Opportunity Costs in the War on Crime: The High Impact Anti-Crime Program in Newark

This post by Andy Grim is our third entrant into the Second Annual UHA/The Metropole Graduate Student Blogging Contest. Grim’s essay exams a moment in which the city of Newark “struck gold” by winning a High Impact Anti-Crime Program grant. The lucre, however, proved a mixed blessing…

In January 1972, the Nixon Administration announced a new, $160 million crime fighting initiative. The High Impact Anti-Crime Program—operated by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) of the Justice Department—selected eight medium-sized cities with high crime rates, each of which would receive $20 million over three years to combat “stranger-to-stranger” street crime, focusing in particular on murder, rape, robbery, assault, and burglary. LEAA administrator Jerris Leonard touted the potential of the program, declaring it “will revolutionize crime control.”[1] Newark, New Jersey—one of the cities selected to participate in the program—took this call to revolutionize crime control further than any other city. Earl Phillips, a 38-year old psychologist selected to run the Impact program in Newark—and the only Black Impact program director in the country—proposed allocating most of the funds not to the police or to other established criminal justice agencies, but to community groups and social service programs. For the LEAA, which prioritized allocating federal money to beef up the capacity of local police forces, this creative, non-punitive approach to combatting crime represented a direct challenge to their “law and order” way of thinking.

In the years leading up to its selection for the Impact program, Newark experienced more than its share of hardship. Its economy had been declining for decades, as manufacturing and service industries moved out of the city in large numbers, leaving scores of unemployed men and women behind in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1970, when Kenneth Gibson was elected the city’s first Black mayor, Newark faced daunting budget deficits, high rates of unemployment, surging crime rates, and a nascent heroin epidemic. The homicide rate in Newark was four times the national average.[2] Many city and state officials saw the High Impact program as a way to breathe new life into the ailing city. New Jersey Governor William T. Cahill expressed his desire to see the funds used to modernize police equipment and enlarge the police force in Newark, saying that a grant-funded expansion in crime control measures “will contribute to the rejuvenation and revitalization of the City of Newark.”[3]

Mayor Gibson, for his part, expressed his appreciation for the LEAA’s purported commitment to let cities develop their anti-crime programs as they saw fit. “For the first time,” he declared, “the City of Newark will be able to decide what its needs are to fight crime without worrying if those needs fit into some specific federal guideline.”[4]

Earl Phillips press conference

Phillips, whom Gibson selected to run the program, did not come to the High Impact program from a law enforcement background. Rather, he had most recently served as head of the Essex County Urban League, working on prison and housing reform among other issues. He brought a social science-oriented approach to his work with the Impact program. Phillips assembled a team of social workers, lawyers, and criminologists to craft the city’s proposal to the LEAA for how they planned to allocate the funds. Phillips and his team conducted a months-long analysis of crime in Newark, which had the highest crime rate of all Impact cities, followed by St. Louis and Baltimore.[5] In the process, they consulted with community groups and attended community meetings at which residents complained about the problem of crime in their neighborhoods and the lack of adequate police protection; residents openly explored the idea of establishing their own patrols to make up for the inadequate police presence. Phillips supported this idea and included it in his final team’s proposal.

Beyond inadequate policing, his team also found that high school dropouts committed a significant portion of crimes in the city. Consequently, they proposed establishing alternative schools for dropouts.[6] For drug users who had been convicted of a crime, Phillips proposed establishing treatment programs rather than merely incarcerating them.[7] Many of Phillips’ proposals sought to find preventative and non-punitive responses to crime in the city. And many of them involved allocating money not to the police or to courts or jails, but to community groups and social service programs. Phillips’ emphasis on community involvement reflected the ethos of the Community Action and Model Cities Programs, federal anti-poverty initiatives established under the Johnson administration, which mandated “maximum feasible participation” of residents of the areas being served.

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Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Newark, Essex County, New Jersey, Sanborn Map Company Volume 4, 1892, Geography and Maps Division, Library of Congress

This community-oriented and preventative approach marked a departure from the way the LEAA tended to operate. As scholars like Vesla Weaver, Elizabeth Hinton, and Julilly Kohler-Hausmann have observed, the LEAA typically took a purely “law and order” approach to the crime problem. Rather than addressing root causes of crime or exploring non-punitive methods of enhancing public safety, they facilitated the militarization of police forces, providing departments with costly and unnecessary equipment, including an airplane for the Indiana State Police and, for the police in Birmingham, Alabama, three tanks.[8] For the LEAA’s critics, such expenditures seemed wildly out of sync with the agency’s purported goal of reducing crime. Phillips had no intention of implementing this flawed approach, and no intention of reflexively shoveling more money to a police department that many saw as hostile to large swaths of the city’s population.

Newark had a long history of tension between its police department and Black and Puerto Rican residents. In the postwar era, activists had agitated continuously for policing reforms and sought to draw attention to police mistreatment of Black and Puerto Rican Newarkers. In 1967, a police beating of a Black cabdriver sparked a rebellion in the city during which 26 people were killed, many by police officers.

When Mayor Gibson came into office in 1970 he promised to reform the notoriously corrupt and brutal police department. However, the Gibson administration failed to fully deliver on this promise. Within a year of his inauguration the New Jersey branch of the American Civil Liberties Union issued a scathing report indicating that accusations of police brutality by Black and Puerto Rican Newarkers had actually risen under Gibson.[9]

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Neighborhood Youth Corps, Newark, N.J, photography Thomas O’Halloran, February 16, 1965, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

In their High Impact proposal, Phillips and his team addressed the tense relationship between Newark police and citizens. The proposal noted “There is presently a feeling on the part of the community that the police ‘don’t care.’ They are unresponsive to the crime problems of the city and apathetic to the concerns of potential crime victims in high crime areas.”[10] In the previous year, police had failed to respond to approximately 15,000 calls for service, leading many in the city to feel the police department had abandoned them.[11] “Citizens,” Phillips observed, “while crying out for more police protection, often do not trust or cooperate with the police.” Rather than ignoring this lack of trust or hoping that years of police-community tensions could be resolved simply by giving the police department more money, Phillips chose to focus on empowering the community to take the issue of crime control into their own hands without having to rely on a historically unreliable police force. Phillips proposed allocating 34% of Impact funds to community groups, with 27% to the police, 14% to juvenile areas, 15% to corrections, 8% to narcotics, and 2% to the courts.[12]

Before Phillips’ plan could be implemented it had to be approved by the LEAA. Unfortunately, the plan received a chilly reception by LEAA officials, who complained: “The plan tends to be critical of the system, especially the police, and describes the development of the community as the core of the overall strategy.”[13] They conceded that community involvement was a necessary component of crime control initiatives, but objected to Phillips making such involvement the linchpin of Newark’s anti-crime strategy. The response also criticized the proposal for dealing too much with crime causation. LEAA administrators preferred a short-term, police-oriented approach that could be shown to have immediate impact on crime rates.

The LEAA did not simply reject Phillips’ proposal. They demanded that Mayor Gibson fire him or else lose the $20 million in Impact funding. Gibson initially defended Phillips and tried to negotiate with the LEAA but the agency stood firm. Phillips chose to resign rather than risk Newark being removed from the High Impact program.[14]

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Parkhurst at Pennsylvania Ave., Newark, 1979, photograph by Camilo J. Vergara, 1979, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

In late November 1972 Phillips held a press conference in which he announced his resignation and criticized the LEAA for their treatment of him and their approach to the crime problem. As the only Black High Impact director in the nation, Phillips said his ouster smacked of “institutional racism.”[15] The LEAA had rejected his plan, he said, “because our programs took a preventative, not a police-type approach and because members of the community were to be actively involved.” Despite promises that local Impact agencies would be able to run their programs as they saw fit, the LEAA, according to Phillips, was now seeking to establish “total administrative control” of Impact programs. “If the old ways of pouring money into existing institutions are followed and community needs go unheeded,” he warned, “the program will go right down the drain and we’ll go back to business as usual with more arrests, more incarcerations, more crimes.”[16]

Ultimately, the Newark Police Department received 55% of Impact funds while a paltry 17% went to community groups like the ones Phillips sought to aid.[17] Newark’s High Impact program funded a number of expensive police projects, including a new, state of the art communications system.[18] These projects, however, did not reduce crime rates in the city. In 1976, two separate studies of the High Impact program found that crime had actually increased in the eight Impact cities. One study, conducted by the National Security Center, slammed the program as an “irresponsible, ill-conceived and politically motivated effort to throw money at a social program.”[19] We will never know whether or not Earl Phillips’ plan would have been more effective. It is entirely possible that it have done little to actually empower ordinary Newarkers. Historian Elizabeth Hinton has explored at length the ways in which community-based crime control programs during the War on Crime—although operating outside the traditional criminal justice system—“normalized the presence of law enforcement authorities and crime control technologies in the everyday lives of young Americans living in segregated poverty.”[20] Programs touted as efforts to empower communities ended up merely reinforcing the power of the state. Nevertheless, the Phillips plan represented an earnest effort to address rising crime rates without relying solely on the police. It was a missed opportunity to fund non-carceral alternatives to “tough on crime” policies that left communities no safer, empowered deeply flawed policing institutions, and drove mass incarceration in the proceeding years.

IMG_9070.jpgAndrew Grim is a history PhD Candidate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he studies 20th century American social and political history and the Carceral State. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyLeeGrim

Featured image (at top): Ariel view of Newark, NJ, 1964, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress  

[1] “U.S. To Aid 8 cities in Fight on Crime” New York Times, Jan 14, 1972; pg. 21

[2] Dorothy H. Guyot, “Newark: Crime and Politics in a Declining City,” in Heinz et al., Crime in City Politics (New York: Longman, 1983), 70-78.

[3] “Governor Foresees US aid to Newark” The Star Ledger, Jan 11, 1972; pg. 9

[4] Robert W. Maitlin, “Newark Getting $20 million to Combat Crime” The Star Ledger, Jan 14, 1972; pg. 1

[5] Eleanor Chelimsky, High Impact Anti-Crime Program: National Level Evaluation Final Report, Vol. II (Washington, DC: Department of Justice, National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, 1976), 105

[6] “Street Crime in Newark and Elsewhere” Washington Post, Nov 28, 1972; pg. A18

[7] Treatment Alternative to Street Crime, A proposal Submitted by High Impact Anti Crime Program and Addiction Planning and Coordination Agency October 1972, Box 4 folder 9, Kenneth Gibson Papers, New Jersey Historical Society, Newark, New Jersey.

[8] “Street Crime in Newark and Elsewhere” Washington Post, Nov 28, 1972; pg. A18

[9] “Brutality Rises With Black Mayor” New Pittsburgh Courier, May 22, 1971; pg. 2

[10] Project Application: Citizen Crime Prevention Units. Submitted by High Impact Anti-Crime Program, Newark, Box 4 folder 9, Kenneth Gibson Papers, New Jersey Historical Society, Newark, New Jersey.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Review of the impact city plan Law enforcement assistance administration regional office And New jersey state law enforcement planning agency, Box 4 folder 9, Kenneth Gibson Papers, New Jersey Historical Society, Newark, New Jersey.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Richard J.H. Johnston “Newark Crime Foe Quits, Charging Fund-Cut Threat” New York Times, Nov 22, 1972; pg. NJ74

[15] Charles Q. Finley “Chief Quits Newark Crime Project” The Star Ledger, Nov 22, 1972; pg. 1

[16] Ibid.

