Tag Archives: Racial Integration

Member of the Week: Nichole Nelson

Summertime Facebook Profile PhotoNichole Nelson

Ph.D. Candidate

Department of History, Yale University

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

My dissertation examines how communities that choose to intentionally racially integrate in order to increase property values can serve as potential models to achieve racial residential integration nationwide. The methods that small, suburban communities have adopted in the aftermath of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s missed opportunity to achieve integration during George Romney’s tenure as HUD Secretary from 1969-1973 are strategies that other communities and the federal government can emulate.

I became interested in studying racially integrated communities both as a result of my personal experience and pure coincidence. Having grown up in Levittown, New York as one of 500 black residents out of a town of approximately 50,000 people, I always wondered if my experience was normal. It wasn’t until I attended college at the University of Pennsylvania and took history courses that I learned that my hometown—Levittown—was intentionally segregated both through federal policy and real estate developer William Levitt’s reluctance to sell homes to black people. Taking classes with Thomas Sugrue piqued my interest in learning about racial residential segregation as well as integrated communities, like the communities that Morris Milgram planned and integrated.

However, when I was working on a seminar paper that informed half of my M.A. Thesis at Vanderbilt, I started on the path to my current research. Then, I was interested in studying the lives and experiences of black suburbanites who resided in white, working-class and middle-income suburbs from the 1970s through the 2000s. I wasn’t sure of many communities with this history, but I called Thomas Sugrue for advice and he made me aware of two communities with that particular history. Upon doing further research, I was surprised to learn about communities intentionally integrating, given the government, real estate industry, and white homeowners’ investment in racially segregated communities. From there, my research interests slowly shifted to their current manifestation.

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

I’m not currently teaching, but I had the pleasure of serving as a Teaching Assistant for David Blight’s course The Civil War & Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877 last spring. The texts that we used to teach students about Reconstruction, Redemption, and the Compromise of 1877 illuminate how, for a brief moment, there was an alternative to the rigidly defined system of white supremacy that pervades American society today, with several black men holding office and local, bi-racial governments populating the South. Although seemingly different from the history that I study, this notion of alternatives is something that I’m interested in–as someone who believes that the methods that racially integrated communities have employed to maintain diversity can serve as important alternatives to the racial residential segregation that pervades American society.

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

I’m interested in reading more from Destin Jenkins, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard, who writes about racial capitalism and post-war San Francisco. I’m also interested in reading more from Anthony Pratcher, a doctoral candidate at Penn, who writes about the relationship between taxation and the de-valuation of bodies of color in Phoenix, Arizona.

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

I would definitely advise graduate students to try to maintain a close working relationship with their advisor. I have been fortunate to have fantastic advisors who have been very attentive and kind with their feedback at every stage of my academic career, from Stephanie McCurry who advised me at Penn, Gary Gerstle, my advisor at Vanderbilt, and my advisor at Yale, Glenda Gilmore. They have all been fantastic and have offered invaluable feedback.

I am fortunate to have an advisor like Glenda Gilmore, who provides line edits of my dissertation chapters and is very encouraging; I would recommend seeking out an advisor who will do the same for you. As urban historians, especially twentieth century urban historians, we can often times get overwhelmed by the number of sources associated with studying our particular time period. A great advisor can help you parse out the story that you’re trying to tell.

What recommendation do you have for the profession of urban history?

When I often think of my favorite works of urban history, the classics (Sam Bass Warner, Jr., Kenneth Jackson, Thomas Sugrue, etc.) are usually written by white men. However, when I think of works of urban sociology, the works tend to be more diverse, and names like W.E.B. Du Bois, Mary Pattillo, Bruce Haynes, and Sudhir Venkatesh come to mind. Unfortunately, there are few black urban historians that come to mind, like Nathan Connolly. My perception is that Sociology seems to be more diverse than History, and given that urban history largely involves the study of people of color who reside in urban environments, it would be wonderful if the Urban History Association could take the lead on creating a pipeline to for tomorrow’s faculty of color by creating a dissertation completion grant for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous graduate students and a grant for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous junior faculty.