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Værker af Thomas J. Sugrue

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The "Underclass" Debate: Views from History (1992) — Bidragyder — 31 eksemplarer

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Detroit, Michigan, USA
University of Pennsylvania



Summary: A history of the fight for civil rights in the North from 1920 to roughly 2000, focusing on movements, leaders, issues, and their expression in northern cities.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Birmingham, John Lewis, sit-ins, James Farmer, the Edmund Pettus Bridge. When we thing of the history of the Civil Rights movement, we often are thinking of the movement in the South. But racism and the efforts of Blacks to assert their rights in the North was just as real, even if the racism was not so out in the open. Thomas J. Sugrue traces this history beginning in the 1920’s, at the time of the great northward migration of Blacks, in a dizzying array of detail that I can only begin to summarize.

We are introduced to leaders: Henry Lee Moon, A Philip Randolph, Anna Arnold Hedgeman, Whitney Young, Roy Wilkins, Attorney Cecil B. Moore, Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X, Constance Baker Motley, Reverend Albert Cleage, and so many others. Sugrue covers their contributions. Perhaps one of the most striking profiles was Roxanne Jones, who rose from poverty to street activism to the state senate of Pennsylvania.

We learn about the movements: The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the Urban League, CORE, the NAACP, with their attorney and litigation strategies, Nation of Islam, the Revolutionary Action Movement, and Mothers for Adequate Welfare.

Then there are the issues. Workplace rights. Equal access to facilities, a reality in the north, but often implicit rather than explicit. Open housing is one running through this narrative from redlining to exclusion from the Leavittown suburbs and restrictive covenants to real estate “steering” practices that preserved segregation in housing. There is the struggle for equal resources in schools, the struggle to desegregate, whether through redrawing school boundaries or busing, and all the pushback that occurred. He covers government employment programs and the ongoing income inequities.

Finally, because this happened in the North, this is a narrative that takes place in cities: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Gary, and Chicago. This last I found intriguing because the issues, the patterns, and struggles were ones I see as I study the history of my own home town of Youngstown. Sugrue’s history parallels the history both in time and struggle what I’ve observed. In the struggle for history, local history is national history.

Sugrue’s history demonstrates how so much of northern racism is woven into the fabric of our cities: government, residential patterns, workplace policies, school systems, economic policies. It explains the necessity of the movements because these systemic issues would not be changed out of the goodness of people’s hearts. They needed to be protested, resisted, litigated, boycotted, and legislated. Gradualism and patience was not adequate to bring about change. Yet often the targets were subtler and tougher to call out, and invidious actions could be justified by what seemed common sense or even noble reasons, always aiming to preserve the status quo.

We must face what is broken before we can repair and heal it. It seemed so much of this history was one of efforts to call out what was broken, and the stubborn refusal, or if that was not possible, the superficial steps to heal deep grievances and brokenness. We should not be surprised by the protests we saw in our streets in 2020. Within the frame of this book, they were simply one more expression of a hundred year history going back to the great Black northward migration in the first decades of the last century, one more cry to be heard, one more plea that we embark on the hard work of justice it takes to truly become the sweet land of liberty of which we sing.
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BobonBooks | 2 andre anmeldelser | Feb 16, 2021 |
In Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North, Thomas J. Sugrue addresses a gap in the historiography, writing, “Nearly a half century later, our histories – and our collective memories – of the civil rights era do not reflect the national scope of racial inequality and the breadth of challenges to it” (pg. xii). He argues, “To understand the history of civil rights – indeed, to understand modern America – it is essential to bring the North back in” (pg. xiv). To this end, he “focuses on the moment in modern American history when activists, especially in the North, fought for their rights broadly conceived” (pg. xvii). Despite the large scope of Sugrue’s work, he works within the realm of microhistory, moving from case study to case study to prove his point.
Sugrue describes the push for civil rights activism, writing, “The civil rights impulse had been deeply rooted in the American past, yet it came to the surface in America at one particular moment, the 1940s. And it did so because of a shift in national politics and a simultaneous grassroots struggle from below” (pg. 31). He writes of the role of activism, “Whites would not yield the advantage of their race without a fight. Only the threat – or the actuality – of political disruption would” (pg. 32). Protests in the North paralleled and eclipsed those in the South. Sugrue writes, “Just as King and his allies were opening their nonviolent siege of Birmingham, an extraordinary wave of protests shook Philadelphia” (pg. 292). Elsewhere, “in Rochester, New York, a broad spectrum of civil rightd activists and nationalists, including Malcolm X, joined forces in protesting the city’s police, who had arrested twelve members of the Nation of Islam in January” (pg. 303-304). Sugrue devotes a great deal of attention to segregation in the North, which occurred through legal and extralegal means. Movie theaters used special ticketing and invitation only events to segregate their audiences (pg. 139). In regards to housing, Sugrue argues, “The existence of all-white and all-black neighborhoods was not a fixed, timeless feature of northern life. Rather, rigid housing segregation by race was a relatively new creation” (pg. 209). While certain towns enacted sundown laws, more commonly were neighborhood associations or realtors who limited prospective buyers of homes. Sugrue writes, “Whites often engaged in extralegal actions to enforce restrictive covenants and racially discriminatory lending policies. They fought viciously to keep ‘undesirables’ out of their neighborhoods as blacks migrated northward” (pg. 204). Despite efforts to change peoples’ minds, whites “moved in overwhelming numbers to all-white communities” (pg. 249).
Sugrue’s work blends synthesis with primary research, drawing extensively upon the secondary literature of the civil rights era while incorporating information from various local newspapers, African-American papers, the documents of the Congress for Racial Equality, and more. At times, the book loses its way due to the breadth and scope of the project.
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DarthDeverell | 2 andre anmeldelser | Apr 1, 2017 |
With this work, Thomas J. Sugrue presented a new interpretation of the decline and fall of the American industrial city using Detroit as a case study. While previous historians have pointed to the riots of 1967 as the fulcrum upon which Detroit’s (and by extension other northern industrial cities’) fortunes turned, Sugrue pushed that point back by two decades. Instead he contends that the seeds for the city’s substantial decline were actually sown in the immediate aftermath of World War II. There was massive wartime relocation of southern African American, as well as Appalachian whites, seeking factory jobs in defense industries. The loss of those jobs once defense orders waned, coupled with rampant racism and inadequate housing, all played a part in the decline.

