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The Hero's Fight

The Hero's Fight: African Americans in West Baltimore and the Shadow of the State

PATRICIA FERNÁNDEZ-KELLY
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 440
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qgzww
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    The Hero's Fight
    Book Description:

    Baltimore was once a vibrant manufacturing town, but today, with factory closings and steady job loss since the 1970s, it is home to some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in America.The Hero's Fightprovides an intimate look at the effects of deindustrialization on the lives of Baltimore's urban poor, and sheds critical light on the unintended consequences of welfare policy on our most vulnerable communities.

    Drawing on her own uniquely immersive brand of fieldwork, conducted over the course of a decade in the neighborhoods of West Baltimore, Patricia Fernández-Kelly tells the stories of people like D. B. Wilson, Big Floyd, Towanda, and others whom the American welfare state treats with a mixture of contempt and pity-what Fernández-Kelly calls "ambivalent benevolence." She shows how growing up poor in the richest nation in the world involves daily interactions with agents of the state, an experience that differs significantly from that of more affluent populations. While ordinary Americans are treated as citizens and consumers, deprived and racially segregated populations are seen as objects of surveillance, containment, and punishment. Fernández-Kelly provides new insights into such topics as globalization and its effects on industrial decline and employment, the changing meanings of masculinity and femininity among the poor, social and cultural capital in poor neighborhoods, and the unique roles played by religion and entrepreneurship in destitute communities.

    Blending compelling portraits with in-depth scholarly analysis,The Hero's Fightexplores how the welfare state contributes to the perpetuation of urban poverty in America.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5212-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-19)

    At the beginning of 2015, nearly fifty million people—15 percent of the American population—still face high levels of actual or near destitution. In a country with a $16.6 trillion economy and durable traditions of opportunity and democracy, countless individuals live in conditions marked by the paucity of resources and insufficient means to attain social and economic advancement. Why does entrenched deprivation persist in the United States? Why do so many people continue to face economic and social marginalization fifty years after President Lyndon B. Johnson famously declared a “War on Poverty”?

    This book, the result of long-term observations...

  5. 1 D. B. WILSON
    (pp. 20-37)

    Donald Bradley Wilson was only nineteen when he arrived in the promising city of Baltimore, Maryland, in the summer of 1959. The winds of history were blowing strong in the aftermath of school desegregation and the first inklings of the civil rights movement, but the young man from Mayesville, South Carolina, had other things on his mind, like endurance and high hope. Not that he was unaware of the troubles caused by racial friction or that he didn’t welcome progress, but in his view, discrimination was just part of human nature. Either you learned to live with it or it...

  6. 2 BALTIMORE: FROM FACTORY TOWN TO CITY IN DECLINE
    (pp. 38-53)

    Donald B. Wilson’s biography, summarized in the previous chapter, reflects changes experienced by the city of Baltimore during the second half of the twentieth century and the first decade of the new millennium. It shows the extent to which one single fragile life can be affected by structural forces that also impinge upon the constitution of physical spaces and the character of urban living.

    Wilson grew up on a South Carolina farm, arrived in Baltimore as a young man in 1959, held a string of low-paying jobs, and then, in his mid-twenties, found employment at a major industrial firm. Nineteen...

  7. 3 BIG FLOYD
    (pp. 54-71)

    The winter of 1994 was bitter by Baltimore standards. A sky as drab as cinder hung over the city almost without break between January and March. Dampness and cold were punctuated by an ice storm shortly after New Year’s Day. Suddenly, the barren trees changed into luminous statues, their branches heavy with stalactites. At the entrance of the Johns Hopkins University, a decorative row of winter cabbages glistened like crystalline rock under the brief morning sun. Seven miles away, close to the George Murphy Homes, blue plastic bags taken from local stores dangled from the electrical lines along Franklin Avenue....

  8. 4 INTERSECTIONS OF POVERTY, RACE, AND GENDER IN THE AMERICAN GHETTO
    (pp. 72-94)

    One way to understand the life of Big Floyd Twigg is by comparison with that of Donald B. Wilson, sketched in chapter 1. Both men had similar hopes and dreams. Family values were as important to D. B. as they were to Big Floyd. Both men understood, to varying degrees, the elements of discipline necessary to retain a job. On the other hand, the two were unique in terms of personality, temperament, and resourcefulness—Wilson was a lively conversationalist, always eager to connect with others; Big Floyd was timid, even surly, unwilling to express emotions out of caution and perhaps...