[17] Guyot, 82.

[18] Ibid., 84.

[19] Elizabeth Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016), 161.

[20] Ibid., 99.

Member of the Week: Matthew Guariglia

39310556_10213341790634339_3231092978973933568_oMatthew Guariglia

Ph.D. Candidate in History

University of Connecticut

@mguariglia

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

My current research explores how policing changed as U.S. cities became more racially and ethnically diverse between the 1860s and the 1920s. A few years ago I became very interested in how the state learns about citizens and how that knowledge is employed in the project of policing and social control.

After years of research, what I’ve discovered is that between around 1895 and 1920, police departments experimented with a number of different tactics in order to make people it deemed too foreign to be “legible” to the state more policeable. I’ve also been surprised at how international my scope has become in order to tell this story. By tracing the origins of these different tactics and technologies used on the streets of New York City, my dissertation has widened to include U.S. colonial governance and race making in the Philippines and Cuba, criminal anthropology in Italy, newly invented information management techniques in Germany, as well as a number of policing tactics present in European cities that were developed in colonies in East Africa and South Asia.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

Last semester I taught African American History from 1865 to the present, which really helped me solidify a lot of the themes and ideas in my dissertation. I had been having trouble conceptualizing the difference between how immigrants and African Americans in New York were subject to two entirely different modes of policing and what that meant for the project of racial state building. Getting the chance to teach Reconstruction and the history of Black citizenship really helped me develop this idea of police as citizen-makers who could deploy different styles of policing depending on who they were bringing in to the national fold and who was being excluded.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

 Lately, I’ve been very encouraged and inspired by the recent scholarship pulling the conversation on race, crime, policing, and incarceration further into the past. I believe the genealogies of mass incarceration go back much further than post-war policy. For me, Adam Malka’s The Men of Mobtown, Tera Eva Agyepong’s The Criminalization of Black Children, and Kelly Lytle Hernández’s City of Inmates, have all been brilliant at showing the intellectual and structural foundations on which the carceral state was built. In terms of upcoming books, I am excited for an upcoming book by Craig Robertson on the history of the filing cabinet. It’s a bit of a pet project and obsession of mine, but because the state’s collection and retention of information on racialized subjects is so central to my thinking on state power, that book is going to be a must read.

As for my own work, this fall I have an article coming out in the Journal of American Ethnic History that looks at the mechanization of bureaucracy and deportation in 1919-1920. It is also proving increasingly timely as it revolves around the political agency of bureaucrats to resist policy from within institutions, especially those institutions that are engaging with questions of race, immigration, and civil liberties.  

What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies? 

When visiting that city for research, go seek out the archivists, librarians, museum employees, and historical society workers. Their perspective is invaluable for understanding the history of a city. Them, and cab drivers. Telling people I study the history of the NYPD has brought me so many good tips that usually begin with, “My grandmother always used to say her father was a police officer……”

Last year your Made By History article was retweeted by none other than Edward Snowden. How do you plan to top that? 

That was a weird day. I had a lot of people accusing me of being a Russian spy. If I could top that experience, it would be by getting some policy makers to actually read the Made By History column. It’s always so disappointing when politicians propose solutions to problems like police brutality or mass surveillance and are unaware that those solutions already have long histories. I would love to start seeing some of that work seep into the political sphere.

“What I Did This Summer”: Drinking Urban History in Wisconsin

By Brian Goldstein and Theresa McCulla

As a family of historians who study the city, we are hardly unusual in the way we travel: we like to experience places new and old through food and drink. Less typical, however, is that one of us gets paid to do this. Theresa, as the historian of the American Brewing History Initiative at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, is building a collection around beer and brewing, especially related to the homebrewing and craft beer movements that began in the 1960s. This means visiting brewers, maltsters, growers, purveyors, and others, all to conduct oral histories and gather objects that can tell their stories. As of mid-2018, the United States had more than 6,500 breweries, so one can do this work in nearly any corner of the country. But this summer we visited Milwaukee and Madison, the two biggest cities in the appropriately (if vaguely) heart-shaped heart of American brewing history, Wisconsin.

We don’t usually go on work trips together, but made this a joint venture (with our willing, if not deeply underage, one-year-old in tow) to also visit family and friends in our onetime home state, and to bask in the unique loveliness of Wisconsin summer nights. Lake Michigan, Lake Mendota, and beer: these are the ingredients for doing June in Wisconsin right. Milwaukee and Madison, our destinations are ideal sites for historians who value city streets as much as long docks, adaptive reuse as much as beautiful sunsets. We have close relatives in Milwaukee, resident there for more than a decade now, and family roots in the badger state that go back to the mid-twentieth century. And we spent a wonderful year in Madison while Brian was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin in 2013-14.

What was notable in returning to places we hadn’t been in several years was the extent to which we could see changes in each city — and the coexistent layers of urban transformation — in the beer-glass-shaped lens that we brought to this trip. Brewing history is often urban history; urban history is easily experienced through brewing history. This is as true in Milwaukee as it is in New York, New Orleans, and elsewhere. In each Wisconsin city, we found places that we liked and enjoyed, but that were also interesting for reasons beyond what you can imbibe  (or eat) there. Places of beer production and consumption revealed the old and new superimposed–in going back to Milwaukee and Madison, we found each to be a palimpsest where amid many changes, brewing is a mainstay. Highlighted below are some spots that our fellow urban historians might like to see (drink?) when they find themselves in these two great destinations of the upper Midwest. What better way to learn the urban history of a place than through a cold one, some fried cheese curds, and maybe a donut or two?

Milwaukee

Most striking about Milwaukee is the degree to which a postindustrial city — maybe even the postindustrial city, a place that has never quite gotten back on its feet after the mass shuttering of factories during the last half-century — has nevertheless maintained its identity as a capital of beer. When machinery and equipment manufacturers closed or departed, beer companies like Schlitz and Pabst followed. But they didn’t bring the implosion of Milwaukee brewing, which evolved — if in fewer hands — and then was joined in recent decades by upstarts drawing from local history. For us, the history of Milwaukee old and new, and beer old and new, was best seen in two places that take very different approaches to water, yeast, hops, and grain.

First, and inevitably, is the sprawling campus west of downtown over which a red rounded-rectangular sign offers a familiar name: Miller. For more than 150 years, Miller has been churning out pleasurable, easy drinking experiences on these streets. Whether or not you are a Miller Lite fan, a tour of the factory and a visit to the tasting room are a necessary stop for anyone interested in architectural history, labor history, and the history of technology, or just the curious urban historian who wants to experience a beer factory that is itself the size of a small city (“Miller Valley,” they call it). In seeing buildings born over decades, one might find oneself thinking that these bottling lines have churned on, unaffected by the history around them. But of course, Miller is now actually MillerCoors, owned by the multinational corporation MolsonCoors. With offices in Chicago, enough plants across the U.S. that you need two hands to count them, and markets around the world, this is as much a story of globalization as one of the local history of German immigrants like Frederick Miller. If Miller’s arrival here helped give rise to Milwaukee’s industrial ascent, the plant today is a reminder that cities like this one can function as nodes in a worldwide economy while continuing to struggle with trenchant poverty and severe segregation.

Miller’s archives tell a story more than a century old, of Milwaukeeans and others who looked to “Miller Valley” to find the high life. Photograph by Theresa McCulla.

Amid Miller’s persistence, one major change in the cultural and brewing landscape of Milwaukee, as in many cities, has been a new wave of smaller breweries that have emerged in the last few decades. Very often, these draw from the brewing history of the city; likewise, they sometimes take advantage of the industrial architecture that remains. Some have specifically asked how they might be part of addressing the challenges Milwaukeeans still navigate. One that we visited, Good City Brewing, suggests this interest in its very name. Founder David Dupee (a high school classmate of Brian’s, originally from Cincinnati, Ohio), recalled a past conversation with his wife and friends in which they decided to commit to Milwaukee: to stay, make the city their home, and contribute to their neighborhood. Constructing a brewery in a former bicycle shop, Dupee and his business partners chose the slogan “Seek the Good” and the logo of a key to encourage their customers to imagine that they hold a key to the city and the ability to help those around them. Frequently, Good City staff venture outside the brewery’s walls, participating in a different volunteer activity each month. The brewery also invites the community in; when we visited on a weekday afternoon, the taproom’s bar stools were nearly full. A shelf of board games kept even the youngest visitors entertained.

Good City Brewing, in an old bike shop, imagines a Milwaukee where modern towers, sheaves of barley, hops, and glasses of locally-brewed beer together make up the city’s skyline. Photograph by Theresa McCulla.

The stories of Miller and Good City show how, in different ways and different eras, breweries change the urban fabric around them, whether in employing thousands with steady manufacturing jobs, enabling them to buy homes and plant roots in the city, or in creating a new kind of third place: craft beer’s taproom.

Madison

Though only 90 minutes away, Madison is experiencing a markedly different moment in its history than its bigger sibling to the east. When we left in the summer of 2014, broad East Washington Avenue was already in the midst of a transition from car dealers and brownfields into apartment buildings with high rents and commercial tenants like Google. But four years saw urban development reach a fever pitch here and throughout Madison, where a city that has always balanced between blue-collar jobs and white-collar jobs has tipped more toward the latter. The city’s Oscar Mayer plant closed in 2018 after a century on the east side. State government and the university, long major employers here, have seen startups, social networks, and search engines increasingly fill space both in and around the city: homegrown Epic and ShopBop as well as offices from companies like Microsoft, Zendesk, the aforementioned Google, and Amazon (now ShopBop’s owner).

Serious questions about affordability, equity, and access surround the kind of transition that many mayors envy, and this is no exception in Madison where housing prices have risen markedly as more working-class bungalows find BMWs in their driveways. Yet if it is harder to find a factory-manufactured hotdog in the City of Four Lakes, it is ever easier to find beer, both brewed and served, in spaces old and new, most of which tap into the city’s long history even as they symbolize its more recent transitions.

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In a changing Madison, Memorial Union Terrace has remained a space where students, faculty, staff, residents, and visitors all find a seat in the famous Sunburst chairs, a cold drink, a warm brat, and a stunning view of Lake Mendota. Photographs by Theresa McCulla and Brian Goldstein.

