Amazing aggregations of people and housing

CHAPTER VII

DYNAMITE in the Ghetto

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This country is known by its cities: those amazing aggregations of people and housing, offices and factories, which constitute the heart of our civilization, the nerve center of our collective being. America is increasingly dominated by her cities, as they draw into them the brawn and brains and wealth of the hinterland. Seventy percent of the American people now reside in urban areasall of which are in a state of crisis. It is estimated that by 1980, an additional fifty-three million people will be living in the cities. By 2000, ninety-five percent of all Americans will be living in urban areas.1 Millions of these will be black people. For a number of reasons, the city has become the major domestic problem facing this nation in the second half of the twentieth century.

Corporate power has moved its structure and influence to the cities. No longer do public land grabs and privileged tax structures suffice for corporate power. Instead, they require centralization, intellect and skill for the administration of its productive technology. For these and other reasons, the corporation has come full force to the city. Their procession requires favorable opinion to withstand public misgiving. Thus, they have come to control the media, the schools, the press, the universityeither by way of ownership, contract, or public service.

Federalism is also moving to the city, through the growth of direct federal-local relations in education, housing, transportation, public welfare, etc. A nation of urban federalism is emerging, while the states gradually become regional administrations of the national government.

Its major interest formation is the new middle class. Technology, corporate consolidation, and public economy are transforming that class from a property to a wage base. It is a college- educated class of salaried administrators, whose primary interest is to secure more objects for service, management, and control. For this purpose the middle class needs a permanently expanding dependent clientele and enough organizational power to protect its function and expanding ranks. Service and expertise are its occupational principles. So the new class seeks to enlarge service programs; refine the qualifications of performance; and control their operation through professional organization.

Correspondingly, the lower class has been transformed from production to permanent unemployment. Its value is no longer labor, but dependency. Both groups and allied interests are in daily battle, which is manifested in the recurring disorders that surround housing, education, and welfare administration.

The crucial issue of the public control of technology rests in the city. Here the felt effects of technology meet the popular power to question, resist, and even possibly, to democratically guide automation to better purpose. Whether democratic decision can prevail over the private

control of technology is questionable. But the issue will have to be met in the city.2

The problems of the city and of institutional racism are clearly intertwined. Nowhere are people so expendable in the forward march of corporate power as in the ghetto. At the same time, nowhere is the potential political power of black people greater. If the crisis we face in the city is to be dealt with, the problem of the ghetto must be solved first.

Black people now hold the balance of electoral power in some of the nations largest cities, while population experts predict that, in the next ten to twenty years, black Americans will constitute the majority in a dozen or more of the largest cities. In Washington, D.C., and Newark, New Jersey, they already are in the majority; in Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland and St. Louis, they represent one-third or slightly more of the population; in such places as Oakland, Chicago, Philadelphia and Cincinnati, they constitute well over one-fourth. Even at the height of European immigration, no ethnic group has ever multiplied so rapidly in the United States. In order to understand the black ghettoboth its great problems and its capacity to become a key political force in urban Americawe should take a brief look at the history of black migration to the North.

Many slaves escaped to the North before emancipation, while some, of course, migrated to Liberia,

Haiti and Central America. The Emancipation Proclamation cut many loose from the land and, starting with the end of the Civil War, there developed a steady trickle of freed men from the South. During Reconstruction, this northward migration eased somewhat with the ability of black people to take advantage of the franchise.

Soon after, however, southern racism and fanaticism broke loose. Thousands of black people were killed in the 1870s in an effort by whites to destroy the political power that blacks had gained. This was all capped by the deal of 1876 (mentioned in Chapter IV), whereby the Republicans guaranteed that Mr. Hayes, when he became President, would, by non-interference and the withdrawal of troops, allow the plantersunder the name of Democratsto gain control in the Deep South. The withdrawal of these troops by President Hayes and the appointment of a Kentuckian and a Georgian to the Supreme Court marked the handwriting on the wall.