  9. 5 SHAPING THE INNER CITY: URBAN DEVELOPMENT AND THE AMERICAN STATE
    (pp. 95-112)

    To gain further understanding of the tortuous relationship between the state and the urban poor in America, it is necessary to examine historical and structural processes underpinning today’s policies. Toward that objective, I present a theoretical framework based on ideas put forth by Peter Evans (1995), one of whose objectives has been to explain different levels of efficacy in government structures. I argue that America represents an advanced developmental state whose actions have been instrumental in the preservation of democratic institutions and capitalist markets. A review of pertinent facts reveals the willingness and ability of the American State to promote...

  10. 6 DISTORTED ENGAGEMENT AND LIMINAL INSTITUTIONS: RULING AGAINST THE POOR
    (pp. 113-131)

    The signs of economic devastation and racial implosion are everywhere in West Baltimore: lines of decaying row houses on whose steps young men gather to chat and peddle drugs for lack of anything better to do; homes left over from the Victorian era, still bearing the marks of a genteel past, their doors and windows now boarded up, their walls covered with graffiti; streets oddly punctuated by people’s belongings—broken furniture and scattered clothing—tossed aside in the course of evictions. Parks and playgrounds sit forlorn during the day but are brought to life at night by the purveyors of...

  11. 7 LITTLE FLOYD
    (pp. 132-150)

    In my mind’s eye I can still see him: a small boy of about six, peeking out from behind his great-grandmother’s legs, smiling, his green eyes flashing. On the evening of August 20, 1990, when I first met him, Floyd Mitchell Twigg Jr. was attending a birthday party at 952 Callow Street in honor of his cousin, Towanda. The scent of fried chicken and collard greens filled the tiny room where relatives laughed and chatted in a vibrant cadence. Among the faces in various shades of brown, Little Floyd stood out for his golden complexion and light brown hair. His...

  12. 8 DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE: CHILDHOOD AGENCY AND THE PROBLEM OF LIMINALITY
    (pp. 151-171)

    Little Floyd is still living in West Baltimore in 2014. He is now twenty-eight and has never completed high school or held a regular job. He runs the streets and hustles, but he has never spent more than a few days in jail, once for disturbing the peace and once for trespassing. “That was a mistake,” he tells me. It was his friend Lamont who invited him to enter the house in question while the owners were on vacation. Floyd was unaware that Lamont didn’t have permission to be there. As for disturbing the peace, Floyd swears that too was...

  13. 9 CLARISE
    (pp. 172-191)

    Clarise Latisha Twigg was eight years old when she received a golden trophy with her name inscribed in the pedestal as recognition of her superior classroom performance throughout the 1991 academic term. The distribution of such tokens at the William Pienderhughes Elementary School was meant to elevate the spirits of students, many of whom could not read or do math at their grade level. Boosting the self-esteem of inner-city children as a precondition to improving their educational performance was all the rage in those heady days. Clarise showed off her award with eyes full of pride. Even then, she knew...

  14. 10 PARADOXES OF SOCIAL CAPITAL: CONSTRUCTING MEANING, RECASTING CULTURE
    (pp. 192-212)

    A large body of research carried out since the 1980s points to the importance of social capital as an asset commensurate to material wealth. Relationships based on trust and reciprocity can be parlayed into educational and occupational advantages, and their absence—so the account goes—portends deficits like those found in poor neighborhoods. Clarise’s story, reviewed in the previous chapter, suggests otherwise, revealing a more complex reality: it is not the paucity of social capital but the absence of material resources and external links that produces destructive effects in impoverished urban settings. The lacks are caused by disinvestment, predatory commerce,...

  15. 11 TOWANDA
    (pp. 213-231)

    Towanda Forrest was twelve years old when I first met her in 1990, a gorgeous woman-child with a grainy inflection and eyes full of daring. During one of our first conversations, she told me:

    Only fools get pregnant. They be thinking they so smart but they is fools ’cause you don’t gain nothing by having a baby, only worries. I tell the other girls, Towanda’s smart, she will never get pregnant—never! Just wait and see.