That said, the best place to have a glass or a pitcher in Madison is not new — though newly redone — and is notably democratic. Is there a better public space in the United States than the Memorial Union Terrace at the University of Wisconsin-Madison? We haven’t found one. On the day we visited, alumni, students, and other visitors filled the Terrace’s famous Sunburst chairs as the sun lowered over Lake Mendota. The air smelled like grilled corn and brats, student-made ice cream from the Daily Scoop melted from cones onto sticky knuckles, and multiple taps at the outdoor bars pulled Wisconsin-made beer. UW is a land- grant university whose agricultural heritage is still strongly felt. Undergraduate employees at Bucky’s Butchery, an on-campus operation, craft lamb chorizo and beef jerky from animals raised on UW land. Others turn out cheese in curds and blocks, as well as that famous ice cream, at the school’s Babcock Hall Dairy Plant. Part of the same history, the Terrace has functioned for nearly a century as an urban oasis: a lakefront patio just a two-minute walk from State Street, this Big Ten college town’s main drag. An oral history that Theresa recorded with a Wisconsin Historical Society historian and the student president of the Wisconsin Union captured the ways in which beer — served at the Union since the 1930s — has been central (though not essential, especially for underage undergrads) to the Terrace experience for decades. Here is a place where grain, hops, dairy, meat, and a stunning landscape unite Wisconsin’s rural and urban histories in a uniquely sensory way.

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Once a nanobrewery, One Barrel has graduated to a bigger scale but remains a neighborhood mainstay at the corner of  Winnebago and Atwood. Photograph by Theresa McCulla.

The Union Terrace sits on the west end of Madison’s picturesque isthmus. Drive — or, if you’re a true Madisonian, bike — three miles to its east end to find yourself in a much smaller space that speaks to newer histories of brewing in the Midwest and the United States. One Barrel Brewing Company, formerly an ultra-small batch “nanobrewery,” opened in 2012 under the leadership of UW grad Peter Gentry. Installed in a former grocery — barrel-aging beer now rests in the grocer’s cellar storage rooms — One Barrel caught the wave of explosive growth in craft beer that made Gentry’s business one of hundreds to open that year across the country. Like Milwaukee’s Good City, Madison’s One Barrel shows a firm focus on its surrounding neighborhood and its very local customer base. The brewery opened on a shoestring budget and was a labor of love for Gentry’s friends and family. His father, a woodworker, even built the beautiful, horseshoe-shaped bar that dominates the taproom. These days, local drinkers’ allegiance to this new-ish neighborhood mainstay can be seen in the blue and white mugs of One Barrel’s Mug Club. They stand behind the bar, waiting to be filled with the likes of Commuter Kolsch, Penguin Pale Ale, and 5th Element Rye IPA.

One Barrel was part of a larger retail trend in the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara neighborhood (or just Schenk-Atwood), whose early 20th century streets have embodied the transition from factory workers to knowledge workers. Though you can still find bars that serve those who work the lines in the last of the factories on the city’s Near East Side, more likely you will notice home stores, creative chocolatiers (the wonderful Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier), and a cool coffee shop or two. Similar stories have unfolded elsewhere in Madison, and a trip to One Barrel doesn’t come without reminders (at least for the hungry) of this history of neighborhood change: behind the bar you can find charcuterie from Underground Food Collective, one of the most decorated of the recent chef-driven enterprises that have made this a nationally-recognized food city, as well as pizza from Fraboni’s, an Italian grocer and deli that has stood south of the university since the early 1970s. Fraboni’s is one of the last of the businesses in its neighborhood to remind visitors that the intersection of Park and Regent Streets was once known as Spaghetti Corners (the nearby Italian Workmen’s Club, opened in the 1910s and with still-excellent pizza, is an original vestige of those days).

What happened to Spaghetti Corners is a story very familiar to most any urban historian: this area, known as the “Triangle” or Greenbush, was largely cleared in the city’s campaign of urban renewal in the 1960s. New housing and hospitals, and the ongoing expansion of nearby UW, foreshadowed the Madison that was to emerge in the later 20th and early 21st centuries. But amidst the large modernist constructions of that mid-century era, other traces remain to remind eaters that this was not just a community of Italian Americans (many of whom worked on the construction of the nearby state capitol building) but also African American and Jewish migrants. One of those came later but still advertises Kosher wares with a neon window sign: Greenbush Donuts started in the mid-1990s and keeps the old neighborhood’s name alive. A required stop, its wonderful plain and blueberry old-fashioned donuts are an excellent morning prelude to evening beers (or you could, we suppose, eat them together?).

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Greenbush Bakery looks back to the old neighborhood in its name and in the glowing “Kosher” sign, a reminder of the multiethnic community that stood on these streets pre-urban renewal. Donuts and beer: the perfect combination whether or not you are Homer Simpson. Photograph by Brian Goldstein.

People look back on Greenbush nostalgically now, appreciative of what a multi-ethnic neighborhood of dense streets would have offered; nostalgia for Madison and Wisconsin’s even older past shows up in one of the newest additions to the beer landscape too. Not far from One Barrel and on the banks of Lake Monona, Madisonians have since 2017 been able to find the Olbrich Biergarten in one of the city’s public parks, Olbrich Park. The very name (“garten” not “garden”) is an allusion to the German beermakers who were central to the state’s brewing history; on its taps — serving Karben4, AltBrew, Next Door, One Barrel, and even Good City (among other local breweries) — are the names that have written a new chapter in this history. It seems very fitting that in a public park, in a changing city, one can enjoy a not-too-hot summer evening in a space that joins the 19th century and the 21st. Of course, you don’t have to be an urban historian to enjoy beer and brats in a nice place like this, though we venture to say that a historical perspective allows one to better read the multiple landscapes superimposed on the isthmus.

New Glarus

With brewing history in mind and heart during our June visit to Wisconsin, we had to make one more stop: New Glarus, about 40 minutes southwest of Madison, and particularly the New Glarus Brewing Company, an institution so beloved that while it only — and famously — sells beer in the state of Wisconsin, it is nonetheless the 16th largest craft brewery in the nation. One might ask why a brewery in the middle of rural Wisconsin dairy country surfaces on an urban history blog. Yet the newly built home of Spotted Cow (the brewery’s best-selling beerer) is quite literally the model of a small town, with a little of the Germany that birthed the state’s famous brewers (and some of the brewery’s equipment), more of the Switzerland that was the birthplace of many early residents of New Glarus (the nearby town, itself constructed to look Swiss), and even a re-created Gothic ruin, embracing picnic tables instead of church pews. Architectural consistency aside, the effect is a postmodern stage set in which rural Wisconsinites and hipster bachelor and bachelorette parties all find a little gemütlichkeit. The brewery is famous for good reason and here you can go well beyond Spotted Cow to a broad range of brews, many experiments only found on these “streets.”

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The center of the New Glarus Brewing Company is a city plaza, quaint even on a hot summer day in June. With alpenhorns playing, a cold one in hand, and gentle farmlands beyond, you might soon forget you aren’t in Switzerland. Photograph by Brian Goldstein.

When you are in a fake city plaza in the state’s glacier-free Driftless area, surrounded by beer taps and, yes, even two gentleman playing alpenhorns, it seems best to not ask too many questions about how you got there. Enjoy — moderately — a few tastes, then admire the rolling hills on your way back to the cities that beer helped build–and continues to rebuild. We certainly did.

 

mcculla_tTheresa McCulla is the historian of the American Brewing History Initiative at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Her book-in-progress, Consumable City: Food and Race in New Orleans, shows how the pleasurable sensory experiences associated with New Orleans’s culinary world made food a uniquely powerful tool in the exclusion of people of color.IMG_6127

Brian Goldstein is a historian of the American built environment and an assistant professor at Swarthmore College. He is the author of The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle Over Harlem.

The Value of Farmland: Rural Gentrification and the Movement to Stop Sprawl

This post by Angela Shope Stiefbold is our second entrant into the Second Annual UHA/The Metropole Graduate Student Blogging Contest. We invited graduate students to submit essays on theme of “Striking Gold,” whether lucre or archival treasures. Stiefbold’s essay hews towards the former interpretation, examining how rapidly rising metropolitan land value can mean “Striking Gold” for some land owners while threatening the livelihood of others.

Rents are rapidly rising. Property values are skyrocketing. Real estate taxes are ever-increasing. Long-time owners are selling out and moving away. Newcomers express values and politics at odds with older residents. This sounds like a gentrifying urban neighborhood—but it was the situation in not-long-to-be-rural, mid-twentieth century Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

J. Warren Shelly, whose family began farming in Bucks County in the 1700s, worried that he would have to sell the 65-acre farm where he was born, because its real estate tax assessment was increased 900 percent in 1972. Yet, as he noted, “The land isn’t for sale, so the market value doesn’t mean anything to us.” He went on to observe “It’s a funny thing…A lot of people came here originally because they like the way it is out here, with the open spaces and green fields. Those are the same people who are taxing us out of existence.”[1]

geographic Position 1954 plan
“The Geographic Position of Buck’s County.” Source: “General Background, Buck’s County Regional Plan, Part 1” (Doylestown, PA: Buck’s County Planning Commission, 1954), follows p. 1.

Shelly was one of many Bucks County farmers who found their lives upended as the demand for exurban estates and suburban tract homes transformed their rural townships and caused land prices to sharply appreciate. Some farmers happily sold their land and pocketed the windfall, which allowed them to comfortably retire from the hard work and financial uncertainty of farming. But other farmers found increased property values and the higher real estate taxes they produced problematic if they wanted to continue to farm or to live out their retirement years on land that had been in their family for generations.

While many of the new arrivals were sympathetic to the plight of neighboring farmers, the novelty of the problem and the glacial rate of change in state and local government policy resulted in many long-time residents being uprooted from their land. When programs were finally enacted to preserve prime farmland and agriculture, the new policies were implemented largely because farmers found allies in their exurban neighbors who valued the amenity that a farm landscape provided.

The history of suburbanization has largely been written in order to understand the experience and motivations of the people who moved from city to suburb.[2] I am interested in the perspective of the farmers who were living in the rural areas to which suburbanization came. The legacies of conflicts over land, how it is regulated and taxed, and who can afford to live on it, continue to reverberate not just in cities, but at the rural-urban fringe.

UFPA Newsletter 1933
Newsletter of UFPA. Source: Agrarian Periodicals in the United States, 1920-1960 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1977), microfilm.

For generations, Bucks County residents sustained their households by both consuming and selling to urban markets the products of their land.[3] Family farms, along with a few large commercial farming enterprises established in the 1920s, shipped tons of produce to Philadelphia, New York, and other nearby cities. According to the 1940 U.S. Agricultural Census, Bucks County farmers produced thirty percent of the state’s total sale value of vegetables, harvesting more broccoli, parsnips, spinach, rhubarb, turnips, carrots, and green beans than the rest of Pennsylvania combined.[4]

Yet even with such productivity, many of the county’s farmers struggled during the Great Depression. Crop prices dropped after WWI and were slow to recover. Additionally, the agricultural industry was changing, and many family farms could not compete with larger, more efficient, better capitalized and better-connected commercial operations. Bucks County farmers lobbied for tax relief and policies that would help the small operator, both through the Grange, the largest farm organization in the county, as well as a more radical local group, the United Farmers Protective Association (UFPA). The UFPA went so far as to disrupt sheriff’s sales and threaten to block milk deliveries in the early 1930s. Ultimately the county’s “dirt farmers” got little relief and many gave up and sold their farms—often to a new type of Bucks County landowner.

