Nathan D. B. Connolly on White Supremacy and the American City

Nathan D. B. Connolly on White Supremacy and the American City


NATHAN DB CONNOLLY:
At today’s talk, I’m going to, in
some ways, build, for those who aren’t
familiar with the first book, some inroads to have you become
familiar with the kind of work that I do. For those who are
much more familiar with the early scholarship
that I’ve penned, you’ll get a chance
to see some kind of more conceptual areas that
are moving in the direction of. And all of this
is in the service of what I hope to be a
bigger set of conversations that we can have about
the synthetic treatments of segregation and particularly
the centrality of violence in advancing American
political culture to keep the frame in the
nationalist boundaries, just for the most part. So “Blood and Soil– Real Estate and Racism in
Modern American History.” Now, I like to start with
just a way of introducing some principles, or some
ideas, or some assumptions that we have,
about what we think we know about the relationship
between segregation in American history and culture. Now, we think we know that Jim
Crow segregation was imposed by whites onto black people
and that blacks largely had no choice in the matter. And there’s a lot
of reasons why we come to the history
of segregation with that assumption. You’ve seen, obviously,
a number of still photos, black and white video. I mean, the kinds of
oppressive regimes and violence that marked the Jim
Crow period make it very easy to understand
it almost flatly as a problem of imposition. We tend to think we
know that segregation was too expensive to maintain. Taking a very typical example
of, say, the Jim Crow railcar. You have to have both a
white and a colored car. You think about a white
and a colored bathroom. You think about the duplication
of the Jim Crow system as itself, creating a lot of
expense in terms of overhead. You also think about negative
press and publicity that afflicts areas like the
southern United States, making it unappealing for folks
to want to invest in the Jim Crow world, and that, too,
becomes a kind of expense that makes it difficult
to sustain Jim Crow segregation beyond the 1960s. We think we know that in that
period of American history, the 1960s, that
segregation ended through a combination
of moral arguments and these unsustainable
economic costs. And again, the hardwiring–
even though many of us want to complicate the
pantheon of activists who mark Black History
Month or Martin Luther King Day and the like,
we still have a way of believing that a certain
kind of moral suasion was necessary for unmaking
Jim Crow segregation. And that coupled with
the financial burden of the institution also
led, then, to its demise. Now, when we came to moments
such as this in August of 2017, when you had white supremacists
on the campus of the University of Virginia, many
of us were surprised by virtue of having
this narrative of what we thought we know
operating in the background. I actually remember teaching
my Jim Crow in America course when Trump won the
election in 2016 and not being terribly surprised
by the outcome in terms of having some historical
sense of reconstruction and its ending and the
generational debates that had to get worked out
in order to get us from the 1860s to the 1960s. But for most folks, seeing this
kind of iconography and imagery of overt white supremacy
was very jarring, and it sent a
message about where we were in proximity
to an earlier moment of direct performance
of white supremacist politics. Similarly, we tend
to get confused when we find what
we consider to be strange bedfellows in the
world of interracial politics. So when you have someone
like Kanye West showing up at the White House and
not really having a sense of even the gravity of
his own symbolic presence relative to authorizing someone
like Donald Trump or Jim Brown, or someone like Steve Harvey,
who kind of unwittingly winds up in the lobby of the Trump
building in New York City. These are things that
tend to confuse us. And what I would submit for
you all, for your consideration this morning, this
afternoon, is that these, both in terms of the
Charlottesville event and in terms of Trump’s
own presence in the White House, but also, as I call
here, the landlord in chief, that these are really
processes, politics, and imagery of American political life
and culture that are steeped in the Jim Crow playbook,
in the Jim Crow grammar, politically, so to speak. And it’s important to understand
Trump as a real estate man. It’s important to understand
Kanye West as a capitalist, an entrepreneur, in
order to understand why something like the
Summit at the White House is a very consistent
happening in the longer history of American politics. In rethinking
segregation, I want to basically submit three
things for your consideration. One is to understand
that segregation happens through
interracial negotiation. The first thing that
you have to appreciate is the default position for most
white supremacist governments was exclusion, not segregation. You didn’t get a
colored-only anything. You got nothing as
the usual position relative to public
infrastructure and spending. And oftentimes, it took
very careful management of the political and
social system, oftentimes between property owners, to
then get a colored-only water fountain, a colored-only
waiting room, colored-only seating in the
football stadium, and the like. And so understanding how
that process of negotiation set us down a
particular path in terms of how we understand the place
of violence within our politics is very important
for us to look at. Secondly, that
segregation is profitable. It’s profitable. And that by understanding how
Jim Crow was used to make money we can again appreciate
