American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland

Princeton University Press
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As the birthplace of the Black Panthers and a nationwide tax revolt, California embodied a crucial motif of the postwar United States: the rise of suburbs and the decline of cities, a process in which black and white histories inextricably joined. American Babylon tells this story through Oakland and its nearby suburbs, tracing both the history of civil rights and black power politics as well as the history of suburbanization and home-owner politics. Robert Self shows that racial inequities in both New Deal and Great Society liberalism precipitated local struggles over land, jobs, taxes, and race within postwar metropolitan development. Black power and the tax revolt evolved together, in tension.

American Babylon demonstrates that the history of civil rights and black liberation politics in California did not follow a southern model, but represented a long-term struggle for economic rights that began during the World War II years and continued through the rise of the Black Panthers in the late 1960s. This struggle yielded a wide-ranging and profound critique of postwar metropolitan development and its foundation of class and racial segregation. Self traces the roots of the 1978 tax revolt to the 1940s, when home owners, real estate brokers, and the federal government used racial segregation and industrial property taxes to forge a middle-class lifestyle centered on property ownership.

Using the East Bay as a starting point, Robert Self gives us a richly detailed, engaging narrative that uniquely integrates the most important racial liberation struggles and class politics of postwar America.

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About the author

Robert O. Self is Assistant Professor of History at Brown University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Aug 8, 2005
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Pages
408
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ISBN
9781400844173
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Modern / 20th Century
History / United States / 20th Century
Social Science / Black Studies (Global)
Social Science / Discrimination & Race Relations
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / African American Studies
Social Science / Minority Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Robert O. Self
In the 1960s, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and War on Poverty promised an array of federal programs to assist working-class families. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan declared the GOP the party of "family values" and promised to keep government out of Americans' lives. Again and again, historians have sought to explain the nation's profound political realignment from the 1960s to the 2000s, five decades that witnessed the fracturing of liberalism and the rise of the conservative right. The award-winning historian Robert O. Self is the first to argue that the separate threads of that realignment—from civil rights to women's rights, from the antiwar movement to Nixon's "silent majority," from the abortion wars to gay marriage, from the welfare state to neoliberal economic policies—all ran through the politicized American family.

Based on an astonishing range of sources, All in the Family rethinks an entire era. Self opens his narrative with the Great Society and its assumption of a white, patriotic, heterosexual man at the head of each family. Soon enough, civil rights activists, feminists, and gay rights activists, animated by broader visions of citizenship, began to fight for equal rights, protections, and opportunities. Led by Pauli Murray, Gloria Steinem, Harvey Milk, and Shirley Chisholm, among many others, they achieved lasting successes, including Roe v. Wade, antidiscrimination protections in the workplace, and a more inclusive idea of the American family.

Yet the establishment of new rights and the visibility of alternative families provoked, beginning in the 1970s, a furious conservative backlash. Politicians and activists on the right, most notably George Wallace, Phyllis Schlafly, Anita Bryant, and Jerry Falwell, built a political movement based on the perceived moral threat to the traditional family. Self writes that "family values" conservatives in fact "paved the way" for fiscal conservatives, who shared a belief in liberalism's invasiveness but lacked a populist message. Reagan's presidency united the two constituencies, which remain, even in these tumultuous times, the base of the Republican Party. All in the Family, an erudite, passionate, and persuasive explanation of our current political situation and how we arrived in it, will allow us to think anew about the last fifty years of American politics.

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