Tag Archives: Urban Politics

Member of the Week: James Wolfinger

James Wolfinger September, 2015James Wolfinger

Professor of History and Education

DePaul University

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

I am currently working on a book about a World War II U.S. airman named Bert Julian.  Julian grew up in the Orange, N.J. area around 1910, in an era when the New Jersey suburbs were being more fully incorporated into New York City and people still rode to town in horse-drawn buggies.  Julian survived the Depression by doing odd jobs and sleeping on people’s couches.  He joined the Army after Pearl Harbor, trained as a waist gunner on a B 24 bomber, and was stationed in New Guinea, where he flew reconnaissance missions in preparation for the invasion of the Philippines.  Julian’s plane crashed in northern New Guinea and he was ultimately captured, interrogated, and killed by a Japanese officer in the commission of a war crime.  The inherent interest of Julian’s death coupled with the larger forces he experienced as an ordinary person swept up in huge events—world war and attendant globalization, urbanization, technological advance, and Depression—all drew me to this story.  What particularly fascinates me is how a young man who knew small town New Jersey, with its neighborhood stores, corner taverns, and concrete sidewalks, wound up on his knees in a muddy clearing in New Guinea with a man standing over him with a sword, screaming at him in Japanese.

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

I teach a class for our graduate history education students with the prosaic title “Readings in American History.”  The class is chronological and covers American history from the colonial period to the present.  I like teaching it because the reading load emphasizes to future teachers that they are entering an intellectual occupation, it allows me to teach classics as well as cutting edge scholarship, and it has deepened my knowledge of many aspects of U.S. history.  Every book I read, whether it is on urban history or not, gives me new ideas on how to think about history, write history, ask historical questions.

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

I am excited about a new book that I am editing for Temple University Press, with the working title “African American Politics in the City of Brotherly Love.” Covering the period from the Great Migration to today, the book brings together mostly young historians who are doing fresh research on black politics in twentieth century Philadelphia.  There is no other book like it—on Philadelphia or other cities—and it gives me the opportunity to work with exciting new authors and help bring their work to a larger audience.  “African American Politics” will analyze formal politics, community organizing, women’s leadership, and many other topics.  It will focus on Philadelphia while offering a model for how scholars might examine the history of other cities.  In today’s political climate, this book will speak to historians but I believe it will also find a much larger audience.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

Follow your passion!  Research and write about what interests you.  My daughter is currently an undergraduate in college, and I always tell her: “If you don’t do what you love, if you don’t try to make it your life’s work now, then you never will.”  I grew up in Oklahoma City, and I remember as a child listening to Boston Bruins hockey games on my dad’s old shortwave radio.  I was probably the only person in Oklahoma doing so!  Large Northern cities seemed so far away, so foreign to me as a child.  I wanted to learn more about them, live in one of them, be urban.  I have always been fascinated by cities, how they work and how people live in them.  Living in and exploring cities was my passion then, and now.

Do you have a favorite book about teaching? Is it one that’s personally resonant and meaningful? Or is it one from which you learned the most and gleaned the best advice?

Let me change the question a bit, to a favorite book to teach.  More than any other book, the work that helped me see the power of history to illuminate the past and better understand the present is Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom.  To me, Morgan analyzed the central issue for understanding the American experience: the vexed relationship between race and class throughout all of American history.  I tell my students that if there’s one book that they should read as a starting point for understanding the promise and problems of the United States, this is the one.

Race in Baltimore

By Matt Crenson 

In April, 2015, Freddie Gray died of a spinal cord injury while in the custody of Baltimore police officers. His was one more name on a national roster of unarmed black men who died that year at the hands of the police.  On the day of Gray’s funeral, rioting broke out.  Buildings were burned, stores looted, vehicles smashed and set afire – especially police cars.  Twenty officers were injured, and about 250 residents arrested.   The town lay under a state of emergency for a full week.

Not long after the emergency ended, the New York Times ran an editorial under the headline “How Racism Doomed Baltimore.”  It said that “the segregationist impulse in Maryland generally was particularly virulent and well documented in Baltimore, which is now 63 percent black…Americans might think of Maryland as a Northern state, but it was distinctively Southern in its attitudes toward race…the acute nature of segregation in Baltimore – and the tools that were developed to enforce it over such a long period of time – have left an indelible mark and given that city a singular place in the country’s racial history.”

The Times account of Baltimore’s racial history mentioned one tool of discrimination in particular – a residential segregation ordinance adopted by the city in 1910.  It was the first law of its kind in the country and a model for several other cities.  Superficially even-handed, it prohibited African Americans from moving to blocks where a majority of the residents were white, but also made it illegal for whites to move to blocks with black majorities.  One hundred and five years before its editorial on the Freddie Gray riots, the Times had condemned the Baltimore ordinance as “the most pronounced ‘Jim Crow’ measure on record.”