longer continuities in the relationship between
racism and real estate, the relationship
between violence and formal, mainstream politics. That the money that gets made
from literally dividing up the market into a series
of niches that can then be harvested for various
forms of profit margin is extraordinarily
important for recasting what we understand American
economics and politics to be. The third point, which– again,
it shouldn’t take too much of a lift for
folks in this room, but it is worth kind of
highlighting in very sharp relief– is that segregation
is ongoing, that there is an evolution of the
ways in which segregation, by way of its profit interests,
by way of its use of violence kind of in the abstract
and sometimes in very material terms, has
been able to go on well after the formal signage of
the Jim Crow era has come down. So rather than emphasizing
a colored-only this or that, to get us back into
thinking about the processes of governance that erected
the signs in the first place and think about
how those processes are still unfolding before us. The talk will have three parts
along each of these three axes. So part 1, negotiating
segregation. Right off the top, it’s
important to appreciate that the Constitution was
really bad on protecting people’s civil rights. We didn’t get voting
as a positive right in the 15th Amendment. Right? If you go back and
you look at the text, it’s about making
sure that Congress can impede one’s right to vote. But the absence of voting as
a positive right, the absence of civil rights being
articulated very strongly even after the passage
of the 14th Amendment meant that for most
people of color– again, and African descended
people in particular– they depended on much
more ironclad provisions in the country’s
legal foundation. That principally meant gun
rights and property rights. And so across the
Jim Crow South, certainly in the
expanding West, you have a process whereby people
look to owning property as being the bedrock of what
their citizenship actually means. And so you get the
erection and the emergence of a series of all-black
towns around the country. And these are places where
people are pooling resources, building mutual
aid, taking up arms to provide certain kinds
of material defense, and then also using the
mechanisms of capitalism to basically try
to build and expand some kind of self-determination,
some hedge of protection. So Mound Bayou,
Mississippi is one of these places
that becomes very important for the
early emergence of a black entrepreneurial
class that can then have some kind of dealings
with vicinity white power brokers of a similar kind of
professional and political orientation. Boley, Oklahoma, another one
of these all-black towns. Or Eatonville, Florida, where
Zora Neale Hurston was from, is yet another. And another, and another. And so in understanding where
these relationships emerge, you have to think about what
are the most important pieces of this? Which is that Southern governing
classes needed black people to buy property so they
could then leverage taxes on that property. In order to build roads
and do drainage projects, you needed folks to
pay property taxes. At the same time,
however, you have to regulate where black
folk could actually live in the name of
orchestrating the racial peace under Jim Crow. This creates one of
the most important and oftentimes overlooked
contradictions in the Jim Crow system, where you
had black people who could own land on which they
could not actually live. Own land on which
they could not live. This is a deed illustrating
this dynamic from Miami, my hometown, circa 1923. And it’s only meant to
illustrate one fact, which is Mr. Dana A. Dorsey is here
in a lease agreement with a Mr. Anthony and a Mr. [INAUDIBLE]. And these are Greek
immigrants who are arriving in
Miami in the 1920s and simply looking for a
place to run their business. And Mr. Dorsey would go
to his rental properties personally when he
was able and knock on the door, every Saturday,
to collect his rents. Dorsey was a
self-described capitalist. I’ve actually seen
the tax returns where he lists his
occupation as such. Tax returns sometimes can
yield these insights, right? You also have Dorsey owning
oilfields in Louisiana, real estate in Cuba,
copper mines in Colorado. He legitimately has
a diverse portfolio, and real estate is the bedrock. Now, again, just
think about what it means in the context
of the Jim Crow world to have a white tenant being
collected by a black landlord. Right? Again, it turns the intimacies
and the day-to-day activities of Jim Crow seemingly
on its head. This creates a consistent
problem in the Jim Crow world in fact, where the
regulation of black movement, while allowing the free
flow of black capital– relative free flow
of black capital– creates a series
of tensions, where you have surrounding downwardly
mobile white communities, when there are moments of unrest,
literally attacking and pushing out and committing pogroms
effectively, against upwardly mobile black communities. Rosewood in 1923 is one example. Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1921, perhaps
an even more widely known example. And if you read the reportage
on the Tulsa race riot, for instance, Walter
White has a piece in The Nation magazine,
where he literally describes a white employee
going to his black boss’s place of business to
try to burn it down. The black boss basically
gunning him down in the mob, singling him out. Right? There’s also
letters around Tulsa that describe the process
where people understood exactly who in the
Greenwood district held their personal
debt, their loans, who were their landlords, and
going to those locations and trying to burn
the physical paper copies that demonstrated their