Sugrue argued that by placing housing and employment within the context of race, one can plainly see the cause and timing of Detroit’s decline. He makes the case that the postwar economic boom enjoyed by many communities was not universal, and was in fact, unevenly distributed across the country. For Detroit specifically, Sugrue pointed out that even in the best of times, those jobs that were available, were by and large, lower-paying jobs without the security of union contracts to guarantee long-term employment. Many of the employees still could not afford to purchase the cars coming off the assembly lines of the plants in which they toiled. And while home ownership certainly grew rapidly immediately after the war, it still remained an unattainable goal for many.

Sugrue also showed that the loss of jobs hurt African Americans disproportionately. One could argue that a life in Appalachia had served as no greater preparation for industrial work, and yet Sugrue argued that those white migrants held onto jobs, or at least had an easier time replacing them if they were lost. He also examined hiring practices of individual firms and industries to make his point of de facto hiring discrimination. He successfully argued that it was not the role of decentralization, which moved the jobs away from African Americans sequestered in the inner city ghettos, but instead ordinary, everyday racism.

Housing was another issue which contributed to the city’s economic failure. As Sugrue pointed out, not only did African Americans migrants from the South pour into Detroit, but their white counterparts from Appalachia did so as well. The housing crisis that resulted from the thousands of new residents did not affect both groups equally. This should eliminate Wilson’s argument that class was the deciding factor; Sugrue showed plainly that it was race instead. He argued that the overwhelmingly negative white response to the prospect of African American neighbors was due in large part to white fear: whites feared unknown African Americans and they also feared the impact of desegregation on home prices. White neighborhood associations saw segregation as the key to peace on the home front; in fact, Sugrue noted that “Many cited the Jim Crow South as a model for successful race relations.”

Sugrue’s carefully researched work does show that many of the factors that are responsible for the decline of industrial cities have been in place far longer than most would posit. By using data from the United States census and other government reports, as well as privately gathered surveys, the author clearly upholds his thesis in regard to Detroit. Where he may be on shakier ground is his assertion that Detroit serves as a model for other industrial cities of the North and Midwest that have suffered similar declines. Without similar data, gathered just as painstakingly as that present in The Origins of the Urban Crisis, one would be hard pressed to apply this model universally. Sugrue himself described the work as “a social and political history of inequality in a twentieth-century city,” and it is best left to that limit.
… (mere)
ScoutJ | Mar 31, 2013 |
More politically focused than Crabgrass Frontier, which all the authors take as a foundational text, the essays explore areas that Jackson did not go into detail on, though they don’t really disagree with his analysis other than to qualify it in certain ways. Essays consider segregation, the role of universities and research parks in shaping suburbia, visions of suburbia as Hell, African-American suburban experiences and aspirations, California’s tax revolt, claims for socioeconomic equity, and immigration. The most powerful for me was the first, David M.P. Freund’s Marketing the Free Market: State Intervention and the Politics of Prosperity in Metropolitan America, which argued that pervasive government interventions that allowed whites to move to the suburbs underwrote not just mortgages but a new narrative of racial innocence. By accepting the government’s own narrative that government intervention was only guaranteeing what the free market would naturally produce, and that this free market was necessary as an engine of American prosperity, whites were able to believe a number of related claims: African-Americans naturally drive down property values; white ability to move to the suburbs was a sign of deserved success; opposition to integration was not due to racism but to cold hard economic facts about property values. “It’s only natural, and thus we need to reinforce it with incentives and punishments”—the logic of oppression repeats itself again and again.… (mere)
rivkat | Sep 8, 2009 |



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