Baltimoreans naturally had a different understanding of their ordinance. The law’s title set out its official purposes: “An Ordinance for Preserving Peace, Preventing Conflict and Ill-Feelings Between the White and Colored Races And Protecting the General Welfare of the City of Baltimore By Providing as Far as Possible for the Use of Separate Blocks By White and Colored People for Residences, Churches, and Schools.”  The stated purpose, in other words, was to avoid racial conflict.  But the law’s too-long title nearly sank it.  A municipal court declared it invalid because it violated a provision of the city charter requiring that the title of an ordinance could mention only one purpose.

The City Council pruned the law’s title and passed an updated version in 1911, which included a new provision exempting racially mixed blocks from the scope of the ordinance.  In 1913, a black man was charged with occupying a house on a majority-white block.  The case was dismissed when a municipal judge held that the law’s language concerning mixed-race blocks made no sense.  On appeal, a state court approved the disputed wording, but threw out the ordinance anyway.  A black person who owned a house on a majority-white block before the passage of the law would be prohibited from occupying it.  The City Council again revised their ordinance to meet the requirements of the courts.

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Row houses. Baltimore, Maryland, photograph by Arthur Rothstein, April 1939, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

It did not survive its next judicial test.  In 1917, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Louisville’s residential segregation law unconstitutional, not because it was racially discriminatory, but because it interfered with the right of property-owners to sell real estate to purchasers of their own choosing.  Louisville’s law had been modeled on Baltimore’s. During the ensuing decades, residential segregation in Baltimore, as in other cities, depended on restrictive covenants and, later, on the redlining policies of federal loan and loan guarantee programs.

There is little here to give Baltimore a “singular place in the country’s racial history,” as the Times would have it.  But there was something singular about the city’s political orientation toward race.  The too-long title that introduced its residential segregation ordinance may have exaggerated the town’s devotion to “preserving peace and preventing conflict.”  (Baltimore was known as Mobtown after all.) But it expressed a settled determination to avoid raising the race issue.

Silent Racism

In 1838, James Silk Buckingham, a wealthy British social reformer recently retired from the House of Commons stopped off in Baltimore for about a month during a year-long tour of the United States.  When he got back to England he published a book about his travels.  “It is worthy of remark,” he wrote, “that in all our intercourse with the people of Baltimore, and we were constantly out in society, we heard less about slaves and slavery than in any town we had yet visited.”

Baltimore occupied the middle ground between slavery and freedom.  Its position may have bred ambivalence about the peculiar institution that dictated only subdued discussion of the subject or none at all.  But that was not the case in other border towns.  They seemed to occupy the front lines in the slavery controversy.  Abolitionist editor Elijah Lovejoy was slain by a mob in a border town.  One of his counterparts, Cassius Marcellus Clay of Lexington, Kentucky, survived two assassination attempts only because he went nowhere without his Bowie knife.

Baltimore’s antebellum elite was distinctive, not only because of its geographic location, but its social composition.  When Buckingham was “out in society,” he mingled with prominent citizens whose roots were in Southern Maryland, the Eastern Shore, and points further South.  Most took slavery for granted; some owned slaves.  But he was also likely to have encountered prosperous Quaker millers, merchants, and bankers.  Some of their ancestors arrived in Maryland under its Act of Toleration.  Others were sons or grandsons of Quaker merchants who came to Baltimore when, during the Revolutionary War, the British occupied Philadelphia.  Still others may have arrived in response to Baltimore’s astonishing economic growth from 1790 to 1820, when the town’s population quadrupled.

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A view of Fort McHenry, and the entrance of the harbour of Baltimore, by Richard Granville Harrison, 1818, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

Pro-slavery patricians and abolitionist Quakers lived in close proximity to one another.  They socialized with one another and, perhaps most important, did business with one another. It followed that the slavery issue rarely came up in polite conversation when Baltimore’s elite was “out in society,” because it posed a threat to politeness — and to business.

Back to Africa

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Robert Goodloe Harper, by Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret Saint-Mémin, 1799, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Baltimore’s ambiguous position in the slavery debate found institutional expression in the American Colonization Society.  Its goal was resolve America’s racial problem by shipping black people back to Africa – to Liberia.  Robert Goodloe Harper, a Baltimore attorney, outlined the Society’s grand strategy in a public letter of 1817.  Harper hoped that emigration would reduce Baltimore’s sizeable population of free black people – the largest in the country.  Their presence was thought to arouse discontent among African Americans who remained in slavery.  But emigration might also help to erode slavery itself.  Slave owners, according to Harper, “who are now restrained from manumitting their slaves, by the conviction that they would generally become a nuisance if manumitted in this country, would gladly give them their freedom if they could be sent to a place where they could enjoy it, usefully to themselves and society.” In Africa, they could be free, equal, and distant.