Starkey Bean Field 1941 LOC
Marion Post Wolcott, Portable irrigation unit in bean field. Starkey Farms, Morrisville Pennsylvania, May 1941, https://www.loc.gov/item/2017806944/.

Howard Paxson, lifelong Solebury Township resident and farmer, commented in 1942 that “there had been great changes in his community since he started farming. Few farms were today in the same hands…only one farm was being farmed by the third generation.”[5] The county’s countryside attracted wealthy summer visitors from Philadelphia and New York City, and in the 1930s they purchased Bucks County land in growing numbers. Some new owners tried their own hand at agriculture, but more often they converted the farms to manicured estates, rented the bulk of the fields to a neighboring farmer, or hired managers to run the farm, sometimes consolidating and converting several diversified, general farms into cattle or horse breeding operations. One thing that held true for almost all of these estate-farm owners was that they did not need to be profitable farmers—for them agriculture was a hobby.

Long-time local farmers, like Benjamin Kirson, complained that “wealthy men who have bought farms in this vicinity [a]ffect other farmers. They have raised inspection standards too high and the high wages they pay and superior living conditions they provide make it hard for th[e] average farmer to keep help satisfied.”[6] Of other exurban estate owners, William Greenawalt, agricultural extension agent, said “…I met many who had no idea of what to do with the farm after they had it. Apparently they had put most of their cash into the purchase and for repairs to buildings and then didn’t have the capital for equipment or stocking. They had no particular interest in the land other than as a home in the country.”[7]

Farm 1939 LOC
Marion Post Wolcott, Farm. Bucks County, Pennsylvania. June 1939, https://www.loc.gov/item/2017801231/

After WWII, Bucks County’s farmland faced what Dr. Gerald Brees, director of the Bureau of Urban Research at Princeton University, described as “the path of two giant steamrollers, one from New York City and the other from Philadelphia.”[8] Real estate promoters had long encouraged industrial growth in the lower end of the county, the location of highways and railroads connecting Philadelphia and New York. In the 1950s that growth finally took off, with large industrial and residential development projects making significant changes in the landscape. They included U.S. Steel’s Fairless Works, which employed over 7,000 on a 3,800-acre site and Levitt and Sons’ second Levittown development of over 17,000 houses across eight square miles.

Aerial-View-of-Levittown
“Levittown dwarfs a neighboring farmstead,” http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/levittowns

This wave of development displaced thousands of county farmers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau there were 4,299 Bucks County farms in 1940, but only 1,159 in 1969.[9] Herman L. Margerum, Jr., president of the Morrisville Bank, commented in 1953 that due to the new suburban growth “many old-timers have moved after selling out at good prices. Some purchased rich farmland up-county, others bought farms in Delaware and a few retired to Florida.”[10] By 1960, farmer Harry Atkinson, Jr. complained that “There has been no land sold south of Doylestown in the last 10 years that a farmer could afford to buy and farm.”[11]

If a farmer wanted to stay put, forgo the windfall of increased property value, and tolerate the change in the community, property taxes posed a final obstacle. Suburban development required substantial local investment in new public facilities, primarily funded by real estate taxes. When the Bucks County Board of Assessment released the results of a county-wide reassessment in 1972, farmers saw their property valued at levels two to ten times higher. Operating on the slimmest margins of profitability, they lobbied for relief. Otto Fink, a poultry farmer in Milford Township, said in reaction to his new assessment, “Either the new assessment on my farm is lowered for 1973 or I’m out of business. It’s as simple as that.”[12] The prospect of many farmers doing the same was expressed by Walter Wurster, representative of the Bucks County Farmers’ Association, who reported “it’s not an assessment notice, it’s an eviction notice.”[13]

Given the declining importance of agriculture in Bucks County, one would imagine that farmers faced an uphill battle to convince local authorities to help their situation.[14] In 1970 farm operators made up less than half of one percent of the county’s total population (415,056).[15] In 1974, the value of the county’s agricultural production was $22 million, a small fraction of the $2.7 billion in revenue produced by the county’s manufacturing firms.[16] Only one third of the county’s land area remained agricultural use.[17]

However, the county’s farmers found strong allies among non-farm residents, many of whom moved to Bucks because they wanted to live in a farming landscape. Additionally, there was a growing movement for environmental protection, including preserving prime agricultural soils for local food production. James Iden Smith, the ninth generation of his family to own his farm and a Quaker involved in the UFPA in the 1930s and soil conservation efforts throughout his life, found himself serving as a spokesperson for farmland preservation in the 1970s. He observed that “Land produces everything we need for clean, healthful living. If we use that up eventually the country is going to suffer for it.”[18]

The first protectors of the rural countryside, beginning in the late 1930s, tried to restrict growth using township zoning ordinances that required large lot sizes and prohibited multi-family housing. By the early 1970s, a more ecological approach to guiding growth was promoted by the Bucks County Planning Commission. It urged limiting development of areas with environmental constraints or significant natural resources. They recommended agricultural soils with prime productivity remain 95 percent undeveloped.

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Blue Areas are designated Prime Agricultural District. “Comprehensive Plan: Bucks County, Pennsylvania” (Bucks County Planning Commission: Doylestown, PA, June 1977).

The first protectors of the rural countryside, beginning in the late 1930s, tried to restrict growth using township zoning ordinances that required large lot sizes and prohibited multi-family housing. By the early 1970s, a more ecological approach to guiding growth was promoted by the Bucks County Planning Commission. It urged limiting development of areas with environmental constraints or significant natural resources. They recommended agricultural soils with prime productivity remain 95 percent undeveloped.

Many farmers opposed these approaches to preserving the agricultural landscape because they reduced the wealth embodied in their land—their retirement nest-egg. If fewer homes could be built on their farm, developers would pay less for it. Objecting to zoning proposed in Buckingham Township, farmer Edwin Daniels testified that because the future profitability of agriculture was questionable and it was unlikely farmers’ children would continue farming, it was important “for us to hang onto the value of our farms for them.”[19] In the early 1970s housing developers and landowners brought successful court challenges against restrictive zoning in several Bucks County townships.

Following this setback, the county planning commission, proponents of open space preservation, environmentalists, and anti-growth activists began collaborating with farmers. They embraced programs designed to protect farmland not by prohibiting non-farm uses, but by encouraging the success of farming operations. As the Bucks County Planning Commission’s director of community planning James C. Lodge noted, “using agriculture as an activity and preserving agriculture itself is going to be one of the mechanisms to preserve land.”[20]

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Graphic used by Bucks County Planning Commission to describe factors contributing to farmland loss. “Agricultural Preservation in Bucks County” (Bucks County Planning Commission: Doylestown, PA, July 1979)

Bucks County civic leaders helped propel bills through the state legislature that provided real estate tax relief to landowners who promised not to develop farmland. County and township officials implemented a purchase of development rights program, funded through state, county, and local bond initiatives (overwhelmingly approved by voters), which paid farmers the difference between the market value of land and its farm-use value, in return for an easement on the land forever prohibiting its development. Between 1989 and 2016 over $151 million was spent through the county’s Agricultural Land Preservation Program to preserve more than 15,000 acres of farmland.[21] This subsidy provided farmers access to the development value of their land without destroying the productive value of its soils or the amenity of its pastoral landscape, appreciated by farmers and non-farmers alike. Yet this solution came much too late for most of Bucks County’s farmers. In 2012 only 17 percent of the county remained in farmland, down from 67 percent in 1930 and the number of farms had fallen from 4,360 to 827.[22]

Concurrently, individual farmers made changes in their operations in order to prosper in a suburban market, with the advice and assistance of county agencies, farm organizations, and the Penn State Extension Service. They increasingly sold plants, fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products directly to local consumers, shifted to organic production or specialty crops, and incorporated farm-based-entertainment into their operations. These farmers practiced a form of agriculture very different from that of the “dirt farmers” of the 1930s, who were unsuccessful at rallying local support for the distressed family farmer. Instead, they survived because they provided a service and amenity valued by their non-farm neighbors. One can see similarities with the experience in gentrifying city neighborhoods, where the influx of new, affluent residents redefines what is considered appropriately authentic urbanism.

1977 video with James Iden Smith talking about farming and preserving farmland from 31:00 to 33:40

In my forthcoming dissertation, I further investigate the diverse and complex motivations for and opposition to farmland preservation. In presenting this summary, I have simplified a great deal of the contentious public debate over the fate of Bucks County’s farmland and farmers. Residents and local officials debated: the rights of land owners; the fairness of using real estate taxes to fund public services; the viability of small-scale agriculture; and the responsibility of government to represent and protect the interests of its citizens, both current and future. Rarely admitted publicly, but likely motivation for some anti-sprawl, pro-farm activists included keeping low-income and minority residents at a distance. Homebuilder and Bucks County Planning Commission member Ralph Pisani said of the fight over development, “…it’s difficult to tell the good guys from the bad [g]uys…farmers, land owners, legitimate environmentalists, bigots (disguised as environmentalists), professional planners, municipal officials and land developers comprise the list of combatants…the battlefields are the farms…the weapons are the federal and state constitutions.”[23] Protecting farmland was a way to slow suburban sprawl while supporting the indisputably worthwhile causes of protecting the environment, the food supply, the American farmer, and the rural landscape.

Stiefbold PhotoAngela Shope Stiefbold is a PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati, where she studies urban history, planning history, and public history, and has become increasingly interested in their intersection with agricultural and rural history. She earned a Master of City and Regional Planning from UNC-Chapel Hill, and her career in city planning included working as a Senior Planner for the Bucks County Planning Commission. She has also served on her local historic preservation, economic development, and planning commissions.

[1] Clark DeLeon, “Farmers’ Choice: Raise Crops…Or Tax Money,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 6, 1972, Newspapers.com.

[2] Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); Robert Fishman, Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia (New York: Basic Books, 1987); Dolores Hayden, Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth (New York: Pantheon, 2003). One of the few works to discuss the agency of the rural landowner in the history of suburbanization is: Mark Linder and Lawrence S. Zacharias, Of Cabbages and Kings County: Agriculture and the Formation of Modern Brooklyn (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1999).

[3] For a comprehensive history of Pennsylvania agriculture, see Sally McMurry, Pennsylvania Farming: A History in Landscapes (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017).

[4] “County Farm Situation Is Undergoing Changes,” Daily Intelligencer Clippings Files, “Bucks Co Agriculture, 1915-1945,” Spruance Library, Bucks County Historical Society; U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Census of Agriculture, 1940, Volume 1 First and Second Series, State Repots, Statistics for Counties,” (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1942), http://agcensus.mannlib.cornell.edu/AgCensus.

[5] Minutes, March 4, 1942, Minute Book, Box 2, Folder 7, Pomona Grange #22 Collection, Spruance Library, Bucks County Historical Society.

[6] Minutes, September 6, 1944, Minute Book, Box 3, Folder 1, Pomona Grange #22 Collection, Spruance Library, Bucks County Historical Society.

