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Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis

Housing Policy in Postwar Chicago

2012
Author:

Preston H. Smith II

Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis

How a black elite fighting racial discrimination reinforced class inequality in postwar America

Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis examines housing debates in Chicago, showing how class and factional conflicts among African Americans actually helped to reproduce stunning segregation along economic lines. Preston H. Smith II reveals a surprising picture of black civic leaders who singled out racial segregation as the source of African Americans’ inadequate housing rather than attacking class inequalities.

Preston H. Smith II’s distinction between racial democracy and social democracy not only makes sense of Chicago’s housing politics, but reveals the central dynamic of twentieth-century African American politics. Deeply researched, Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis is a model of historical scholarship, accessible to undergraduates and necessary for graduate students.

Judith Stein, City University of New York

“The African American community.” “The black position.” In accounts of black politics after the Second World War, these phrases reflect how the African American perspective generally appeared consistent, coherent, and unified. In Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis, Preston H. Smith II examines housing debates in Chicago that go beyond black and white politics, and he shows how class and factional conflicts among African Americans actually helped to reproduce stunning segregation along economic lines.

Class and factional conflicts were normal in the rough-and-tumble world of land use politics. They are, however, often not visible in accounts of the postwar fight against segregation. Smith outlines the ideological framework that black civic leaders in Chicago used to formulate housing policy, both within and outside the black community, to reveal a surprising picture of leaders who singled out racial segregation as the source of African Americans’ inadequate housing rather than attacking class inequalities. What are generally presented as black positions on housing policy in Chicago, Smith makes clear, belonged to the black elite and did not necessarily reflect black working-class participation or interests.

This book details how black civic leaders fought racial discrimination in ways that promoted—or at least did not sacrifice—their class interests in housing and real estate struggles. And, as Smith demonstrates, their accommodation of the real estate practices and government policy of the time has had a lasting effect: it contributed to a legacy of class segregation in the housing market in Chicago and major metropolitan areas across the country that is still felt today.

Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis

Preston H. Smith II is associate professor of politics at Mount Holyoke College. He is a contributor to Renewing Black Intellectual History: The Ideological and Material Foundations of African American Thought.

Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis

Preston H. Smith II’s distinction between racial democracy and social democracy not only makes sense of Chicago’s housing politics, but reveals the central dynamic of twentieth-century African American politics. Deeply researched, Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis is a model of historical scholarship, accessible to undergraduates and necessary for graduate students.

Judith Stein, City University of New York

Smith adds greatly to our understanding of the forces giving rise to and fueling the racial disparities in mid-20th century US housing policy. While other scholars have addressed this issue by scrutinizing the motives and goals of white policy makers, bankers, and business interests, Smith examines black elite complicity in state sanctioned housing stratification in Chicago and, by extension, the nation. Richly detailed, Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis is a very important piece of scholarship.

Touré F. Reed, author of Renewing Black Intellectual History

Brings a depth of analysis of elite black political ideology missing from previous examinations of housing reform in twentieth-century urban America.

Journal of Illinois History

Racial Democracy is must reading for anyone concerned with the politics of race, housing, and class in modern America.

Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Preston’s narrative is compelling and his argument convincing, grounded in an impressive archival trail.

Journal of American History

Smith’s study is compelling, especially in offering a new way to look at the narrow focus of post-war activism and the retreat from the radicalism of the 1930s and early 1940s.

Journal of African American History

A necessary addition to urban politics syllabi.

National Political Science Review

Racial Democracy and the Black Metropolis

Contents

Abbreviations
Introduction

1. Black Civic Ideology and Political Economy in Postwar Chicago
2. Racial Democracy and the Case for Public Housing
3. Black Factions Contesting Public Housing
4. Fighting “Negro Clearance”: Black Elites and Urban Redevelopment Policy
5. From Negro Clearance to Negro Containment: Displacement and Relocation in a Dual Housing Market
6. Black Redevelopment and Negro Conservation
7. Racial Violence and the Crisis of Black Elite Leadership
8. From Restrictive Covenants to Occupancy Standards: Class and Racial Democracy
9. Selling the Negro Housing Market
10. Self-Help and the Black Real Estate Industry

Conclusion

Acknowledgments
Notes
Index