In other words, white Baltimoreans who supported colonization could come down on either side of the slavery issue.  They wanted to get rid of free blacks because their presence undermined the institution of slavery.  But they also claimed to undermine slavery themselves.  They encouraged the manumission of slaves by enabling their owners to avoid the inconvenience of having to live with them after they were free.

But while the Maryland Colonization Society straddled the slavery issue, the national Society was torn apart by it.  John H.B. Latrobe explained that the “north looked to Colonization as the means of extirpating slavery.  The south as the means of perpetuating it.”  At the organization’s annual meeting in 1833, “the explosion came at last.”  The clash between the Society’s proponents of slavery and it opponents was precisely what the Maryland Colonization Society was trying to avoid.

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The Fifteenth Amendment. Celebrated in Baltimore, May 19th, 1870, Kelly Thomas, 1870, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

The Maryland Society’s directors, all Baltimoreans, deplored the controversy and tried to distance themselves from it.  But they soon resorted to more drastic action.  The Maryland chapter seceded from the national organization and purchased its own colony in Liberia to which it sent its own parties of colonists including both free black people and newly emancipated slaves.

Baltimore continued its delicate dance around the race issue for generations.  When the rest of the country was swept up in the “irrepressible conflict,” Baltimore repressed it.  The Know Nothing Party dominated the city’s politics and its agenda in the late 1850’s, years after the Party had collapsed everywhere else. Baltimore made an issue of nativism instead of slavery.  Less than a week after Abraham Lincoln had been elected, the city’s new mayor declared in his inaugural address “that national politics should be entirely disregarded in the administration of municipal affairs.”  An avowed “Unconditional Unionist” who represented a Baltimore district in the House of Representatives told his constituents, “The way to settle the Slavery Question is to be silent on it.”  It was true that the town’s residential segregation ordinance temporarily broke that silence, but only to minimize occasions for interracial contact and friction.

Quiet Continuity

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African American parents and children stand across the street from School No. 34, as white pickets march, Baltimore, Maryland, 1954, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

In 1954, the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. the Board of Education threatened to break Baltimore’s silence once again.  But the Court did not require immediate desegregation.  It held the Brown case over for a year to hear argument about how its decision should be implemented.  But just 17 days after the announcement of the Brown decision, the Baltimore Board of School Commissioners voted unanimously and with no public discussion to desegregate the public schools when they opened in September.

That September, I would have my first exposure to desegregated education – at a school named for Robert E. Lee.  No one at the school tried to explain to us what was happening or why or how we should respond to it.  The silence at Robert E. Lee was system-wide.  In 1956, a report sponsored jointly by the city and the state found that the Superintendent “and the administrators, backed by the Board of School Commissioners, believed that the less said in advance about integration the better, since talking about it would focus attention on presumed problems and create the impression that difficulties were anticipated.” A memorandum went out from school headquarters instructing teachers and staff to carry out desegregation “by ‘doing what comes naturally’ so that children would look upon it as a natural and normal development and hence nothing over which to become excited or disturbed.”  It was no accident that our teachers said nothing about integration.  The School Board’s sudden decision about desegregation, with no public discussion, was a preemptive strike to foreclose debate about the issue.  When it came to desegregation, silence was school system policy.

Like other cities, Baltimore had adopted a “freedom of choice” desegregation plan.  Black parents were free to send their children to predominantly white schools if there was room for them.  But since most neighborhoods were segregated, white schools were frequently remote from black neighborhoods, and few black students could manage the journey.  In 1968, the Supreme Court decided that freedom-of-choice plans actually had to produce desegregated schools, and that local authorities had a positive duty to achieve integration.  Baltimore’s City Solicitor issued an opinion stating that the city’s schools were no longer in compliance with federal law.  But the President of the City Council refused to reconsider the city’s desegregation policy because, he said, “immediately the question of race comes in.”  Council President William Donald Schaefer wanted to keep it out.  Three years later, he was elected mayor.

When Schaefer was elected governor in 1986, the city charter designated the City Council President as Acting Mayor – Clarence ‘Du’ Burns – Baltimore’s first African American mayor.  His next hurdle was to become its first elected black mayor.  His principal rival was another African American, Kurt Schmoke, Baltimore’s State’s Attorney.  There might also have been an impressive white candidate.  Robert Embry was President of the Board of School Commissioners.  He had previously served on the City Council and as Baltimore’s Commissioner of Housing and Community Development.  He resigned as School Board President, presumably to avoid the suspicion that he was using the position to advance his candidacy.  But in the end, he decided not to run.  One of the considerations that led him to this decision, he said, was that “I’m just not comfortable with the divisive aspects of it racially.”