[7] William F. Greenawalt, “Annual Report: December 1, 1949-November 30, 1950” (Agricultural Extension Association of Bucks County: Doylestown, PA),” n.d., 1.

[8] “Claims Present Bucks Situation Was Inevitable,” Bristol (PA) Courier, March 3, 1952, Newspapers.com.

[9] U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Census of Agriculture, 1940, Volume 1 First and Second Series, State Repots, Statistics for Counties,” (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1942), http://agcensus.mannlib.cornell.edu/AgCensus; U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Census of Agriculture, 1969, Volume 1 Area Reports, Part 9 Pennsylvania, Section 1. Summary Data,” (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972), http://agcensus.mannlib.cornell.edu/AgCensus.

[10] William G. Weart, “Bucks County Boom Beset by Problems,” New York Times, December 26, 1953, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times.

[11] Minutes, March 2, 1960, Minute Book, Box 2, Folder 7, Pomona Grange #22 Collection, Spruance Library, Bucks County Historical Society.

[12] Sonya Sharp, “Farmers Feel New Assessments Will Put Them Out of Business,” Morning Call (Allentown, PA), August 2, 1972, Newspapers.com.

[13] Clark DeLeon, “Farmers’ Choice: Raise Crops…Or Tax Money,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 6, 1972, Newspapers.com.

[14] For a history of federal efforts to preserve farmland, see Tim Lehman, Public Values, Private Lands: Farmland Preservation Policy, 1933-1985 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995).

[15] Richard L. Forstall, “PENNSYLVANIA: Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990,” U.S. Census Bureau, https://www.census.gov/population/cencounts/pa190090.txt.

[16] Bucks County Planning Commission, “Comprehensive Plan, Bucks County Pennsylvania,” (Doylestown, PA: June 1977), 22.

[17] U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Census of Agriculture, 1974, Volume, Part 38, Pennsylvania State and County Data,” (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1977), http://agcensus.mannlib.cornell.edu/AgCensus.

[18] Michael B. Smith, “Bucolic Buckingham Township Resists the Developers’ ‘Cure’,” Philadelphia Inquirer May 26, 1974, Newspapers.com.

[19] Lawrence C. Hall, “Officials Reveal New Zone Plan,” Daily Intelligencer (Doylestown, PA), July 27, 1973, Newspapers.com.

[20] Meeting Minutes, March 14, 1979, Minute Book 4, (Bucks County Planning Commission: Doylestown, PA), 87.

[21] “Annual Report, 2016” (Bucks County Agricultural Land Preservation Program: Doylestown, PA, August 2016), 9-10. Privately-funded nonprofit organizations also pursued development rights purchase programs in the county.

[22] U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Census of Agriculture, 2012,” https://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_2_County_Level. U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Census of Agriculture, 1930,” http://agcensus.mannlib.cornell.edu/AgCensus.

[23] Ralph Pisani, “In Development War, There Are Only Victims,” Daily Intelligencer (Doylestown, PA) December 15, 1977, Newspapers.com.

Member of the Week: Malcolm Cammeron

IMG-3199Malcolm Cammeron

2-yr MA Student

History Department

The University of Alabama

@itsmalcolmyall

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

I’m interested in the post-Civil War “Deep South” with a particular focus on the intersection of public policy, labor, cities, and civil rights. My current project explores urban renewal and resistance in an Alabama community following the Housing Act of 1949. Most studies of housing in the state focus on Birmingham, the state’s largest city. However, I hope to broaden our understanding of the practice in the state and its effects on communities. I first learned of urban renewal efforts in the community I study when conducting an oral history interview with a former civil rights activist. The former activist believed that urban renewal and other events in the community had been overlooked and encouraged research on the subject.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

This semester I am a teaching assistant for an undergraduate world history course in which I lead four weekly discussion sections. Each week I make an effort to incorporate current events or elements of popular culture into our discussions. Most recently, I asked my students to analyze a classic hip-hop song as a primary document. I find that making the material relevant encourages engagement, particularly for those students who are not history majors or have had poor experiences in the subject in high school.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

2019 marks Alabama’s bicentennial. To commemorate the occasion, organizations and institutions around the state have hosted educational programs and activities. I’ve celebrated by grounding myself in important texts for study in the state including Alabama: The History of a Deep South State (recently reissued for the bicentennial) by William Warren Rogers, Robert David Ward, Leah Rawls Atkins, and Wayne Flynt plus Michael Fitzgerald’s recently published Reconstruction in Alabama: From Civil War to Redemption in the Cotton South.

Recent titles about city planning and urban renewal I’ve also enjoyed include Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Secret History of How the Government Segregated America and N.D.B. Connolly’s A World More Concrete: Real Estate And The Remaking Of Jim Crow South Florida.

What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a thesis project related to urban history or urban studies?

I would encourage graduate students to engage local historians and consult local cultural institutions. Both are likely to have resources not available in larger collections or secondary sources. My own research has benefited tremendously from primary sources in the possession of local historians and local public library.

You recently interned at the White House Historical Association! Tell us about a really cool moment or experience you had, or something you learned as an intern that you may not have learned in the classroom.

The internship provided a great window into public history in the nation’s capital. My responsibilities included content development, marketing, and historical research. Also, as part of the internship experience, I visited the White House twice. On the first visit, I was among the first users for the Association’s new mobile app. The app is the twenty-first century version of the Association’s White House guidebook and offers users guided tours of the Executive Mansion.

Busting Out in WWII-Era Brooklyn

This piece by Emily Brooks is the first entrant into the Second Annual UHA/The Metropole Graduate Student Blogging Contest. We we invited graduate students to submit essays on theme of “Striking Gold,” whether lucre or archival treasures. Brooks’ interpretation of the theme hews to the latter, and she uses a memo discovered on a reel of micofilm to unspool a dramatic, cinematic story.

The nail file was a gift. Whether it belonged to Mary, Margaret, Estelle, Carmen, or Jean we will never know. What we do know, however, is that one of these 14 and 15-year-old girls acquired the file while on trial for juvenile delinquency at the Manhattan Children’s court in July 1944. This young woman then brought the nail file with her to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s Brooklyn shelter where the five white girls were imprisoned during the heat wave of early August 1944.[1]

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The four freedoms. Step right up folks, for the greatest ride in the world …“, Alfred T. Palmer, between 1941-1942, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

For these young incarcerated women, the nail file presented an opportunity. On the night of August 8, the five prisoners used the manicure file to scrape through a brass padlock securing the window in their dormitory. Once they had dispatched the lock, the girls crawled through the window and up a fire escape to access the roof of the building, carrying their bed sheets along. After reaching the roof, they knotted the sheets together and climbed down onto the roof of the Children’s Court building next door. The girls successfully evaded the court building’s custodian as he raised the flag on the roof the next morning, before escaping down the stairs and fleeing onto the street. They hailed a cab, despite lacking shoes and wearing white shelter uniforms. The quick-thinking young women informed the taxi driver that their clothing had been stolen while they were at Coney Island, and directed the driver to the apartment of a boyfriend on Madison Avenue.[2]

Mary, Margaret, Estelle, Carmen, and Jean’s dramatic escape created a number of public relations problems for New York City’s Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, Police Commissioner Lewis Valentine, and officials in the city’s court and police systems. The escape challenged the power of the state to control the behavior of young women during World War II, and forced city officials to reframe discussions around the necessity of this control. The superintendent of the Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children drafted a document for the head judge of the city’s Domestic Relations Court, innocuously-entitled “Memo: Regarding Escape of Five Girls from the Shelter, August 8, 1944,” which detailed the event and its subsequent irritations.[3]

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Mayor La Guardia speaks over WNYC on Grade A milk from Budget Room / World-Telegram photo by Fred Palumbo“, March 23, 1940, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Decades later, during another hot New York City summer, I found this memo on one of the hundreds of microfilm rolls dedicated to Mayor La Guardia’s records at the city’s Municipal Archives. I came upon the document, as well as a number of letters related to the escape, while performing research for my dissertation on the activities of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) during World War II. Exploring histories of policing in New York City presents challenges for historians since the NYPD often declines to share records with researchers, and sometimes even “misplaces” them.[4] Those records that do exist can provide insight into official police policies, but evaluating the impact of such policies or finding resistance to them can prove more elusive. The “Memo: Regarding Escape of Five Girls from the Shelter” provides a rare glimpse into the lives of five teenagers affected by the NYD’s wartime campaigns against juvenile delinquency, and an illustration of how they sought to resist this type of surveillance.

During the war, although the overall number of police officers decreased as men joined the military, young women came under increasing surveillance from the NYPD. Officers monitored the city’s streets, particularly around hubs of entertainment and transit, searching for teenage girls like the escapees. Once arrested, many of these young women shared the fate of Mary, Margaret, Estelle, Carmen, and Jean, whose offenses included staying out late and spending time with older men.[5] Girls had socialized with men throughout the twentieth century, sometimes coming into conflict with their parents and the state because of it.[6] For many women of all ages, however, World War II, introduced new employment opportunities, and for some young women the war brought reduced parental supervision. As a number of historians have documented, new sexual possibilities and anxieties emerged along with the economic and social disruptions of war.[7] Historian Amanda Littauer has argued convincingly young people seized on these opportunities to engage in premarital sex at higher rates than their prewar counterparts.[8]

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Cure juvenile delinquency in the slums by planned housing“, Federal Art Project, 1935, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

At the same time as teenagers like the escapees explored new social and sexual freedoms, Valentine and La Guardia called for intensified NYPD campaigns against prostitution, juvenile delinquency, and other crimes of “vice.” New York City’s leaders, responding in part to federal demands to monitor Americans during wartime, framed policing Gotham as an essential part of the war effort. [9] The NYPD needed, officials argued, to protect enlisted men from sexually transmitted infections and to maintain “order” in an increasingly interracial wartime city. Throughout the war, the department’s campaigns against juvenile delinquency focused on arresting boys of color for supposed crimes of minor violence or theft, and monitoring young women of all races for inappropriate social or sexual activities.[10] In the case of young women, officials argued that monitoring their behavior and incarcerating them for violations served to protect both arrestees themselves and their male potential sexual partners.[11]

Although officials held that Mary, Margaret, Estelle, Carmen, and Jean’s disappearance endangered both the young shoeless women, and their potential male paramours, interactions between the state and Estelle’s mother following the incident belied this claim. Estelle’s mother, Elisabeth, visited the office of the society that ran the shelter to seek more information about her daughter’s escape. The superintendent described Elisabeth as “belligerent” and “a high-strung, nervous person.” The shelter’s representatives reminded Elisabeth multiple times that her own daughter and the other girls had run away from home before. The officials argued, therefore, that “nothing too serious could happen to her at this point beyond what has already happened to her.” Elisabeth returned the next day, seeking more answers. She asked for her daughter’s possessions and inquired how it had been possible for the young women to flee without shoes or street clothing. The superintendent lamented that by the end of her second visit Elisabeth had become “extremely suspicious and doubtful about the good faith of the representatives of the Society.”[12] Estelle’s mother also lodged complaints with members of the NYPD and the mayor. The mayor expressed limited concern, proclaiming that “when five girls use such extreme means to escape, it is almost impossible to restrain them.”[13] The dismissive responses to Elisabeth’s anxiety about the whereabouts of her daughter demonstrated by the representatives of Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Mayor La Guardia suggest that the protection of teenage girls was not the paramount concern of these city officials. The city seemed more concerned with controlling “all the female problems we have prowling the streets today,” as Police Commissioner Valentine had articulated a few months before the escape.[14]

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Collier’s House at PEDAC, New York City. Girl’s room I“, Gottscho-Schlesnier, Inc., 1940, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

What did Mary, Margaret, Estelle, Carmen, and Jean gain by fleeing the shelter’s confines to “prowl” the city’s streets? They gained freedom from the control of shelter employees and their families, as well as unsupervised access to the city, which they used to visit Harlem and Coney Island, among other places. What this freedom meant to the girls is difficult to say. For Jean, who lived with a foster family in New Jersey, it may have meant unrestricted access to the excitements of New York City. For Estelle, who sought out a boyfriend at Floyd Bennet Field in southeastern Brooklyn, perhaps these few days provided an opportunity to continue a prohibited relationship. For Margaret, who was the oldest of four in a working-class family, maybe the escape was a respite from familial responsibilities.[15] The “Memo: Regarding Escape of Five Girls from the Shelter, August 8, 1944,” provides a small window into a few days in the lives of five of the young women that police, court, and political leaders deemed so threating to the health of the city and nation in wartime. The details of their escape suggest that whatever a few days of unsupervised free time in the city meant to these young women, they went to great lengths to attain it.

