Category Archives: The Metropole Bookshelf

The Metropole Bookshelf: Matt Crenson on his new work, Baltimore: A Political History

The Metropole Bookshelf is an opportunity for authors of forthcoming or recently published books to let the UHA community know about their new work in the field.

By Matt Crenson

Matt Crenson. Baltimore: A Political History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2017

The idea of writing Baltimore’s political history came to me by accident – an accident for which I had been unconsciously preparing over decades. As an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins I wrote some term papers about neighborhood Democratic clubs. In the process, a local party bosslet – “Murph” – recruited me to serve as his driver and gofer during a local election campaign. We lost, but I learned something about the kind of politics that never gets on the evening news. Then I left for graduate school in Chicago, where I became acquainted with politics in the style of Mayor Daley the Elder. The six years that I spent living there and in Boston and Washington served to bring some of Baltimore’s peculiarities into focus. After coming home, I produced some op-eds and articles about bits and pieces of local history, and a whole book about Baltimore neighborhoods. It was based on a sample survey of local residents, not historical records, but my attention turned toward the ways in which neighborhoods served as containers of local history.

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Seven Foot Knoll Light, Baltimore, Maryland, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Then, sometime in 2010, a former political science graduate student at Johns Hopkins advanced an interesting proposal for a collection of essays that would follow the nation’s ten largest cities through successive periods of American history. Richardson Dilworth, now a Professor at Drexel University, conceived the project and invited me to contribute nine essays about Baltimore to Cities in American Political History. By the time I was done, I had much more material than I needed for the essays. It looked like the start of a book.

It was, but only a start. Finishing it required extensive work in the city archives and various manuscript collections. Fortunately, the Baltimore City Archives were located in a warehouse only minutes from my office, and its staff was supportive and generous with their time. I spent one or two days a week there for about five years.

My nine essays for Professor Dilworth’s project were based primarily on newspapers and secondary sources. The archives told a somewhat different story. The journalists and historians had concentrated on the development of the city – events and circumstances that changed Baltimore. In the archives, I also found evidence of change, but far more striking were the continuities that emerged.

618cLJHlKAL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_For example, Baltimore exhibited persistent symptoms of political underdevelopment. The city emerged almost a century after the first British colonists arrived in Maryland, and from its earliest days it operated under that shadow of an already entrenched political establishment in Annapolis, the colonial and current capital of Maryland. The tobacco planters who dominated the provincial assembly granted only narrowly defined powers to the government of Baltimore Town when it received its charter in 1729. The Town Commissioners had to appeal to the assembly to deal with local problems such as the swine that roamed and befouled the town’s unpaved streets. Over generations, the town operated under a relatively weak and disjointed political system heavily dependent on private, informal and improvised political arrangements to address local projects and problems. The state continues to limit city authority today. Baltimore’s police department, for example, is legally a state agency, though most of its costs are borne by the city.

Then there are the neighborhoods that preserve fragments of the city’s history. By all accounts, there are at least 300 of them – far more than in any city of comparable size. Cities for millennia have been mechanisms of concentration, but the processes of concentration and centralization seem to operate less powerfully in Baltimore than in other towns; hence, the multitude of urban villages. Many of these miniscule neighborhoods also define the territories of drug gangs. Their struggles to challenge and defend so many boundaries may help to account for the city’s high homicide rate.

Baltimore’s political development may have been set back, not just by the authorities in Annapolis, but by its signature railroad, the Baltimore and Ohio. Its construction was a response to the completion of the Erie Canal, which undercut Baltimore’s geographic advantage as the westernmost port on the East Coast. Baltimore financed the railroad with borrowed money. As costs spiraled, interest payments became the single biggest item in the municipal budget, forcing the city to underfund almost everything from police to schools to sewers. The tight budget also restricted the supply of city patronage, inhibiting the building of a party machine with a powerful boss.

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203 delegates to the First Maryland State Conference of NAACP branches, Sharp St. Meth. Church, Baltimore, May 24th & 25th, May 1941, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Baltimore’s struggle to pull itself together is one of two stories that unfold beside one another. The other is about race. White Baltimoreans displayed enduring ambivalence and avoidance of the issue as they skirted the color line. It’s the story that I discuss in my forthcoming blog post as part of The Metropole’s November Metropolis of the Month: Baltimore. The other side of the story, of course, has to do with the distinctive experience of the city’s African American population. In the days of slavery, Baltimore held the largest concentration of free black people in the United States. They created a distinctive community whose influence is still evident today.