The field of serious mayoral candidates narrowed to two black men, and unlike other cities, Baltimore elected its first black mayor without making an issue of race.  It was not a political peculiarity of the moment, but one more episode in a settled continuity that was rooted in the city’s past.  The uprising that followed the death of Freddie Gray may seem to break with the past.  But in at least one respect it marched with tradition.  Though firearms were much in evidence during the disorders, only one shot was fired.  One of the citizens in the street accidently dropped his weapon, and it discharged.  Once “peace” was restored, however, there followed an epidemic of gunshots, many of them deadly.  And they continue.  Baltimore’s long silence has created a city where shooting has become a substitute for talking.

IMG_5816[1]Matthew 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): House in Negro section. Baltimore, Maryland, John Vachon, July 1938, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

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: 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

Book Review: The One Way Street of Integration: Fair Housing and the Pursuit of Racial Justice in American Cities by Edward G. Goetz

Edward G. Goetz, The One-Way Street of Integration: Fair Housing and the Pursuit of Racial Justice in American Cities. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2017. 224 pp. notes, index. ISBN 9781501707599

Reviewed by Eric Michael Rhodes

Should those concerned about racial inequality in the American metropolis bring opportunity to people or help people move to opportunity? This question has wrankled policymakers and community organizers alike for nearly 50 years. Community development advocates have generally promoted the “opportunity to people” approach, while fair housing proponents have tried to “move people to opportunity.”

In One-Way Street of Integration: Fair Housing and the Pursuit of Racial Justice in American Cities, Edward Goetz argues that the “fair housing” movement, a well-intentioned effort to integrate the suburbs, grew into a myopic, integration-at-any-cost crusade in which people of color paid the price. This effort to increase affordable housing opportunities ultimately diminished such possibilities in city and suburb alike.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, “integrationist” fair housers obsessed with increasing suburban housing opportunity actually began suing community developers trying to build subsidized housing in the inner city. At the root of this controversy was decreasing federal funding for new subsidized housing construction: a “climate of scarcity” pitted the camps against one another. Professor Goetz’s sweeping indictment of the well-intentioned effort to advance racial integration deserves thoughtful consideration; it should inspire wide-ranging debate.

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Goetz argues that HUD’s HOPE VI initiative represents the worst excesses of the fair housing movement’s “integrationist” impulse: the destruction of extant low-income communities of color in the name of racial integration. Here, the demolition of the Cabrini-Green Homes in Chicago begins under HOPE VI in September of 1995.

Following adoption of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the fair housing movement attempted to build low-income housing in the suburbs to increase housing opportunity for poor Americans. Such efforts, exemplified by Housing and Urban Development Secretary George Romney’s Open Communities initiative, promised to increase opportunity for those wishing to move to the suburbs or remain in the city. Fair housing advocates at this early stage promoted building low-income housing in the inner city as well. Thus, this initial iteration of the fair housing movement, even with its suburban focus, presented no real obstacle to continuing inner city housing and redevelopment programs. Community development and fair housing were not yet at odds.

It was only after the ostensible victories in Gautreaux et al. v. Chicago Housing Authority (1969) and Hills v. Gautreaux (1976) that a rift developed between the suburban integrationists and city re-constructionists. Following Gautreaux, the NAACP and other civil rights groups could fairly celebrate orders to demolish Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green and other highly segregated public housing projects. But Gautreaux also presumed that concentrating poor families, whether in tall towers or single-family homes, might create inherently dysfunctional living conditions or threaten largely-white communities. So, the new Section 8 housing voucher impaction rules, seeking to avoid intensifying segregation, discouraged the award of vouchers in inner-city neighborhoods; as for poor families moving to the suburbs, the goal was to ensure that they would be sufficiently dispersed to mitigate social disruption or alarm. According to Goetz, as a result of the acceptance of rigid constraints to prevent the “tipping” of communities from white to black, the number of low-income families that could move to majority white areas within or outside the city actually diminished. The worst of the integrationists’ impulses surfaced in the form of HOPE VI, amounting to the destruction of extant black, low-income communities.

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Broken Promises“, photograph by John Fekner; One of the most important takeaways of Goetz’s book is that growing austerity for federally-subsidized housing significantly deepened the divide between the community development and fair housing movements over the last fifty-odd years. There is little hope of reconciliation unless the federal government increases funding for new construction and rehabilitation of low- and moderate-income housing. Austerity grew after President Nixon called for a moratorium on subsidized housing in 1973.