Featured image (at top): Eggers & Higgins, 542 5th Ave., New York City. Six girls, Gottscho-Schlesnier, Inc., 1946, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Brooksheadshot

Emily Brooks is a Ph.D. candidate in the history department at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her writing has appeared in the Journal of Policy History, processhistory.org, and the gothamcenter.org. She is currently working on a dissertation about anti-vice policing in New York City during World War II. 

 

[1] “4 Year Heat Record Set at 96.3” New York Times, August 5, 1944, 1. Throughout this piece I will use first names only to protect the identities of the young women and their families.

[2] From Wilson D. McKerrow, to Bruce Cobb, Memo: Regarding Escape of Five Girls from the Shelter, August 8, 1944. New York City Municipal Archives, Fiorello La Guardia Collection, Roll 111, Folder 37.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Joseph Goldstein, “Old New York Police Surveillance is Found, Forcing Big Brother Out of Hiding” New York Times, June 16, 2016.

[5] From Wilson D. McKerrow, to Bruce Cobb, Memo: Regarding Escape of Five Girls from the Shelter, August 8, 1944. New York City Municipal Archives, Fiorello La Guardia Collection, Roll 111, Folder 37.

[6] For discussions of the policing of young women in progressive-era New York see Cheryl Hicks, Talk with you like a Woman: African American Women, Justice, and Reform in New York, 1890-1935. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010) and Ruth Alexander, The “Girl Problem”: Female Sexual Delinquency in New York, 1900-1930 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995). For more on the development of juvenile delinquency laws governing girls see Mary E. Odem, Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the Unites States, 1885-1920, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995).

[7] John D’Emilio Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983); Allan Berube, Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two (New York: The Free Press, 1990); Leisa D. Meyer Creating G.I. Jane: Sexuality and Power in the Women’s Army Corps During World War II (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).

[8] Amanda Littauer, Bad Girls: Young Women, Sex, and Rebellion Before the 1960s (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), 19-20.

[9] For examples of how officials handled these federal demands and wartime exigencies in Virginia see Pippa Holloway, Sexuality, Politics and Social Control in Virginia, 1920-1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), particularly chapters 6 and 7.

[10] Luis Alvarez uses the zoot suit as a lens through which to explore racialized policing of youth during WWII in The Power of the Zoot: Youth Culture and Resistance during World War II (Oakland: University of California Press, 2009). Clarence Tayler discusses the efforts of the city’s Teacher’s Union to defend African American boys targeted by the police in Civil Rights in New York City: From World War II to the Giuliani Era (New York City: Fordham University Press, 2011), particularly chapter 1 “To Be a Good American: The New York City Teacher’s Union and Race during the Second World War.”

[11] For a discussion about federal support for criminalization of female sexuality during the war see Marilyn Hegarty, Victory Girls, Khaki-Wackies, and Patriotutes: The Regulation of Female Sexuality during World War II (New York City: NYU Press, 2007) and for the different ways that women’s sexuality was mobilized for the war effort see Megan K. Winchell, Good Girls, Good Food, Good Fun: The Story of USO Hostesses During World War II (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008).

[12] From Wilson D. McKerrow, to Bruce Cobb, Memo: Regarding Escape of Five Girls from the Shelter, August 8, 1944. New York City Municipal Archives, Fiorello La Guardia Collection, Roll 111, Folder 37.

[13] From Mayor LaGuardia to Mrs. Elisabeth, August 14, 1944. New York City Municipal Archives, Fiorello La Guardia Collection, Roll 111, Folder 37.

[14] “Mayor Asks More Help for Wayward Girl,” New York Times, May 26, 1944, 12.

[15] From Wilson D. McKerrow, to Bruce Cobb, Memo: Regarding Escape of Five Girls from the Shelter, August 8, 1944. New York City Municipal Archives, Fiorello La Guardia Collection, Roll 111, Folder 37. Information on Margaret’s family from 1940 Census, accessed on ancestry.com, July 24, 2018.

 

 

Member of the Week: Vyta Baselice

Vyta BaseliceVyta Baselice

PhD Student in American Studies

George Washington University

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

My dissertation explores the cultural history of concrete. I examine why concrete became the second most consumed material on the planet and how it came to define architectural and social modernity in the United States. The dissertation therefore attempts to move beyond aesthetic concerns typically addressed in literature on concrete and, in addition to built environments, looks at cement plants, concrete distribution businesses, contractors, and construction workers, among other important players. My interest in concrete is a result of both my personal and educational backgrounds. I grew up in a post-Soviet country, where the material was quite literally everywhere. My experience of studying architectural design and history, first at Wesleyan and then at University College London, got me interested in materials and environments people take for granted.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

I currently work as a teaching assistant for various courses in the history of art, architecture, and science and technology. My teaching experience with undergraduate students allows me to clarify my own ideas about design and culture. This is important because although I come from a specialized background, I write for a non-expert audience. And it was only when I started teaching that I realized that students with no experience in architecture have a difficult time not only reading plans, drawings and other documentation, but also finding the language with which to describe space. So, I am now particularly sensitive about selecting helpful case studies that we can collectively break down and analyze, paying attention to how architecture can perform as functional buildings, artistic projects, capitalist ventures, and political statements.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I have been working on an article that examines the way concrete was transformed as a result of research and engineering efforts during World War I. This project has allowed me to engage with secondary and archival materials in the history of engineering, which is a fascinating though new field to me. In terms of other scholars’ work, I am excited to read Megan Black’s The Global Interior (Harvard, 2018), which examines the transnational aspirations of the Department of the Interior. Black’s approach to her topic is particularly inspiring to me as I am tackling some similar issues related to politics, culture, and the environment.

What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies? 

I would advise students to select a topic that allows them to visit diverse archival repositories and field sites. While I have found secondary and digitized materials to be helpful and convenient, it has been critical to actually get to the archives and flip through the different materials, which often reveal unexpected relationships and thoughts. This has been particularly true for a documentation report I wrote for the Historic American Buildings Survey on Paul Rudolph’s Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters. The different project-related boxes I examined at the Library of Congress often included information on other buildings the architect was working on simultaneously. It was fascinating to consider how those projects might have informed the design of Burroughs Wellcome. Visiting the building was likewise critical for understanding the scale of the project and the extent to which representational tools attempted to mediate some of the less successful aspects of the design.

You live in Washington, D.C., which has no shortage of interesting structures. What concrete building should be included in any architectural tour of Washington, D.C.?

Oh, that’s a tough question. Some of the most obviously stunning buildings are large in scale and built by and for various government departments, like Marcel Breuer’s Department of Housing and Urban Development headquarters or Stanislaw Z. Gladych and Carter H. Manny Jr.’s J. Edgar Hoover Building (otherwise known as the imposing FBI structure). The DC metro likewise showcases a pretty impressive application of exposed concrete for transportation. I would, however, like to highlight some other lesser known works of concrete that represent earlier experimental uses of this material, like John Earley’s Meridian Hill Park, which is truly a spectacular urban park project, or the mini golf park in East Potomac Park.

Urban Affairs Association is having its conference in Los Angeles next year, check it out!

We here at The Metropole want to briefly interrupt our much desired (deserved? who is to say what anyone deserves nowadays) two week respite to draw the attention of urbanists to the Urban Affairs Association’s call for papers. Between April 24-27, 2019, the UAA will be hosting its 49th Annual Conference in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. and would like to invite and encourage individuals to submit an abstract/proposal by October 1, 2018.

UHA members who attended SACRPH’s 2015 conference held at the Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles can attest to the city’s charms–as can this blog (see here, here, and here, for just a few examples). See below for the formal CFP, but feel free to click through to the following links as well for more information:

Call for Participation: https://urbanaffairsassociation.org/conference/2019-general-call-for-participation/

UAA Conference Homepage: https://urbanaffairsassociation.org/conference/

About the Conference

Over a three-day period, researchers, graduate students, policy advocates, service providers, program funders, and others will present their analyses, experiences, and actions related to urban communities. In addition to formal presentations, the conference provides opportunities to network with attendees from North America, Europe, Asia, and other parts of the globe. Special workshops and mobile tours will be offered to enhance the learning experience and promote professional development. Interested persons are welcome to attend as formal program presenters, or as observers.  All attendees must register. Special discounted registration rates are available for UAA individual, student, and institutional members; ENHR/EURA individual and student members; local L.A. residents; and all enrolled students.

UAA welcomes proposals for a wide range of topics related to urban communities, policies, and populations. See Topical Categories for UAA Conferences section below for a listing of relevant topics.

2019 Special Sessions Topic – Claiming Rights to the City: Community, Capital, and the State

Cities have become the epicenter of competing claims for basic rights, living space, and access to opportunities. Dual realities exist in most cities where wealth, capital accumulation, and privilege coexist with poverty, homelessness, and inequality. Governance at all levels is confronted by increasingly aggressive capital investment pressures that call into question the ability of the state to protect and advance public welfare. In the face of these harsh realities, communities are engaging in a range of strategies to expose, challenge and counteract these dynamics. The UAA annual meeting in Los Angeles provides a unique opportunity to examine these dualities and community responses, in one of the most complex urbanized landscapes in the world.