    One of five children born to Lydia Forrest and the second conceived by Lydia and the man who would become her legitimate husband, James...

  16. 12 CULTURAL CAPITAL AND THE TRANSITION TO ADULTHOOD IN THE URBAN GHETTO
    (pp. 232-252)

    How did Towanda Forrest move so quickly from a determination to stay away from motherhood to two pregnancies by the age of seventeen? Was she, with other impoverished girls in the nation’s ghettos, taunting the values of the larger society? Was she confirming the suspicion that welfare programs encourage dependence and sexual misbehavior?

    In this chapter, I consider these questions and return to the field of economic sociology to investigate phenomena that continue to elude scholars and policy makers. I give attention to the interplay between cultural and social capital, now as a way to gain a better understanding of...

  17. 13 LYDIA
    (pp. 253-274)

    As a little girl growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina, Lydia Forrest used to pray on her knees for her mother to come back and take her away from the inhospitable place where she had lived with her three sisters for the past two years. It was 1960. She was only ten and staying with her great-aunt, Elvira, who was then in her nineties. Feeble and desiccated, the old woman haunted the small farmhouse like a spirit. People said she had been born a slave, but it was hard to tell because Aunt Elvira was a woman of few words....

  18. 14 FAITH AND CIRCUMSTANCE IN WEST BALTIMORE
    (pp. 275-295)

    Lydia Forrest, whose life is acknowledged in the previous chapter, was compelled to make decisions along a journey of sorrow and disappointment but also determination and hope. She represents countless women of African-American descent whose fates have been sculpted by internal migration, abandonment, impoverishment, gender discord, and ultimately religious faith.

    The daughter of penniless sharecroppers in a southern state, Lydia spent her early years in a rural environment. Her mother’s recollections were of luscious vegetation and family unity but also scarcity and fears of lynching. In such a context, every mishap had dire consequences. When Lydia’s father, Jonah, lost his...

  19. 15 MANNY MAN
    (pp. 296-314)

    According to the testimonies of his mother, Sharon, and his aunt, Toya, the boy known in the streets of West Baltimore as Manny Man came into the world wailing and thrashing on August 13, 1978, close to the crack of dawn. The two women were not surprised. Pangs and jolts had punctuated Sharon’s pregnancy. Two years earlier, her daughter, Shennelle, had grown almost undetected inside her womb, and had arrived, conveniently, in the late morning.

    This time around, the certainty of delivery had awakened Sharon three hours after midnight—too early to face the new day and too late a...

  20. 16 DIVIDED ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND NEIGHBORHOOD EFFECTS
    (pp. 315-341)

    The trajectories of Manny Man Williams and his father, Marcus Williams III, illustrate two types of business involvement and entrepreneurship; one that tenders limited results because of multiple deficits—experiential, informational and financial—and one that succeeds, tragically, through the operations of predatory capital.

    For many young men living in America’s inner cities, opportunities for legitimate employment and business formation are thin, even in neighborhoods like Edmonson Village in West Baltimore, which have a rich historical past; it was there that the Williams family resided, and it was there that Marcus Williams sought to become a businessman.

    His son, Manny...

  21. CONCLUSION: DISTORTED ENGAGEMENT AND THE GREAT IDEOLOGICAL DIVIDE
    (pp. 342-356)

    Several objectives animated the writing of this book. One was to salvage biography in the study of impoverished persons. In the age of sophisticated technology and social media, biography is a much-pursued means of self-expression, but most biographies are of people with at least some power and influence. By contrast, the actual experience of impoverished individuals remains concealed behind narratives pivoting around “social problems.” An unintended and brutal effect of class and racial inequality is the eviction of existential logics informing the decisions and thinking of vulnerable people, including children.

    In that context, it becomes a political necessity and scientific...

  22. APPENDIX: SAMPLE OF HOUSEHOLDS IN WEST BALTIMORE (1997)
    (pp. 357-360)
  23. NOTES
    (pp. 361-374)
  24. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 375-404)
  25. INDEX
    (pp. 405-422)