Goetz points out that fair housing advocates underestimated the deep-seated white resistance to integration that, even now, after decades of litigation, still severely limits the number of affordable units that can be built or rented in white neighborhoods; at the same time, reformers overestimated the equity outcomes of integration. How much better off were black and Hispanic families in the suburbs than those who remained in the city? The matter has been debated and studied for the past forty years. Instead of attempting to measure and predict with mathematical precision the spatial makeup of each community, Goetz suggests it would have been more effective simply to increase resources to provide for additional low and moderate-income housing in historically disinvested neighborhoods, even if they were segregated.

But this point is hard to prove. In the first place we should not forget that beyond the basic goal of generating more housing units, there were legal and moral reasons for battling suburban exclusionary zoning and discriminatory real estate practices, and if, to give Goetz his due, the integrationist impulse had been more restrained and less rigid would we have generated more housing? After all, funding for low and moderate-income housing has, for all sorts of reasons, been so dismal since Nixon’s 1973 moratorium on subsidized housing that it is difficult to blame the problem simply on the myopia of suburban integrationists.

Looking ahead, when the funding for affordable housing (through new construction, increased subsidies and constraints on gentrification) finally returns to some decent level, city builders and suburban integrationists may yet find themselves moving back and forth from city to suburb along a two-way street.

unnamedEric Michael Rhodes is a graduate student of urban and planning history at Miami University of Ohio. Eric studies how U.S. subsidized housing policy played out in the rusting Steel Belt of the 1970s, with a particular eye to the nation’s first operable metropolitan fair housing plan: Dayton’s Fair Share Housing Plan. He is an associate editor of Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective (a joint publication of Miami and Ohio State universities) and is co-host of the podcast History Talk. Email: rhodesem@miamioh.edu; Twitter: @EricMichaRhodes

 

 

Member of the Week: LaDale Winling

Ladale WinlingLaDale Winling

Associate Professor, Department of History

Virginia Tech

@lwinling

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

I am currently researching real estate and segregation in Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s. From this milieu, in the midst of the Great Migration and in wake of the 1919 race riot, emerged new real estate practices, new public policy such as HOLC’s redlining, and a new electoral viability of African Americans with the election of Congressmen such as Oscar DePriest, Arthur Mitchell, and William Dawson. My collaborative work with the Mapping Inequality team, the inspiring scholarship by Margaret Garb, David Freund, and Carl Nightingale, and the time I spent in Chicago in graduate school led me to this topic. Chicago is a well-studied city but I think there are new stories to be told about the city, its institutions, and its people.

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

I teach digital history and public history at Tech, and I am contributing to a minor called Data in Social Context. This involves teaching math and science types to bring humanistic values to their use and understanding of data, and teaching humanists how to work with data tools. It is important to keep building skills into history programs, and to make sure historians can use a wide array of tools and resources in our scholarship.  As part of this effort, I am currently teaching an undergrad class in which students will choose a Congressional district and conduct research on the demographics and geography, the electoral history, current campaign coverage, and current polling, then make an election forecast just before midterm election in November. We’ll learn about the history of the U.S. census and the history of public opinion polling along the way, as well as how to read polls critically.  It brings together my interests in political history, spatial history, and bringing historical context to current events.

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

A team at the University of Richmond Digital Scholarship Lab is about to launch the first phase of a new history of Congressional elections in early October as part of the American Panorama digital atlas. By the time it’s all out, we’ll have have created an interactive mapping tool like you see for recent elections on major sites like the New York Times, as well as a large dataset of every House and Senate election result for researchers. Our goal is to contribute to work on grassroots political history by connecting Congress and the American voting public more directly in our political history.

In terms of books, I’m excited to see work in progress on racial capitalism by Destin Jenkins and Nathan Connolly, which will make important revisions in the way we think about the history of capitalism. I just met Nikole Hannah-Jones and am going to find it hard to wait for her book on segregation in education. As for recent books, I’m also looking forward to reading Timothy Lombardo’s new book on Frank Rizzo, Blue Collar Conservatism, and to pick up Kim Phillips-Fein’s Fear City.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?

I have one fundamental piece of advice: study a topic that you love, and that makes your heart sing, but keep a pragmatic consideration about developing transferable skills and opportunities to gain experience in non-academic venues. Learn GIS, as I did in graduate school, or get experience in writing and administering grants, or hone your prose in writing for public audiences, or work on an exhibit at a local museum, and most of all, learn how to pitch yourself. The academic job market is a difficult one, and while a tenure-track job is a great option, it is not the be-all and end-all of higher education or graduate school. There are many different ways to make a rewarding living and to use your knowledge to help improve humanity.