Special Track on Race, Ethnicity and Place
Track Committee: Michael Leo Owens, Chair (Emory University); Yasminah Beebeejaun (University College London); Anna Livia Brand (University of California, Berkeley); Kitty Kelly Epstein (Holy Names University); Arturo Flores (National Autonomous University of Mexico/Anahuac University); Roger Keil (York University); Ali Modarres (University of Washington-Tacoma); Jocelyn Taliaferro (North Carolina State University)

Special Track on Urban Issues in Asia & the Pacific Rim
Track Committee: Cathy Yang Liu, Chair (Georgia State University, USA); Bligh Grant (University of Technology Sydney, Australia); Canfei He (Peking University, China); Shenjing He (University of Hong Kong, China); Xuefei Ren (Michigan State University, USA)

2019 Local Sponsor
2019 Platinum Conference Sponsor: UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

2019 Local Host Committee
Julie Straub (University of California at Los Angeles); Vinit Mukhija (University of California at Los Angeles); Michael Lens (University of California at Los Angeles); Kenya Covington (University of California at Los Angeles); Victoria Basolo (University of California, Irvine); Juliet Musso (University of Southern California; Tom O’Brien (California State University, Long Beach); Ralph Sonensheim (California State University, Los Angeles)

2019 Program Committee
Lucia Capanema-Alvares, Chair (Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brazil); Lars A. Engberg (Aalborg University Copenhagen, Denmark); Bligh Grant (University of Technology, Sydney, Australia); Al Gourrier (University of Baltimore, USA); Robert Collins (Dillard University, USA); Cathy Yang Liu (Georgia State University, USA); Sylvie Paré (Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada); Carolina Reid (University of California, Berkeley, USA); Joan Wesley (Jackson State University, USA); Anaid Yerena (University of Washington – Tacoma, USA)

Participation Formats
Most participants will wish to make a presentation in which they share their research and/or experiences and insights. To maximize opportunities for everyone, UAA limits Individuals to participation (as presenter, speaker or moderator) in one (1) session. There is no limit to the number of research papers/posters for which you are a co-author. Persons in special (sponsored) panels or breakfast roundtable discussions can participate in one additional session.

A proposal can be submitted through the UAA website using one of the following participation formats:

  • Individual research paper presentation: Proposal requires an abstract OR
  • Organized research paper panel: Proposal requires a panel summary, group of 4-5 paper abstracts, and a designated moderator (who may be one of the paper presenters) OR
  • Organized colloquy: Proposal requires theme statement & names of 4-5 discussants OR
  • Breakfast roundtable: Proposal requires theme statement & names of 1-2 conveners  OR
  • Poster: Proposal requires an abstract. Best option for persons in early stage of research.


Key Deadlines
UAA conferences are known for being well-organized events. That organization is dependent on certain deadlines being established and enforced. Two critical deadlines will apply for the 2019 conference:

October 1, 2018, 11:59pm Central Daylight Time (CDT) or 4:59am (GMT)
Abstract/Session Proposal Deadline
The online submission site will close at 12:00 am CDT. Acceptance or rejection notices will be sent by October 24. Persons who miss this deadline are still welcome to attend the conference as observers.

January 15, 2019, 11:59pm Central Daylight Time (CDT) or 4:59am (GMT)
Registration Deadline for Persons with Accepted Proposals
In order to be placed on the official conference program, an accepted presenter must register by this date. Failure to meet this deadline will mean loss of opportunity to be listed on the program. Persons who miss this deadline are still welcome to attend the conference as observers.

Featured photo (at top): Los Angeles County Museum of Art in California, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, 2012, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Digital Summer School: Harlem Education History Project

All good things must come to an end, and this is especially true of summer school. Whether talking about the 1980s Mark Harmon feature or the classroom, digital and analog, it’s come time to shutter our doors for a couple weeks as The Metropole takes some time off. We’ll re-open after Labor Day with a month dedicated to our grad student blog contest, “Striking Gold.” However, before we depart, we have one more lesson: this time from one of the most famous black enclaves in America, the Harlem Education History Project (hit them up on “the twitter” at @EduHarlem).

From curating online exhibitions to enlisting youth historians to highlighting the work of local Harlem educational institutions and more, the project organizers, Teacher’s College Professor Ansley Erickson tells us, hope to convey “the multiplicity and importance of stories about education in Harlem schools across the twentieth century, including in periods in which this complexity is often reduced to labels of ‘crisis’ or ‘failure.'”

Why did you establish the Harlem Education History Project and who do you see as its audience?

My colleague Ernest Morrell and I started talking about what is now the Harlem Education History Project in the fall of 2012. We shared an interest in generating new scholarship on the history of education in Harlem – for Ernest, as a way to ensure that ongoing work of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Teachers College, which he then headed, was historically informed; and, for both of us, as a way to address the surprising lack of scholarly attention to education in this storied black urban community. We also wanted to bring the robust intersectional and critical scholarship in recent African American history to bear on this important educational case. Both of us were motivated, as well, by the sense that much contemporary education discourse about city schools, about schooling in black communities, is markedly ahistorical, trading in reductive notions of failure that obscure a reality of continued, creative, and varied struggles to secure quality education in an African American tradition.

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Harlem mass meeting re Hillburn [case] raised enough to buy school books, between 1945 and 1950, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
As we imagined embarking on this new scholarly enterprise, we shared commitments about how we wanted the work to develop. We sought a multi-generational community of knowledge production, by which we meant a space that included not only scholars at different career stages (who joined us as contributors to an edited volume that is now completed and under review at a university press), graduate students at Teachers College and in the field, and local high school students (who we connect to through an after-school program called Youth Historians in Harlem, initiated by graduate student Barry Goldenberg and sustained with our support). It became clear that digital work would be central to these multigenerational connections. We first conceptualized the digital iteration of the project as a meeting place and a site for collaboration and sharing for those connected to the project.[1]

We were also interested in how working digitally could allow us to work in public in ways that traditional publishing structures and timelines and traditional archive spaces prevented. This interest was motivated in part by the broad values of access and engagement that run through many public digital humanities efforts, but it was informed as well by the particular institutional and community context in which we were working. Urban historians know well the troubled history of Columbia in relation to Harlem, the most striking moment being the 1968 attempt by the university to build a private gymnasium in the public Morningside Park; questions about appropriation of land and colonial dynamics in relationship to the surrounding community continue in many ways today, including around the university’s expansion into a new area of West Harlem. In this context, committing university resources to new scholarship on Harlem was at once deeply necessary and very fraught. We hoped that working in public, emphasizing access not only to completed scholarship (as in the edited volume, which will be fully accessible online) but to the materials of our inquiry and our work in progress, would be one small part of trying to do this work well. Others, including various kinds of collaboration with community members, are discussed below.

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Three African American boys playing checkers in summer playschool, Harlem, New York, N.Y, between 1940 and 1960, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

As the project has developed – with our Omeka-based site now presenting a few collections of digitized primary source material, clips and complete oral histories, and digital exhibits – we’ve seen ways in which the site has supported the multigenerational engagement we were hoping for. A few chapters in our forthcoming edited volume cite oral history interviews conducted by students in my classes and housed on the site. A digital exhibit (in the pipeline, not yet published) created by a high school student links poetry as social critique across three generations: in the works of the Harlem Renaissance, in the writing of alumni from her school (as published in school yearbooks on our site), and in her own poetry. All of these connections are possible without a digital collection – but they have been facilitated by it.

The site’s audience has grown beyond those already connected to the project in two ways. First, our digital exhibits seem to draw the most traffic. This is in part via digital-only outreach, but also through the times they have been resources for authors’ and others’ presentations in various workshops, teacher professional development sessions, and the like. And second, as we’ve focused more intensively on “featured schools,” we’ve seen more use of the site by members of specific school communities, from people interested in accessing the material we’re sharing (much of it digitized at community members’ request) that is part of their own histories.

How did the Harlem Education History Project come into being? What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome to make it a reality?

This project has grown slowly, organically, based on relationships and based on pursuing new opportunities as they arose. And it is still in progress in every respect. In addition to the ideas and partnerships mentioned above, three key developments have made this work possible in our context.

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African American woman showing a sign for an outdoor rally to a boy in Harlem, New York; “Today is NAACP Day” is on a marquee near them, photography by Ed Bagwell, 1961, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

First, I was able to build the Harlem Education History Project into my teaching work. Doing so provided a structured space to explore this history and the challenges and opportunities of working digitally. I teach two courses that have a topical focus on the history of education in Harlem with different methodological angles – one on oral history, one on archival sources. (Starting in 2016, these classes became connected to the Harlem Semester initative at Barnard College, which cultivates a set of community-engaged and Harlem-focused classes). Students’ final projects in these classes take the form of digital exhibits. From this pool of student work, my graduate fellows and I invite some students to refine their exhibits and move them through our peer review and publication process. (We would welcome exhibits proposed and created by scholars elsewhere, as well).

Second, the idea of “featured schools” gave us a scale at which to work that made many things – from collaboration to cultivating audience – more possible. In 2013 we started working with current and alumni community members at Harlem’s Wadleigh school building (it has been at various times a high school, junior high school, and secondary school, and now houses three schools.) Our work started with oral history interviewing, expanded to digitization of material of value to the school community – particularly, the rich sources that are the schools’ yearbooks. Increasingly, via a continuing set of meetings and conversations over the last year, this partnership is evolving toward more collaboratively-constructed oral history.

Third, graduate student leadership has been crucial in this work. Teachers College’s doctoral fellowships require a research assistantship commitment, and I have asked my students to focus their work on this project. Esther Cyna has been a fellow on the project for three years, and she has taken the lead in several ways – including researching, designing, and implementing our digital peer review process for digital exhibits. Cyna has also presented on our work at OAH, AHA, and other conferences. Rachel Klepper and Cyna have been key facilitators in our growing collaboration with Wadleigh community members as well, especially this year when I was away on leave and unable to attend community meetings and workshops in person. Youth Historians has been led over the past year by Matthew Kautz, Yanella Blanco, and Rhonesha Blache, whose work was funded by institutional fellowships that link TC students to work with local schools and students.

It’s crucial also to recognize obstacles we did not have to overcome. From this project’s inception, we’ve benefited from a stable, high-quality, sustainability-focused partnership with the digital humanities team at Columbia Libraries from this project’s inception. Rebecca Kennison, Barbara Rockenbach, Mark Newton, Alex Gil, and many others have been willing to talk about our ideas, the tools that exist (and don’t exist) to realize them, and in some cases to ask their skilled developers to help modify these when we needed. They have also made the quotidian issues of working online – in terms of updates, security, and more – things that we did not have to worry about. Having this support available to us without external fundraising has been crucial in beginning the work. Thai Jones and colleagues at the Columbia Rare Book and Manuscript Library have been supportive partners as well.

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Attorney General Robert Kennedy surrounded by African American children at the Morningside Community Center in Harlem, 1963, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

What do you hope people take away from the Harlem Education History Project?

As the site continues to evolve, we hope it conveys the multiplicity and importance of stories about education in Harlem schools across the twentieth century, including in periods in which this complexity is often reduced to labels of “crisis” or “failure.” We hope that the potential of the digital – from listening to oral history clips to reading a digital exhibit organized around a map to moving back and forth between a chapter in a scholarly volume to related or divergent primary sources – make these stories more apparent and more engaging. And we hope that our exhibits (a small number now, but growing) attest to the range of analytical and interpretive approaches that these sources merit.