IMG_5816[1].JPGMatthew Crenson is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the Johns Hopkins University. He is a native Baltimorean who earned his undergraduate degree at Johns Hopkins and a Ph.D. in political science at the University of Chicago. In 1969 he joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins after teaching at M.I.T. and spending a year as a predoctoral fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He has specialized in the study of American urban and national politics. At Hopkins, he a served as Chair of the Department of Political Science and Associate Dean and Acting Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Crenson is the author or co-author of eight books, including Baltimore: A Political History (Johns Hopkins University Press, (2017).

Featured image (at top): “A Bird’s Eye View of Baltimore“, by Edward W. Spofford, Norman T.A Munder, and Spofford & Hughes, 1912, Geography and Maps Division, Library of Congress

The Metropole Bookshelf: Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD by Max Felker-Kantor

The Metropole Bookshelf is an opportunity for authors of forthcoming or recently published books to let the UHA community know about their new work in the field.

By Max Felker-Kantor

Felker-Kantor, Max. Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018.

“A strong, visible police force is one of our best crime-fighting tools,” said Los Angeles’s liberal African American mayor, Tom Bradley, in 1990. “I want to give them the personnel to escalate our attack.” In remarks delivered alongside his proposed budget for the year, Bradley committed the city to providing the department with the resources to effectively combat crime and violence.

Support for the police among policymakers, both liberal and conservative, led to a profound expansion of police power and authority in Los Angeles and American cities more broadly after the 1960s. Yet, in the years after the 1965 Watts uprising, liberals in Los Angeles, none more so than Bradley who was elected in 1973 on a platform of police reform, also hoped to rein in the police department.

Policing Los Angeles is the first history to explore Bradley’s effort to bring greater political oversight to the LAPD while at the same time promoting fair and equitable policing, a framework I call liberal law and order. This approach to reform, however, did not lead to fundamental structural changes to the department or challenge the underlying support for the police. As a result, city officials enabled the police department to enhance its autonomy, power, and lack of accountability.

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A Los Angeles police officer, armed with a shotgun, searches bag of African-American woman while another woman holding baby watches, August 14, 1965, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

As Policing Los Angeles shows, well-intentioned reforms rarely resulted in fundamental change to the structure of the LAPD, to the expansive police power in urban politics, or to greater police accountability and transparency. The police, in short, play a crucial role in ensuring they remained a powerful partisan entity in Los Angeles, routinely carving out new areas of discretionary authority in response to demands for reform.

But the story told in Policing Los Angeles is more than one of liberal politics and police power. African American and Latino/a residents and activists recognized the threat of an unfettered police power that operated as an occupying force in the city’s communities of color, and they routinely mobilized against it. In the decades after Watts, they resisted the LAPD’s effort to discipline them by protesting police brutality and demanding greater police accountability.

While many residents of color supported liberal reforms based on ensuring procedurally fair policing, anti–police abuse activists pushed further in their demand that the power of the LAPD be not only reined in but in some cases dismantled entirely. In doing so, activists exposed the racism at the heart of police power, the limits of liberal reforms, and proposed alternatives to get-tough policing.

In following the stories of activists through extensive archival materials, Policing Los Angeles reveals how anti–police abuse movements extended well into the 1970s and beyond. Although activists did not achieve the fundamental changes to the LAPD that many desired, they created the conditions for reform following the 1992 Los Angeles uprising and the subsequent Rampart Scandal, which led to a federal consent decree and oversight of the department.

max-90Dr. Max Felker-Kantor is an American historian who specializes in twentieth century American and African American history with a focus on race, politics, and social movements. He is particularly interested in the policies and institutions of urban law enforcement and criminal justice systems since World War II. His articles have been published in the Journal of Urban History, Journal of Civil and Human Rights, and Boom California. He currently teaches American and African American history at Ball State University. Dr. Feker-Kantor’s book, Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD will be published in the Justice, Power, and Politics series at the University of North Carolina Press in this fall.

The Metropole Bookshelf: Timothy Lombardo’s Blue Collar Conservatism

The Metropole Bookshelf is an opportunity for authors of forthcoming or recently published books to let the UHA community know about their new work in the field.