What are you most excited about for UHA 2018?

I am most excited about sitting in on some sessions at UHA. I have loved UHA from the beginning of grad school (my first conference was Milwaukee 2004) because I get so much energy and inspiration from learning about the new work people are doing and from catching up with old friends. It has been quite rewarding, through planning, to help move the conference and, potentially, the field in new directions. Now I’m just looking forward to being part of that fundamental process of sharing ideas, of hearing and responding to new research in progress.

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: Kim Phillips-Fein

Gallatin HeadshotKim Phillips-Fein

Associate Professor

Gallatin School of Individualized Study and History Department, College of Arts and Sciences

New York University

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

I’m actually between major research projects now, which is a nice though sometimes anxiety-provoking place to be!  I have been thinking about a lot of different topics–about the far right in the 1930s; about how to tell the history of the Great Depression in a way that is not triumphalist about the New Deal; about the transformation of the lived experience of political economy between the 1970s to the 1980s, especially the major strikes of that era (most of which ended in defeat for the unions involved) and the ways they reflected a fundamental conflict about the future of the country; about the political ideas of business executives going back into the 19th century, and the ways that their thinking has helped to shape a distinctive political tradition in the United States, one that is far more ambivalent about democracy than our mainstream political culture would suggest–but my energies are still dispersed.  I recently finished writing an essay for an edited volume about the contested history of the idea of neoliberalism, and this was fun because it allowed me to pull together some of the thoughts I had while working on Fear City. In general, I think that the current political situation informs my research interests. I am always trying to understand how and why the right is so powerful in this country, what kinds of voices get heard in political life, who is able to exercise power and how.

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

This year I taught one class on the history of ideas about American capitalism in the 20th century, one course which I called “The American Business Tradition: Entrepreneurs, Robber Barons, Salesmen and Frauds,” and one on the history of social movements of both the left and the right in the 20th century (this was co-taught with Linda Gordon). All these classes are in direct dialogue with my own thinking about my research, even though in my classes I always try to take as broad a view as possible, rather than teaching my own arguments (I never really like assigning my own work).  In my writing I try to think about how to put complex ideas into clear language and how to foreground my arguments without making them too simple; teaching is great practice for both of these, as well as a chance to listen to what college students think about history, politics and American society.

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

There’s always so much I am looking forward to reading at the end of the semester!  One book I’m especially looking forward to is Stacie Taranto’s Kitchen Table Politics, about conservative women in New York State. I’m also excited about Keisha Blain’s Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom, as well as Michael Honey’s recent To the Promised Land, which is about Martin Luther King, Jr., and his longstanding commitment to economic justice. I’ve also been looking forward to LaDale Winling’s Building the Ivory Tower: Universities and Metropolitan Development in the Twentieth Century, as I think about the efforts of cities to adapt to the loss of industry in the 1970s and after.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

Always let yourself become deeply engaged by the city you’re writing about. Spend lots of time walking around it, observing it, traveling it. Don’t just work in the archives, but try to let your work there go along with an immersion in the present life of the place whose history you’re exploring.  If it is your home town, think of ways to make it appear strange and new to you, and if it is a new city, try to talk to the people who have lived there all their lives.

Your book, Fear City, is one of the most frequently referenced publications on The Metropole! It has clearly been an influential and useful resource for urban historians. Looking back on your career so far, what book or article most influenced you and the questions you have asked about the past?

While it’s hard to pick a single book, Josh Freeman’s Working-Class New York: Life and Labor Since World War II was the most important work for me as I was thinking about Fear City, in that it emphasized the distinctive nature of postwar New York and the unusual style of liberalism that existed in the city.  More generally, for thinking about urban history, both Jefferson Cowie’s Capital Moves and Thomas Sugrue’s Origins of the Urban Crisis were very important for me–they both suggested the importance of exploring the internal dynamics within cities while also seeing them as part of larger systems of power. Both books show that what we think of as the problems of cities are in many ways simply the problems of inequality, as they play out in a specific geographical space.

Member of the Week: Mason Williams

WilliamsMason Williams

Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies and Political Science

Williams College

@masonbwilliams

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

I’m writing a book about how New York City rebuilt its public institutions in the wake of the 1975 Fiscal Crisis—looking especially at schools, policing, and public space. The era of New York’s political history that I described in City of Ambition really does come to an end in the 1970s—if anyone hasn’t read Kim Phillips-Fein’s book Fear City, stop reading this and go find a copy! That moment of pure disinvestment doesn’t last very long, though; by the 1980s, liberals and technocratic problem-solvers alike are trying to recapture a vision of a democratic public sphere. But they’re doing so in ways that end up embedding racial and class inequalities in new institutional forms: public school choice, quality-of-life policing, public-private partnerships, and the like. (If anyone’s interested, there’s a preview of this argument in the latest issue of Dissent.)

