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Conjuring Crisis

Conjuring Crisis: Racism and Civil Rights in a Southern Military City

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 210
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  • Book Info
    Conjuring Crisis
    Book Description:

    How have civil rights transformed racial politics in America? Connecting economic and social reforms to racial and class inequality,Conjuring Crisiscounters the myth of steady race progress by analyzing how the federal government and local politicians have sometimes "reformed" politics in ways that have amplified racism in the post civil-rights era.In the 1990s at Fort Bragg and Fayetteville, North Carolina, the city's dominant political coalition of white civic and business leaders had lost control of the city council. Amid accusations of racism in the police department, two white council members joined black colleagues in support of the NAACP's demand for an investigation. George Baca's ethnographic research reveals how residents and politicians transformed an ordinary conflict into a "crisis" that raised the specter of chaos and disaster. He explores new territory by focusing on the broader intersection of militarization, urban politics, and civil rights.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4979-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-23)

    Against the backdrop of the nation’s unceasing preparation for war—most recently highlighted by the War on Terror—Americans passionately dispute the significance of the military on the country’s well-being. Supporters of the U.S. military celebrate it as a both a stimulus to the economy and an opportunity for working-class Americans to become upwardly mobile. Facing exclusion, many working-class Americans and minorities have found the military to be a pathway to stable employment; they have parlayed war experience into low-interest home loans, college tuition, and the political capital necessary to transcend racism. Hollywood has spun these military versions of the...

  5. Chapter 1 Narrating a Racial Crisis
    (pp. 24-40)

    When I arrived in Fayetteville in February 1997, the dispute over racism in the police department had divided city council into two factions—the Five and the Four. Many white citizens shared with me their anger and anxiety about how white council members Tom Manning and Sam Johnson, who, as a white man told me, “fell in with the niggers” on city council and transformed the otherwise powerless bloc of black council members into a controlling force.¹ Although Fayetteville’s most powerful civic and business leaders avoided such overt racial language, they were equally anxious about the danger represented by this...

  6. Chapter 2 Conspiracies and Crises on Cape Fear
    (pp. 41-56)

    Rumors of the Manning conspiracy sent shock waves through Fayetteville as white civic and business leaders presented their loss of power as a dangerous alteration in the normal workings of government. By presenting the sudden ascendance of black council members into the majority as if it represented a dangerous turning point that could threaten the city, white civic and business leaders drew upon a rich political tradition of cultivating and mobilizing white racial fears, a tradition that extends back to the era of slavery. Cities like Fayetteville, throughout the plantation zone of the Caribbean and southern United States, have been...

  7. Chapter 3 The Cunning of Racial Reform
    (pp. 57-76)

    From plantation slavery to the present, dominant political groups and governmental authorities in Fayetteville have repeatedly exploited fear about African Americans to forge white solidarity across class lines. Despite the continuing importance of race and racism that these traditions of racial crisis reveal, everything about racism—except for the way Americans think about it—has changed.¹ One cannot take those changes in racial patterns as simply good or bad. Instead, the types of political changes that followed the Wilmington race riot led to a comprehensive reorganization of politics that emphasized reforms geared to economic growth and industrialization. This chapter develops...

  8. Chapter 4 Performing Crisis
    (pp. 77-92)

    On the eve of Tom Manning and Sam Johnson’s shocking turn against the city council’s white majority, city manager Jim Thompson and his regime partners were actively mobilizing public support for the audacious Marvin Plan. More than merely a cosmetic change, the revitalization plan had become the hub of the city’s economic policy agenda. Civic leaders did not view the black community as a threat to revitalization. Several prominent black leaders had endorsed it and there was no sign of black opposition, except for council member Edna Harrington. Instead, members of the urban regime braced themselves for strong opposition from...

  9. Chapter 5 Threatening Images of Black Power
    (pp. 93-108)

    The Committee of 100’s staging of protests and the recall movement did more than continue the alarm bells of conspiracy. It elaborated the argument about how nefarious white politicians had dangerously empowered the black community and conjured the idea that black council members had an inordinate amount of power, reminiscent of the old fear of “Negro domination.” These stories of black power fashioned Frederick Walker as benefiting from this arrangement and interpreted his actions as spiteful and dangerous. Such performances definitely exaggerated the power of not only Walker but also the black masses that were presumed to be lining up...

  10. Chapter 6 Power Shift
    (pp. 109-124)

    Though the idea of a crisis framed the conflict on city council, many whites were skeptical about these narratives. Many white opponents of the urban regime believed that the intense reaction to the NAACP’s alliance with whites was an example of the backwardness of local authorities. This view was especially strong among residents who self-identified as “the military.” Increasingly, military retirees have become vocal critics of the downtown coalition, and they revamped the local Republican Party to challenge what they called the “one-party rule” of the city and county. John Duncan was just such a person. After retiring as an...

  11. Chapter 7 Outsiders and Special Interests
    (pp. 125-140)

    Back Representative Karen McMillan’s defeat of recall and the Fayetteville Taxpayers for Financial Responsibility’s (FTFR) powerful criticism of downtown revitalization shined a new light on the city council turmoil. Highlighting weaknesses in the downtown coalition, they believed that the old power structure was on its last legs. These critics envisioned grandiose scenarios that would result in dethroning the Haymount and cleaning government of its nepotism and racism. Hopes of an insurgency, however, were built on naive understandings of political power. To be sure, the power shift on city council and FTFR’s successes in discrediting the Marvin Plan distressed city management...

  12. Chapter 8 Single Shot
    (pp. 141-159)

    The Committee of 100 actively created fear about how the controversy on city council had dangerously empowered the black community. Fearmongering exaggerated the power of black leaders and helped create the image of a mobilized and united black community, poised to maintain the power shift on city council. Such presentations of black political power concealed the many debates and conflicts that divide black Fayettevillians. Further, public performances of white anxiety and crisis distorted the manner in which formalized black politics supports and legitimizes the dominant business and political coalition. Forming an important part of the urban regime, the city’s most...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 160-166)

    From milo mcrae’s perspective, the black community’s double-shot strategy was wildly successful. Michael Pearson’s candidacy guaranteed Tom Manning’s defeat. And, coupled with the work of black politicians to break up single-shot efforts, Good Government Now (GGN) helped drive Sam Johnson, Edna Harrington, and Larry Allison from city council. Frederick Walker remained the sole survivor of the “Fantastic Five.” Rejoicing in the council majority’s monumental collapse at the polls, the headline from theFayetteville Observerblared: “Voters Crush Fayetteville City Council Bloc.” White civic and business leaders celebrated right along with the newspaper, treating the election as a model of self-government...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 167-170)

    The complex plays of political power that constituted the “Five–Four” prompts me to offer some reflections on broader issues of military power and its influence on Fayetteville’s political structure. I have shown that neither Fort Bragg nor the more general expansion of federal power into the South have one-sidedly determined Fayetteville’s present-day problems of racism, crime, urban sprawl, and inadequate public schools. Fayetteville’s particular experience of these national problems stems instead from the ways local power brokers and business leaders used federal policies—from militarization to civil rights—to control local affairs.

    Instead of suggesting that democratic reforms are...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 171-180)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-192)
  17. Index
    (pp. 193-196)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 197-197)