Sweeping, well-documented history of the struggle for racial equality above the Mason-Dixon line.
Bancroft Prize–winner Sugrue (History and Sociology/Univ. of Pennsylvania; The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 1996, etc.) argues that in the North, practices in the workplace, education, public accommodations and housing were as effective as “Whites Only” signs in keeping blacks and whites separated. The civil-rights struggle there was just as fierce, he continues, and is as significant to an understanding of the present as the oft-told Southern story. Identifying racial injustice as a political problem of unequal power relationships, he examines the ways in which institutions have created and maintained racial separation and racial privilege. Drawing on the contemporary writings of black journalists, government investigative reports and the records of local, regional and national civil-rights groups, the author focuses on New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois, the states with the largest black populations outside the South. He examines the impact of massive African-American migration in the 1920s from the rural South to Northern cities, then turns to the fight in the ’30s and ’40s for economic security by interracial coalitions of black militants and small numbers of religious activists and secular leftists. A second wave of migration to Northern industrial centers launched by World War II ultimately changed the racial composition of many cities and sparked grassroots battles over housing, schools and public accommodations. Sugrue provides unforgettable stories of black encounters with segregated hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, beaches and amusement parks, as well as moving accounts of grassroots resistance to unequal schooling and restricted housing. He enlivens this complex history of political movements and shifting coalitions with personal stories: the middle-class advocate of “uplift and respectability” who evolved into a militant; the college student whose request for a movie ticket eventually opened RKO theaters to black patrons; the New York school teacher who headed a movement demanding jobs for black construction workers.
Scholarly yet accessible.