To me, the most interesting thing about neoliberalism in New York is that key parts of the neoliberal state are not simply the products of a power grab by capital—which means they have at least some democratic legitimacy among people who think of themselves as progressives. All of which helps to shed light on one of the interesting paradoxes of contemporary American politics: the most progressive places are also the most unequal ones.

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

I’m teaching a course I offer every spring, Race & Inequality in the American City. It began a few years ago as a chronologically-organized history of American cities since 1945. But it became obvious that what the students really wanted to understand was what to do about contemporary forms of urban racial inequality. So I reorganized it. We now start with the deep structural underpinnings of contemporary compounded deprivation—they read Tom Sugrue’s Origins of the Urban Crisis, Massey and Denton’s American Apartheid, Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law (and Destin Jenkins’s great review of it). Then we look at how specific policy areas like policing and criminal justice, education, and housing/gentrification fit together and rearticulate broader structural inequalities. I want them to understand how much is being elided, for instance, when people speak of school equity in terms of an “achievement gap,” “failing schools,” or “bad teachers.”

By the end of the semester, the students understand just how deeply contemporary urban inequality is embedded in American capitalism, politics, and culture—and so they realize that small-scale reforms that leave larger structures of inequality intact risk making things worse. Once they’ve really grappled with that reality, we’re ready to talk about what “solutions” might actually look like.

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

I’m about to publish an edited volume with two great historians of urban America, Brent Cebul and Lily Geismer. It’s called Shaped by the State: Toward a New Political History of the Twentieth Century, and it will be out with the University of Chicago Press in November 2018. The project started as an inquiry into what historians were missing by framing post-1932 American politics as a story of “red vs. blue”—the rise and fall of the New Deal order, the rise of conservatism, the turn from “embedded liberalism” to “neoliberalism.” By the time we were putting the final manuscript together, the controversy over what constitutes “political history” had broken out. So we ended up doing a broader audit into what political history really is right now. A number of the contributors are UHA members: N. D. B. Connolly, David Freund, Andrew Kahrl, Matt Lassiter, Suleiman Osman, and Kim Phillips-Fein.

Of course, as a historian of New York, I’m also excited by all the work that’s coming out on Gotham’s recent political history: Kim Phillips-Fein’s Fear City, Julilly Kohler-Hausmann’s Getting Tough, Mike Woodsworth’s Battle for Bed-Stuy, Brian Tochterman’s The Dying City, Brian Goldstein’s The Roots of Urban Renaissance, Aaron Shkuda’s The Lofts of SoHo, Heath Ann Thompson’s Blood in the Water, Saladin Ambar’s American Cicero, Chris McNickle’s Bloomberg, Joe Viteritti’s The Pragmatist (on de Blasio’s first term)—plus in-progress work by Marsha Barrett, Amanda Boston, Dylan Gottlieb, Ben Holtzman, Dominique Jean-Louis, Nick Juravich, Lauren Lefty, Suleiman Osman, and many others who I’m mortified to be leaving out. This is a golden age of scholarship on New York politics, and it’s exciting to be a small part of it.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

Go out of your way to meet scholars who are a few cohorts ahead of you. You’ll get to know your peers, and you’ll hopefully have good relationships with the senior faculty members on your committee and elsewhere in your area of study. But having mentors, role models, and friends a few years ahead of you who’ve recently been in your shoes and really understand what you’re going through is invaluable—and only more so as your career progresses.

You work at the intersection of history and political science. We at The Metropole would like to know: which discipline throws better conferences? 

You’re trying to get me in trouble! I will say, the best thing about conferences is catching up with old friends, and I’ve been a historian longer than I’ve been a political scientist. But an occasional four-cell table wouldn’t hurt anyone!

Member of the Week: Alan Lessoff

Lessoff at ND, TW photo, Oct 16Alan Lessoff

University Professor of History

Illinois State University

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

I’m in the middle of two projects. The first is an exhibition and book project undertaken with the McLean County Museum of History, an exemplary regional museum in this part of Illinois. The theme is unbuilt buildings and failed and defeated plans and development projects. A lot of large cities in the United States and elsewhere have had exhibition and publishing projects on the theme of the Unbuilt City. They are often gorgeous–because of all the renderings, charts, and models–and they invite imagination of all sorts of possibilities, negative as well as positive. They also draw people into a discussion of how groups of residents in the past understood and argued about their city and its problems and potential. As far as we can tell, this is the first time a mid-sized city has tried an Unbuilt City exhibit. Given the nature of planning and development in mid-sized cities, this invites a discussion of the state-of-the-art professional advice–the contemporary best practice–that planning consultants and architects have over time diffused from larger cities to regional and secondary metropolises and how that diffusion shaped cities everywhere.