In Black Reconstruction, DuBois portrays the situation clearly:

Negroes did not surrender the ballot easily or immediately. They continued to hold remnants of political power in South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, in parts of North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Virginia. Black Congressmen came out of the South until 1895 and Black legislators served as late as 1896. But in a losing battle with public opinion, industry and wealth against them the decisive influence was the systematic and overwhelming economic pressure. Negroes who wanted work must not dabble in politics. From 1880 onward, in order to earn a living, the American Negro was compelled to give up his political power [pp. 69293].

Black people were therefore looking to move again. About 60,000 went to Kansas, two-thirds of

them destitute on arrival. In general, however, migration to escape the new regime in the South did not really get under way until World War I. Business was booming in 191415 as this nation became a major supplier of war materials to the Allies. This in turn increased the job market and, with the war cutting off the flow of immigrants from Europe, northern industry went on a massive campaign to recruit black workers. Emigration from the Deep South jumped from 200,000 in the decade 1890

1900 to half a million in 19101920. This migration northward did not cease with the conclusion of the war. The Immigration and Exclusion Acts of the early twenties created a great demand by industry for more workers (especially with the new assembly-line concept employed by Ford). As a result, during the twenties and thirties about 1,300,000 black people migrated from the Deep South to the North. By 1940, over 2,000,-000 blacks had migrated northward. (However, as late as 1940 more than three out of every four black people still remained in the South.)

World War II intensified black migration out of the Deep South, more so than World War I had done. Black people moved to Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Akron, Gary, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, New York and many other places. They found work in the steel mills, aircraft factories and shipyards as, for the most part, laborers and domestics. During the forties, roughly 250,000 blacks migrated to the West Coast alone to find work. This migration did not slow down with the end of the war but continued into the sixties.

The United States Census indicates:

Rise in Black Population Outside South

% of Total No. of Blacks 1900 10 1,647,377 1910 11 1,899,654 1920 15 2,407,371 1930 21 3,483,746 1940 23 3,986,606 1950 32 5,989,543 1960 40 9,009,470

Today, over sixty-five percent of black people live in urban America. This figure, of course, includes many of the urban areas of the SouthAtlanta, Birmingham, Jackson, etc. Mechanization of southern plantations has been a major reason for the migration. In 1966, over seventy-five percent of all cotton was picked by machines in the seventeen major cotton-growing counties of Mississippi. (A machine can pick one bale of cotton per hour; it takes an able-bodied man one week to pick a bale.)

Census data tell us that the largest percentage increase in black population was in the West, especially California. About 8 percent of the black population lived in the West in 1966, compared with 5.7 percent in 1960. Increases in the Northeast and North Central states were not as sharp, although the overall percentages were greater. (17.9 percent of the black population lived in the Northeast in 1966, compared with 16 percent in 1960, while 20.2 percent lived in the North Central states compared with 18.3 percent in 1960.)

What problems did black people face as they moved into these areas? Most of the blacks moving to the North were crowded into the slums of the cities. In the face of bombs and riots, they fought for a place to live and room for relatives and friends who followed them. They also faced a daily fight for jobs. At first, they were refused industrial employment and forced to accept menial work. As we have seen, wartime brought many jobs, but during periods of recession and depression blacks were the first cut from the job market while skill and craft jobs for the most part remained closed to them. Added to the problems of housing and jobs, of course, was that of education. By the early part of the

twentieth century, these three issues had become fundamental problems of the ghetto and fundamental issues in the early racial explosions. The city of Chicago offers a classic illustration of this type.

As black people started arriving in Chicago at the turn of the century, they were forced into old ghettos, where rents were cheapest and housing poorest. They took over the old, dilapidated shacks near the railroad tracksand close to the vice areas. The tremendous demand for housing resulted in an immediate skyrocketing of rents in the ghetto. Artificial panics were often created by enterprising realtors who raised the cry: The niggers are coming, and then proceeded to double the rents after the whites had fled.

