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Red Lines, Black Spaces

Red Lines, Black Spaces: The Politics of Race and Space in a Black Middle-Class Suburb

Bruce D. Haynes
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Red Lines, Black Spaces
    Book Description:

    Runyon Heights, a community in Yonkers, New York, has been populated by middle-class African Americans for nearly a century. This book-the first history of a black middle-class community-tells the story of Runyon Heights, which sheds light on the process of black suburbanization and the ways in which residential development in the suburbs has been shaped by race and class.Relying on both interviews with residents and archival research, Bruce D. Haynes describes the progressive stages in the life of the community and its inhabitants and the factors that enabled it to form in the first place and to develop solidarity, identity and political consciousness. He shows how residents came to recognize common political interests within the community, how racial consciousness provided an axis for social solidarity as well as partial insulation from racial slights, and how the suburb afforded these middle-class residents a degree of physical and social distance from the ghetto. As Haynes explores the history of Runyon Heights, we learn the ways in which its black middle class dealt with the tensions between the political interests of race and the material interests of class.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12986-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Kai Erikson

    Books as good as this one do not really need introduction. I accepted an invitation to contribute to these pages, however, because I thought it might be helpful to try to locate Runyon Heights within a tradition of scholarly research to which both Bruce Haynes and I belong.

    American sociologists have been engaged in the study of communities for more than a hundred years. Indeed, a strong case can be made that the field drew its first and most important intellectual nourishment from that pursuit. One of the first research reports in this country that can properly be called sociological...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xxviii)

    Red Lines, Black Spacesis a case study of Nepperhan Runyon Heights,¹ one of the first middle-class black² suburbs in the New York metropolitan region. Runyon Heights is nestled in the northeast section of Yonkers, New York, on the banks of the Hudson River, in the southwest corner of Westchester County, just north of New York City. During the early years, the community was known as Nepperhan. By the 1940s, the Runyon Heights name had become increasingly common. The original settlement is sometimes called “old Nepperhan” by residents. The name Nepperhan comes from a local river, first called Neperah or...

  7. 1 Race and Place in Industrial Yonkers
    (pp. 1-17)

    Beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century, Yonkers experienced a period of unprecedented industrial expansion that affected both population growth and future residential development. It became a city of immigrants and migrants in search of work. During the second half of the nineteenth century, a racialization of Yonkers’ housing and employment markets took place; the development of black residential concentrations among both the working class and the middle class paved the way not only for the formation of the so-called Negro ghetto in southwest Yonkers (Getty Square) but also for the east-side black home-owning community that would come to...

  8. 2 The Peopling of Nepperhan
    (pp. 18-32)

    Residential development in Nepperhan followed on the heels of the breakup of large estates in lower Westchester County during the early twentieth century. This period has been described as one of degentrification, when New York City financiers purchased property from the descendants of colonial elites (Zukin 1991, 142). Real estate speculation mushroomed, foreshadowing the rise of the residential suburb.

    By and large, the Westchester real estate market was limited to European immigrants and their white descendants. During this early period of suburban expansion, African Americans encountered widespread resistance throughout Yonkers and Westchester County. ‘‘Coloreds’’ did not fit in with the...

  9. 3 Working-Class Roots
    (pp. 33-52)

    The 1920s ushered in a period of unprecedented suburban residential development across America. In Yonkers, as elsewhere, inexpensive construction techniques and the availability of land outside central cities made home ownership possible for the working class for the first time (Jackson 1985, 125–126). Before 1920, the Nepperhan population had remained small. The 1915 New York State census recorded a total of thirtythree “white” persons in the Third Election District of the Tenth Ward, a broad geographic area that encompassed Nepperhan. In total, there were seven households, three of which had foreign-born heads: two came from Italy, and one from...

  10. 4 E Pluribus Unum
    (pp. 53-66)

    Social-scientific studies of the general Negro population and of the black middle class in particular have been marred by a major theoretical weakness: insufficient attention is paid to the way racial classifications are constructed (Williams 1990). Consequently, race is rarely explored as a social process. The racial homogeneity of communities is often treated as a natural or ecological outgrowth of membership in a racial group and therefore as self-explanatory. Rather than exploring the critical connection between residential segregation and the construction of racial-group interests and antagonisms, social scientists have treated race in the abstract as an explanatory concept in their...

  11. 5 Nepperhan: The Prewar Years
    (pp. 67-92)

    Although the influx to Runyon Heights has continued unabated for eight decades, two time periods capture distinct phases of community development. Chapter 5 describes the first period, from 1915 through the Depression years. These first two decades were a time in which the physical boundaries were delineated and Nepperhan was transformed from predominantly working-class to a predominantly middle-class community. Social, civic, and political organizations that emerged during this period reflected both the racial structuring of community life and the residents’ material interests. A New Negro consciousness developed, with the support of local social organizations.

    Socially, Nepperhan could be best described...

  12. 6 Runyon Heights: The Postwar Years
    (pp. 93-129)

    After World War II, the community increasingly drew a more traditional white-collar Negro population. Runyon Heights became during this time the preferred name among many residents. Middle-class gentrification brought the revitalization of local community organizations. Race also played an increasing role in local political conflicts, as it became intertwined with the class interests of residents in conflicts over school gerrymandering, busing, low-income housing, land use, and absentee landlords. Segregation, which physically isolated the community and determined local institutional and political boundaries, had a direct impact on the political conscience of this middle-class suburb.

    After the Depression, many of the numerous...

  13. 7 Eisenhower Republicans and Republican Democrats
    (pp. 130-146)

    The formation of the Nepperhan–Runyon Heights community was predicated on residents’ having stable jobs and access to suburban real estate that was isolated from poorer populations. The survival of the community, however, depended on strong community solidarity, including active participation in local politics. Though physically isolated, Nepperhaners had considerable leverage in local politics. In this chapter I shall examine the environment in which Nepperhan residents articulated their common concerns and exerted influence in the political process. Through a review of both national and local elections, this analysis demonstrates how race and class interests were reflected in residents’ political loyalties...

  14. 8 Defining Black Space
    (pp. 147-156)

    A number of residents referred to a symbolic wall that allegedly sat along the four-foot reserve strip separating Nepperhan from Homefield. Many perceived the strip as symbolic of the racial intolerance of many Home-field residents. The “fence” or “strip” was mentioned whenever the Home-field community was brought up in conversation.

    The September 29, 1988, edition of 48 Hours presented a segment entitled “Not in My Backyard,” hosted by Dan Rather. The program, which covered the 1980 federal housing discrimination suit in Yonkers¹ and featured a segment on Runyon Heights, focused on the fence that allegedly dividesNepperhan from Homefield. Although the...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 157-166)
  16. References
    (pp. 167-176)
  17. Index
    (pp. 177-180)