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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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.

During the civil rights era, Atlanta thought of itself as "The City Too Busy to Hate," a rare place in the South where the races lived and thrived together. Over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, however, so many whites fled the city for the suburbs that Atlanta earned a new nickname: "The City Too Busy Moving to Hate."

In this reappraisal of racial politics in modern America, Kevin Kruse explains the causes and consequences of "white flight" in Atlanta and elsewhere. Seeking to understand segregationists on their own terms, White Flight moves past simple stereotypes to explore the meaning of white resistance. In the end, Kruse finds that segregationist resistance, which failed to stop the civil rights movement, nevertheless managed to preserve the world of segregation and even perfect it in subtler and stronger forms.


Challenging the conventional wisdom that white flight meant nothing more than a literal movement of whites to the suburbs, this book argues that it represented a more important transformation in the political ideology of those involved. In a provocative revision of postwar American history, Kruse demonstrates that traditional elements of modern conservatism, such as hostility to the federal government and faith in free enterprise, underwent important transformations during the postwar struggle over segregation. Likewise, white resistance gave birth to several new conservative causes, like the tax revolt, tuition vouchers, and privatization of public services. Tracing the journey of southern conservatives from white supremacy to white suburbia, Kruse locates the origins of modern American politics.

Some images inside the book are unavailable due to digital copyright restrictions.

Part family story and part urban history, a landmark investigation of segregation and urban decay in Chicago -- and cities across the nation

The "promised land" for thousands of Southern blacks, postwar Chicago quickly became the most segregated city in the North, the site of the nation's worst ghettos and the target of Martin Luther King Jr.'s first campaign beyond the South. In this powerful book, Beryl Satter identifies the true causes of the city's black slums and the ruin of urban neighborhoods throughout the country: not, as some have argued, black pathology, the culture of poverty, or white flight, but a widespread and institutionalized system of legal and financial exploitation.

In Satter's riveting account of a city in crisis, unscrupulous lawyers, slumlords, and speculators are pitched against religious reformers, community organizers, and an impassioned attorney who launched a crusade against the profiteers—the author's father, Mark J. Satter. At the heart of the struggle stand the black migrants who, having left the South with its legacy of sharecropping, suddenly find themselves caught in a new kind of debt peonage. Satter shows the interlocking forces at work in their oppression: the discriminatory practices of the banking industry; the federal policies that created the country's shameful "dual housing market"; the economic anxieties that fueled white violence; and the tempting profits to be made by preying on the city's most vulnerable population.

Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America is a monumental work of history, this tale of racism and real estate, politics and finance, will forever change our understanding of the forces that transformed urban America.


"Gripping . . . This painstaking portrayal of the human costs of financial racism is the most important book yet written on the black freedom struggle in the urban North."—David Garrow, The Washington Post

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