Although we continue to add to the project documentation on the site, I also hope that it conveys a sense of collaborations working to construct themselves, and reflects a humility about our work in this context. Looking back at our first conversations about the project, there are many things that we can imagine having done differently. We got started on this project via collaborative relationships within the university, building collaborative relationships with community members gradually along the way. At times this meant we needed to circle back to previous decisions and revise them, as in the case of our project name.

Each of the different collaborations on which this project depends has its own rhythm, character, and pressures – with Youth Historians and the schools and programs they attend, with the alumni and/or current communities at our featured schools, with scholars and community leaders who have been formal and informal advisors. Each is necessary as we seek not only to bring community knowledge to bear on university-based knowledge production, but to see university resources in the service of community knowledge-production.

What other projects or ideas most influenced this work?

Many projects and ideas circulating in digital humanities networks have been important provocations and, in some cases guides, for our work in progress. (This is not to claim that our work matches the aspirations or standards of these projects – but to recognize that we are learning from and thinking about their examples for our work, as others might want to as well).

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Bookstore in Harlem, New York, exterior, photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1962, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

These projects illustrate approaches to collaborative digital work in relationship both to the specific history involved and the contemporary landscape; some address the fundamental question that all digital historical work should consider: beyond what legally can be shared online as a matter of copyright law, what should be shared online and who decides?

Additionally, our approach to work in public around recent social history, especially with the stories of people who were not public figures, is informed by oral history practice and ethics. (For example, students creating digital exhibits around recent oral histories have contributed to a developing practice that ensures that oral history narrators have opportunities for feedback and response to exhibits that center on their lives).

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Stokely Carmichael, LeRoi Jones, and H. Rap Brown in Michaux’s Bookstore, Harlem, New York, photograph by James E. Hinton, 1967, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Where do you hope the project goes in the future?

There are a few clear next steps, and other possibilities that may or may not come to fruition. First, once it is published, the full text of our edited volume will appear online as part of our site. We need next to decide what form this will take, but we have permission from the press that is now sending the volume for review to make the text fully available online with unfettered public access). We need to work especially to make the site not only include the book but have it feel a synergistic part of the work overall, connected to the primary source material and digital exhibits in the site.

Another next step is to build out the digital presence of our second featured school, The Modern School – which was an independent black progressive school that operated in Harlem from the 1930s through the 1990s. We partnered with a local history organization While We Are Still Here and The Modern School alumni community to host an event at which we collected several oral histories, and will continue to collect more. As these materials are processed, we look forward to building a collaboration that will determine how The Modern School’s history appears on our site.

Presenting any history digitally involves so many decisions – inclusion or exclusion, metadata, aesthetics, hierarchy – all of which involve choices. Who makes these choices, in a university-based and community-engaged project? In our earliest stages, university-based participants made many of these choices, in consultation with a few key community partners. Deeper collaboration going forward means navigating and recognizing the distinct positions that various participants occupy – people deeply invested in this history but less engaged in the digital; people for whom this is paid work, or those for whom it is volunteer work; volunteers who are retired, or are working full-time but still want to be involved, as a few examples among others.

Although connecting with local teachers has long been an ambition of ours, it is one that we haven’t yet seen realized. In the coming year, especially as one of our featured schools is undergoing a major regeneration and improvement, we are looking forward to connecting more with local teachers.

As a former teacher in a Harlem public high school, this is particularly important to me. I’ve been haunted by a bit of history that I had learned well after leaving high school teaching. I taught in the building that had been Junior High School 136. As Adina Back taught us in her work on the Harlem Nine, this very school was one of the hubs of mothers’ organizing against segregation in 1958. This concrete, geographically specific story raised questions for me that I should have thought more about as a teacher: was I connecting with my students’ parents as fierce advocates for their children? What would it have meant for my students to learn civil rights movement history with this example from their own school building, perhaps the same classroom where activists’ children attended and then boycotted? Whatever knowledge this project creates, it must be readily accessible to today’s teachers in Harlem.

Finally, in the next phase of this project we may return to a question we explored early on but then were pulled away from as other opportunities opened. What are the particular opportunities created for spatial thinking, analysis, representation in an intensively local digital project? What can you see, or what questions are raised, when various primary sources – from oral histories to archival documents – can be seen spatially, with metadata and an interface that allows for mapping as an exploratory process? Since we were asking this question in 2012, other projects have taken up this direction. We’ll be learning from their example.

EricksonAuthorPicAnsley T. Erickson, Associate Professor of History and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University; Affiliated faculty, Teachers College Institute for Urban and Minority Education; Affiliated faculty, Columbia University Department of History 

Ansley Erickson is a U.S. historian who focuses on educational inequality, segregation, and the interactions between schooling, urban and metropolitan space, and the economy. Her first book, Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and Its Limits was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2016 and won the History of Education Society’s Outstanding Book Award in 2017. Her work has also been awarded the History of Education Society Prize (2016), the Bancroft Dissertation Prize (2010), and the Claude A. Eggertsen Dissertation Prize (2011). Her research has been supported by an NAE/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship, an Eisenhower Institute fellowship, and a Spencer Dissertation Fellowship. 

Erickson co-directs the Harlem Education History Project with Ernest Morrell, Coyle Professor of Literacy Education at the University of Notre Dame. In 2017-18, she was a Scholar-in-Residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library.

[1] Initially we worked across various platforms – a WordPress blog for conference information and other events, a CommentPress site for contributors to our edited volume to share and comment on one anothers’ drafts, as well as an Omeka instance for digital versions of primary source materials. Gradually, we reconfigured our Omeka site to do the work the blog had been doing as well.

Featured image (at top): New York, New York. Phillipe Schuyler, child prodigy pianist, leading a group of children in the Harlem Center for Children in singing her arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner at the children’s benefit for a nursery in Harlem, Roger Smith, 1943, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Digital Summer School: Black Perspectives

In the era of Black Lives Matter and under a presidency that stokes racial division and traffics in lies, the website Black Perspectives feels all too relevant to our times. “[I]n order for Black lives to matter, we must engage the matters of Black thought,” Associate Editor J.T. Roane noted in an interview with The Metropole. Though not focusing solely on urban history, Black Perspectives nonetheless provides insight into cities around the globe and the people that inhabit them–particularly people of color. Executive Editor Keisha Blain, Associate Editor Ibram X. Kendi, and Roane have endeavored to create a “critical digital public” that will enable readers to slice through the “chicanery” of the modern news cycle and the layers of false historical discourse.

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Libertad para Angela Davis, New York Committee to Free Angela Davis, 1971, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

What was the impetus for creating Black Perspectives? Who do you see as your audience? 

Within far too many American mainstream institutions, including its academic ones, the communities of the African Diaspora are either ignored, labeled as incorrigible social problems, or marked as helpless victims. Black communities are rarely and inconsistently acknowledged as the progenitors of generative intellectual thought, as producers of information with meaningful bearing on the matters we face as a global society.

We understand that Black intellectuals, those formally trained and those practitioners invisible from the purview of formal academic acknowledgement, are important to historicize and recall collectively, especially given our great perils, including the realities of peak oil, the violent reterritorialization of our cities, the mounting immigration and refugee crises. I approach my writing and editing for the blog from the premise that Black intellectual histories contain insights about our present, ones that can help us shift the grounds of the perilously anti-Black world we inherited through slavery, colonialism, apartheid, and racial capitalism. I see this as critical in shaping and invigorating a critical digital public, such an important task in an era when inequality in information accessibility is sharpening and in which a faction of the country has embraced outright chicanery.

Black Perspectives combines original historical research and contemporary social analysis organized in part through the basic understanding that that in order for Black lives to matter, we must engage the matters of Black thought.

I’m proud to serve in the capacity as associate editor for a platform that can produce such stunning public commentary as the July 2018 forum organized by Keisha Blain and Phillip Luke Sinitiere to honor the life and work of Sandra Bland. Taken together the pieces charted Bland’s death three years ago within histories of state violence and resistance, honored Bland’s important social justice activism, and poetically mourned the premature snuffing of her flame.

What do you hope people take away from Black Perspectives

I hope that people come to view the matters of Black thought as myriad and complex engagements with social, economic, political, and intellectual problems as they emerged within the various historical contexts of the Diaspora. I hold these as a key roadmap to the Black Radical Tradition and as the intellectual seeds for unrealized but not unrealizable futures.

 

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Rosa Parks with Los Angeles Mayor, Tom Bradley, his wife Ethel Bradley (far left) and Congresswoman Maxine Waters (far right) at the Black Women’s Forum salute to Parks, Los Angeles, California, 1988, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

How did Black Perspectives come into being and what obstacles did you have to overcome? 

Black Perspectives was organized as an accessible digital platform in 2017. It is an outgrowth of the AAIHS blog, which was founded by Christopher Cameron in 2014. Under the sage leadership of chief editor Keisha Blain and associate editor Ibram X. Kendi the platform has become a recognized site for information about the histories and ongoing work of Black communities to make sense of, survive, thrive, and lay the groundwork for a different world. Some of the obstacles we face are unique to the particular precariousness of being junior Black faculty writing publicly in ways that the academy still doesn’t fully embrace as “the work”—i.e. the print form journal articles and books that guarantee tenure. Other obstacles are the speed and nature of online platforms like Twitter where people can use anonymity to be cruel and violent. We have had to learn to take real-time feedback in stride and to brace ourselves and ignore some of the vileness that comes with the territory.

Where do you hope Black Perspectives goes in the future? 

My hope is that Black Perspectives will continue to expand to include longer-format, more in-depth pieces within our repertoire as we transition to an online magazine format. My hope is also that we will continue to remain accessible—i.e. on the free side of a pay wall—as we also infuse public discussions with the critical insights derived from Black intellectual history.

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African American Children, Chicago, IL, photograph by Russell Lee,  April 1941, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

How does Black Perspectives speak to urban history and what does it tell us that other sites don’t or can’t?

Much of my writing for the platform centers in the ways that urban Black communities from Philadelphia to Havana historically and in ongoing ways express alternative, often heterodox visions for cities and their futures. I hold these dissonant intellectual traditions about the urban form as the containers of epistemologies vital in the face of the radical criminalization and displacement that defines Black urban life from Detroit to Rio de Janeiro. They can help us to make sense of what is happening and also help us to draw forward out of latency processes and practices that resonate with and edify contemporary struggles to make the city livable for all.

headshotJ.T. Roane is assistant professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Cincinnati. He is also part of the University’s urban futures initiative. Roane is broadly concerned about matters of geography, sexuality, and religion in relation to Black communities. He is at work on a manuscript, Dark Agoras: Insurgent Black Social Life and the Politics of Place in Philadelphia, which historicizes multiple modes of insurgent spatial assemblage Black communities articulated in Philadelphia in the second half of the twentieth century. Follow him on Twitter @JTRoane.

Featured image (at top): African American school children holding signs of protest against Norfolk school board’s treatment of black teachers, Norfolk, Va., June 1939, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The Official Blog of the Urban History Association