My other current project is a pair of essays about how Europeans became aware of American debates over urban machine politics, focusing on James Bryce (whom I wrote about in the past) along with William T. Stead and Mosei Ostrogorski. This is part of an international project about urban politics and corruption that I’ve worked with off and on for about a decade. In general, Europeans tried to distance themselves from the idea that mass party politics could bring urban political machines to European cities, but there was also the counter-notion this might become another menacing form of Americanization, that European cities could become “Chicagos,” as contemporaries at times put it.

This is pretty typical for me over the past two decades–my urban history goes in a public and regional history direction, but I also try to keep going with more conventional, analytical work.

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

Once a year, I teach a senior/graduate course on U.S. urban history that includes a segment in conjunction with the McLean County Museum that we have devised to involve students with urban history archives, how they are organized, and how one can work with them. Given where we are in Central Illinois, I use works like Ann Keating, Chicagoland: City and Suburbs in the Railroad Age, and Colin Gordon, Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City, to encourage students to have a geographic and visual sense of the urban region. Keating’s Chicagoland is especially inspiring. I use it as the basis for a project in which students are meant to take photographs of their hometown or neighborhood and consider how a place they think of as familiar might fit into the regional patterns that Keating lays out and how they might be able to see previously unseen history in their own towns.

I also teach a senior research seminar on comparative urban history, as well as an MA-level seminar in local and public history methods. Last summer, I had the chance to try out a version of this seminar at the Bielefeld University Graduate School for History and Sociology, using historical museums and sites in that section of Westphalia. Public history draws us to the local wherever we are, but we can readily conceive of it in transnational and comparative ways as well. (This is not an original thought by any means.) And right now, I’m trying a new MA seminar on the United States in Transnational Perspective, which encourages big thinking among students about urban networks and urban environmental history. I also oversee our internship program and our small urban studies minor. Overall, my teaching these days amounts a pretty good arrangement for someone who does what we do–it runs the gamut from the most hands-on to the most interpretive.

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

A short while back, I read a clear, detailed book by a University of Chicago urban studies scholar, Chad Broughton, Boom, Bust, Exodus: The Rust Belt, the Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015). It’s a vivid account of the people swept up in both places when the Maytag plant moved in the early 2000s from Galesburg, Illinois, to Reynosa, across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas. This book gives me ways to connect my earlier writing about South Texas to my current research on Central Illinois–he does a great job with one of the most relevant subjects one can imagine.

I love the way that Benjamin H. Johnson’s new book, Escaping the Dark, Gray City: Fear and Hope in Progressive-Era Conservation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), draws upon all the recent work in urban environmental history to create a new general narrative of the conservation movement.

One of the next books on my to-read shelf is Daniel Czitrom, New York Exposed: The Gilded Age Police Scandal that Launched the Progressive Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), about the Lexow Investigation of 1894. I feel that our current debates about abusive policing help us better to understand why contemporaries in the late 1800s saw machine politics as so unsavory and oppressive.  Understanding police racketeering should offset any romance we might still have with the image of good-hearted ward bosses.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?

To stay engaged with their places and the physical and local aspect of urban history work, even through all the anxiety and uncertainty of trying to become established professionally. We’re fortunate to have a field that enables us so readily to connect with the places where we happen to be, and that helps to some degree to keep us alive intellectually through the periods when one feels so unsettled and therefore so driven to live in one’s head and in one’s CV. All those places will accumulate and will be a tremendous resource later on.

You’ve written a history of Corpus Christi, Texas. What’s a surprising fact about the city that neither urbanists nor residents likely know?

Because of its name and location, people imagine Corpus Christi to manifest the Spanish and Mexican presence in South Texas that was overwhelmed by Anglo American conquest and colonization. In reality it shares more with Houston and other Anglo American urban foundations along the Texas coast, in that it began as an Anglo American outpost and gateway into what’s now southern Texas and the Borderlands, a launching point for the extension of Anglo American commercial and political networks and environmental transformation into what had formerly been a Spanish and Mexican frontier region. Anglo American civil engineering reshaped a shallow bay on the edge of an arid plain and with a hurricane-prone coast into a practical-enough site for urbanization geared into U.S. urban systems. The Spanish heritage, Mission Revival design, and ranger and pioneer lore that still dominate regional historical and visual identity can overshadow this more modern story of regional development for commercial agriculture, labor exploitation, and resource extraction. The main theme of my book was the tense interplay between those older regional epics and lore and an urban character, layout, and culture shaped by railroad- and petrochemical-era Texas.