By Timothy J. Lombardo

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Timothy J. Lombardo. 2018. Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 328 pp. 10 photos. ISBN: 978-0-8122-5054-1. $37.50. Hardcover.

Frank Rizzo embarked on his first campaign for mayor of Philadelphia in 1971. Promising “law and order” and running as the self-proclaimed “toughest cop in America,” his campaign focused on turning out voters from Philadelphia’s white ethnic, blue-collar neighborhoods. With a month before the election Rizzo campaigned heavily in South Philadelphia, where he had been born and raised. During a stop at a neighborhood tavern, a campaign reporter asked the bar’s patrons what they liked about Rizzo. One replied that the city needed “an 11th grade dropout” to straighten things out. “He’ll win because he isn’t a Ph.D.,” he continued. “He’s one of us. Rizzo came up the hard way.”

Frank Rizzo went on to win the election and serve two terms as the mayor of Philadelphia, becoming the first former police commissioner elected mayor of a major American city. As police commissioner, Rizzo earned a national reputation for his tough stance on crime, the heavy-handed tactics of his police force, and his openly hostile treatment of civil rights activists. Although Rizzo was a Democrat, he maintained his base of support by opposing public housing, school desegregation, affirmative action and other liberal programs that he and his supporters deemed unearned advantages for nonwhites.

Rizzo was perhaps the archetypal example of late twentieth-century urban, white ethnic, populist conservatism and the quintessential “backlash” politician of the 1960s and 1970s. He is rightly remembered as one the most controversial figures in the city’s history. Yet his white ethnic, blue-collar supporters never wavered in their support of the tough-talking former cop they called “one of us.”

Blue-Collar Conservatism tells the story of Frank Rizzo’s white ethnic, blue-collar supporters and their evolving politics in the long postwar era. It focuses on the working- and middle-class white Philadelphians that fought the integration of their children’s schools, their neighborhoods, and their workplaces while clamoring for “law and order.” It locates their “blue-collar conservatism” in a mutually reinforcing promotion of law-and-order conservatism and selective rejection of welfare liberalism. In Frank Rizzo they found a champion and defender of their blue-collar traditions and institutions. They responded not only to his forceful rhetoric, but also his up-from-the-streets “one of us” populism.

The standard explanation for the rise of working-class anti-liberalism in the 1960s and 1970s has relied on a familiar narrative of racial backlash. This focus, while not inaccurate, has obscured the importance of class ideologies and identities in this political history. Blue-Collar Conservatism shows how Frank Rizzo’s supporters attempted to use class identity and blue-collar discourses to obfuscate the racial politics of modern liberal policymaking. The result was the establishment of a populist variant of modern conservatism shaped by the racial upheavals of midcentury urban America, but imbued with blue-collar identity politics.

The context for this political development is the urban crisis of the 1960s and 1970s. The upheaval that led to high rates of unemployment, shrinking city tax bases, fiscal shortfalls, rising crime and, most dramatically, waves of urban uprisings, produced the spatial and political realignments that shaped modern American political culture. Blue-collar whites in Philadelphia and throughout the country were caught up in the many transformations wrought by the urban crisis. Blue-Collar Conservatism shows how their political transformation sprang from both the economic instabilities of a changing era and their responses to a shifting racial order.

In the end, Blue-Collar Conservatism offers a nuanced social and political history of a pivotal period in modern America, set in one of its most dynamic cities. It uses Frank Rizzo, his supporters, and his city to explore how white working-class engagement with the politics of the urban crisis led to one of the least understood but most significant developments in modern American political history. The book ultimately shows how urban blue-collar whites joined the conservative movement that reached fruition in the 1980s and reshaped it into a coalition that backed populist politicians from Frank Rizzo to Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump.

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Timothy J. Lombardo is a Philadelphia native and an Assistant Professor of History at the University of South Alabama. His work has appeared in The Journal of Social History, The Journal of Urban History, The Journal of American History, and The Washington Post. Blue-Collar Conservatism is his first book. Follow him on Twitter @TimLombard0

The Metropole Book Shelf: Adam Arenson’s Banking on Beauty

The Metropole Bookshelf is an opportunity for authors of forthcoming or recently published books to let the UHA community know about their new work in the field.

