggles for equality in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Historian Todd Robinson studies the issues surrounding school integration and bureaucratic reforms as well as the role of black youth activism to detail the diversity of black resistance. He focuses on respectability within the African American community as a way of understanding how the movement was formed and held together. And he elucidates the oppositional role of northern conservatives regarding racial progress.A City within a Citycogently argues that the post-war political reform championed by local Republicans transformed the city's racial geography, creating a racialized "city within a city," featuring a system of "managerial racism" designed to keep blacks in declining inner-city areas. As Robinson indicates, this bold, provocative framework for understanding race relations in Grand Rapids has broader implications for illuminating the twentieth-century African American urban experience in secondary cities.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0923-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  6. 1 “Rowing, Not Drifting”: Black Organizational Reform before World War II
    (pp. 1-23)

    During the First Great Migration, nearly 1.6 million black southerners headed north between 1910 and 1940. Initially, almost 40 percent of them settled in eight large cities, five of which were in the Midwest, but many ended up in smaller “off-line” locations, such as Grand Rapids.¹ Many blacks “were only temporary guests” in the larger cities before moving on. The influx of black migrants in Grand Rapids before World War II underscored the extended migratory streams that flowed beyond big cities and gave rise to new vibrant black communities in such second-tier cities.² Patterns of black life in these cities...

  7. 2 Citizens’ Action: Managerial Racism and Reform Politics
    (pp. 24-50)

    Despite a decade of depression, which heightened the level of inequality between blacks and whites in the city, the black population in Grand Rapids had several reasons for believing their grievances would receive greater consideration in the post–World War II era. First, the unheralded acts of black resistance began to dismantle the overt signs of Jim Crow in the city. A stable coalition of civil rights organizations successfully challenged the racial barriers that openly excluded blacks from stores, hotels, restaurants, and numerous public accommodations. It appeared that blacks would face less hostility and benefit from greater access to commercial...

  8. 3 The Suburban Oasis: The Origins of Segregated Space
    (pp. 51-84)

    With the second ghetto virtually intact in Detroit, Chicago, and New York by 1960, the absence of a clearly defined first black ghetto was conspicuous in smaller cities, such as Grand Rapids, during the postwar era. The overwhelming emphasis on urban shifts in larger cities tends to mask the fact that smaller black communities developed differently. As late as the mid-1950s, blacks and whites lived in a number of interracial neighborhoods in Grand Rapids. During the postwar housing boom, however, white residents capitalized on a suburban growth market that excluded blacks. Simultaneously, as part of the “Second Great Migration,” nearly...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. 85-90)
  10. 4 The Mustache Saga: The Rise of Black Youth Protest
    (pp. 91-113)

    During the 1960s, public schools were vibrant arenas of political and cultural contention, providing an open environment where children of various religions, races, and social classes interacted without parental guidance or supervision. For many Grand Rapids residents, the gap between what children were learning in schools and the values their parents embraced at home led to deep concerns. This cultural clash heightened their anxiety that the country was changing culturally and socially, and their fears were not unfounded.¹

    The high school students’ rights movement became a nationwide phenomenon by the late 1960s. From hair debates, clothing styles, and dress codes...

  11. 5 A Black Child’s Burden: Busing to Achieve Racial Balance
    (pp. 114-144)

    “Must we have our children standing before us all of the time?” This May 15, 1971, article in the local black newspaper asked readers to reassess why children were on the front line of the freedom struggle in Grand Rapids. The author warned, “If you as parents don’t make up a plan of action your children will take action—either for better or worst [sic].” Indeed it was becoming quite apparent that black student direct-action protest had taken center stage since the South High walkout.¹

    The 1966 school walkout began to reflect national trends toward a more expressive form of...

  12. 6 Where Do We Go from Here? Setting the Course for Racial Reconciliation
    (pp. 145-177)

    “It was the years,” Ella Sims recalled, “that white groups and white organizations, who’d never thought of a black board member, were looking for one, and seemed that I got stuck on every board throughout the city.” Sims was exactly the type of black “indigenous leader” the business community needed to know preserve the city’s integrity in the wake of the 1967 racial uprising. In the coming years, black residents in Grand Rapids would continue to struggle with attaining racial equality. New actors would move center stage, while once prominent characters drew the curtain and retreated from public life. Although...

  13. Conclusion: Secondary Cities and the Black Experience
    (pp. 178-186)

    According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Detroit, Saginaw, Flint, Benton Harbor, and Muskegon were listed among the top twenty-five most racially segregated metropolitan regions in America. With two more Michigan cities—Grand Rapids and Jackson—listed just on the outskirts of the top twenty-five, Michigan ranked as the most segregated state in the nation.¹ On the opposite side of the spectrum, according to research conducted by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, in 2002Time Magazinelisted Sacramento, California, as America’s most integrated city.² Despite the prevalence of secondary cities on both sides of the racial spectrum, the issues...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 187-216)
  15. Index
    (pp. 217-226)