The expansion of the ghetto developed so much friction that bombs were often thrown at black- owned homes in the expanding neighborhoods. In Chicago, over a dozen black homes were bombed between July 1, 1917, and July 1, 1919. This sporadic bombing of black homes was but the prelude to a five-day riot in July, 1919, which took at least thirty-eight lives, resulted in over five hundred injuries, destroyed $250,000 worth of property, and left over a thousand persons homeless. In their book, Black Metropolis, St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton describe how the riot was ended on the sixth day by the state militia, belatedly called after the police had shown their inability and, in some instances, their unwillingness, to curb attacks on black people (p. 64).

A non-partisan, interracial Chicago Commission on Race Relations was appointed to investigate and to make recommendations. According to Drake and Cayton, the Comission recommended the correction of gross inequities in protection on the part of the police and the states attorney; it also rebuked the courts for facetiousness in dealing with black defendants and the police for discrimination in making arrests. The Board of Education was asked to exercise special care in selecting principals and teachers in ghetto schools (schools at that time were segregated by law, or de jure, while today ghetto schools are segregated de facto), to alleviate overcrowding and double-shift schools. Employers and labor organizations were admonished in some detail against the use of black workers as strikebreakers and against excluding them from unions and industries. The City Council was asked to condemn all houses unfit for human habitation, of which the Commission found many in the black ghetto. The Commission also affirmed the rights of black people to live anywhere they wanted and could afford to live in the city. It insisted that property depreciation in black areas was often due to factors other than black occupancy; it condemned arbitrary increase of rents and designated the amounts and quality of housing as an all-important factor in Chicagos race problem. Looking at these recommendations, we realized that they are not only similar but almost identical to the demands made by Dr. Martin Luther Kings group forty-seven years later in Chicagonot to mention other urban areas in the 1960s.

Such explosions and recommendations were to be heard many more times in urban areas all over the country during the twenties, thirties and forties. But in the fifties a political protest movement was born which had a calming, wait-and-see effect on the attitude of many urban black people. There was the Supreme Court decision of 1954; the Montgomery bus boycott of 55-57; the dispatch of federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to prevent interference with school desegregation in 57. The student sit-in movement in 60 and 61, the emotional appeal of President Kennedy and the great amount of visibility given to the NAACP, Urban League, CORE, SNCC and other civil rights organizations further contributed to creating a period of relative calm in the ghetto.

Then, in the spring of 1963, the lull was over. The eruption in Birmingham, Alabama, in the spring of 1963 showed how quickly anger can

develop into violence. Black people were angry about the killing of Emmett Till and Charles Mack Parker; the failure of federal, state and city governments to deal honestly with the problems of ghetto

life. Now they read in the newspapers, saw on television and watched from the street corners themselves the police dogs and the fire hoses and the policemen beating their friends and relatives. They watched as young high-school students and women were beaten, as Martin Luther King and his co-workers were marched off to jail. The spark was ignited when a black-owned motel in Birmingham and the home of Dr. Kings brother were bombed. This incident brought hundreds of angry black people into the street throwing rocks and bottles and sniping at policemen. The echoes were far and wide. In Chicago, a few days later, two black youths assaulted the mayors eighteen- year-old nephew, shouting: This is for Birmingham. It was for Birmingham, true, but it was for three hundred and fifty years of history before Birmingham as well. The explosions were soon to be heard in Harlem, Chicago, Philadelphia and Rochester in 64, Watts in 65, Omaha, Atlanta, Dayton and dozens of other places in 66. James Baldwin stated it clearly in 1963: When a race riot occurs it will not spread merely to Birmingham. The trouble will spread to every metropolitan center in the nation which has a significant Negro population.

This brief scan of history clearly indicates that the disturbances in our cities are not just isolated reactions to the cry of Black Power, but part of a pattern. The problems of Harlem in the 1960s are not much different from those of Harlem in 1920.

The core problem within the ghetto is the vicious circle created by the lack of decent housing,

decent jobs and adequate education. The failure of these three fundamental institutions to work has led to alienation of the ghetto from the rest of the urban area as well as to deep political rifts between the two communities.


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