By Adam Arenson 

Adam Arenson. 2018. Banking on Beauty: Millard Sheets and Midcentury Commercial Architecture in California. Austin: University of Texas Press, 368 pp. 157 color and 17 b&w photos. ISBN: 978-1-4773-1529-3 $45. Hardcover.

“I want buildings that will be exciting seventy-five years from now,” financier Howard Ahmanson told visual artist Millard Sheets, offering him complete control of design, subject, decoration, and budget for his Home Savings and Loan branch offices.

9781477315293The partnership between Home Savings — for decades, the nation’s largest savings and loan — and the Millard Sheets Studio produced more than 160 buildings in California, Texas, Florida, New York, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri between 1953 and 1991. Adorned with murals, mosaics, stained glass, and sculptures, the Home Savings (and Savings of America) branches displayed a celebratory vision of community history and community values that garnered widespread acclaim.

Banking on Beauty presents the first history of this remarkable building program, . drawing extensively on archival materials, site visits, and more than seventy oral history interviews with artists, Home Savings executives, employees, community members, and preservationists. Arenson completed the first thorough examination of the Smithsonian’s Millard Sheets Papers at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, and the sketches, installation slides, project files, correspondence, and other materials in the Denis O’Connor Collection at the Huntington Library.

Banking on Beauty begins with architectural and commercial precedents for such works, including California world fairs and Rockefeller Center, and continues past the sale of Home Savings to Washington Mutual in 1998, and the seizure of WaMu in 2008, to explore the preservation challenges for this work today. The book tells a fascinating story of how the architecture and art were created, the politics of where the branches were built, and why the Sheets Studio switched from portraying universal family scenes to celebrating local history amid the dramatic cultural and political changes of the 1960s.

Combining urban history, business history, and art and architectural history, Banking on Beauty reveals how these institutions shaped the corporate and cultural landscapes of Southern California, where many of the branches were located. Richly illustrated and beautifully written, Banking on Beauty builds a convincing case for preserving these outstanding examples of Midcentury Modern architecture, which currently face an uncertain future.

Banking on Beauty is available February 1, 2018, but is available for pre-order now. 

Image at top: Mural “The Arts,” by Millard Owen Sheets at the Department of Interior Building, Washington, D.C., Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2011, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress 

unnamed-1California native Adam Arenson is an Associate Professor of History and Director of the Urban Studies Program at Manhattan College. He has written or coedited three other books on the history of the American West and the politics and culture of U.S. cities: the award-winning The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War (Harvard, 2011; Missouri, 2015 paperback); Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States (California, 2015); and Frontier Cities: Encounters at the Crossroads of Empire (Penn, 2013). A graduate of Harvard and Yale, he has also written about history in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other venues. More information about this and other publications available at adamarenson.com

Announcing “The Metropole Book Shelf”

One of the things that UHA members do is to read books, and another thing is to write them. We thought that, to complement the bibliographies that we publish in the newsletter, we would provide members with the opportunity to share information from, and about, their own recently-published books. By ‘recently-published’ we mean ‘within the past year, or appearing within the next three months’.

Part of the purpose is to give members the opportunity to spread the word about their book. If you insist, call it marketing. That is why it’s ‘members only’. But more importantly we see it as an opportunity to share ideas, and perhaps stimulate discussion. That’s why we publish, right?

It’s up to you whether you use this opportunity primarily in order to summarize the book in some detail, or whether you prefer to emphasize and briefly explore a major theme or argument from the work, presumably because you think it is important, neglected, and/or provocative. We assume that many of you will want to do a bit of both. Either way, we suggest that you follow these guidelines: 500-650 words; include a short title; immediately below the title, provide basic bibliographic information according to the following model format; and put your name and affiliation at the end. Reference to other works should be kept to a bare minimum – in most cases, one or two at most. By all means provide a link to a publisher’s (or other) website where additional information may be obtained.

Model for biblio format: Peregrine Scholar. 2017. The Meaning of Cities. Minot, ND: Obscure University Press, xi and 342 pp. ISBN Paper: 911911911911. $58. Cloth: 811811811811. Ebook: 711711711711.

To submit your work for The Metropole Book Shelf (MBS), please email it to uhacommunicationsteam@gmail.com. MBS posts will run within one month of submission.