indebtedness, their tenancy. This is an age before
cloud computing. OK? There’s no backup copy
being kept somewhere. And so most people kept
evidence of their wealth in safes in their home, under
their beds, in the corner bank. And so when the Greenwood
district is attacked, this is where
whites are focusing much of their riotous energy. And there are letters that
describe African Americans having their receipt books
and account books burned in addition to the
fur coats and record players and the
automobiles that are being looted from the black elite. It was a mass property transfer
from black to white hands in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with the
physical burning of evidence of occupancy and
indebtedness and tenancy, and whites who were formerly
renting basically by default, declaring themselves owners
of the property they’d occupy. The point here, of
course, is to understand that violence is always
on the table, always there as a potential threat to
liquidate black assets. And so much of what the
day-to-day goings-ons were in the Jim Crow world were
trying at some turn or another to keep violence at bay, to
keep some kind of negotiation happening above
board, but it didn’t take much to cause a
situation like that, in Tulsa, for example, to
erupt into, again, a really profound and dramatic
turning over of black ownership and power. This taps into what is, again,
a largely overlooked bedrock value in American politics. And this is the idea of
white popular sovereignty. There’s a really important book
that I found deeply instructive on this, Ashraf Rushdy’s
American Lynching, where he talks about the
development of American culture around the idea that
white people are sovereign over the state,
and it’s only when you have a breakdown in
formal government structures that you then get to
enact the lynch mob as the appropriate way to
then set everything back on its right footing. So white popular
sovereignty is always there as a kind of backup form
of effective state power. Right? So if the judge decides
he wants to acquit, the mob has the right
to then take justice into their own hands. If you have a police department
that isn’t acting fast enough, the mob, oftentimes with members
of law enforcement playing part, is going to then
enact justice in the way that it will. And frontier justice,
such as it existed even in areas outside of
the Jim Crow South, was largely based
on this principle. But understand that this
is a racialized idea of who gets to basically be
“the American people.” Right? There have been no
shortage of movements that have tried to tap into
ideas of popular sovereignty. You think, right off the top, of
a group like the Black Panther Party, for example, talking
about power to the people. Right? They were not considered to be
the inheritors of any tradition of popular sovereignty. They were considered to be
outsiders of this tradition. Conversely, the riots
and the kinds of lynch mobs here, where
people could literally take photos in front
of hanging bodies and not be considered
to be beyond the realms of the law, that was a
much more consistent form of racial violence. And it’s one that liberalism
had to take into account as a political philosophy. In some ways, I really
appreciate this image as the best
representation of what democratic politics in the
20th century was built upon, which is trying to find a
way, through force of law, to mitigate lynch
law as the default, but doing so in a
way that demanded a certain kind of weakness
from African Americans. So Puck magazine,
in the cover here, is capturing the need
of local law enforcement to basically stand between the
cowering Negro and the lyncher. Right? And in many
respects– and again, I invite you to just reflect on
where exactly African Americans have had to make their
claims for state protection and how they’ve had
to make those claims. What’s the posture? What’s the language? How much has armed self-defense
been an acceptable part of the bundle of ways in which
African Americans could respond and have the state on their
side versus being forced to kind of step back and let the white
lawmen do the talking, so to speak. Right? This is a very important
feature of what then becomes local political
practice and certainly national political culture
around civil rights movements and the like. Where does non-violent
action seemingly elicit a sympathetic
response from the state versus those who are advocating
for something much more militant? Ida B. Wells, of course, was one
of the most important theorists of the problem of
lynching and was very instrumental in
helping people understand the economic aspects
of that particular form of political expression, that
there were concerns primarily about economic competition
between blacks and whites, that black people did not in
any way, shape, or form need to be encouraged to
acquire property, that they were in fact
quite often looking to property as their means
of building a future, and that whenever they
built too much power or had too much
self-determination, that lynch law would
oftentimes be brought in. And concerns about
male sexual impropriety would be used as a kind of
cover for really, again, forcibly transferring property
from black to white hands. At the same time, there
is a growing sense that this problem of
white popular sovereignty means that you have to
institutionalize certain forms of white supremacy. So there’s arguments about the
economics behind the lynch law, but then there’s also this need
to basically make the Ku Klux Klan, for example, a
civic organization that can run candidates for office. And you look at urban
politics through the 1920s, you see Klan chapters
openly running candidates in Detroit, in Chicago, in
South Florida, in Atlanta, and elsewhere. I mean, this was, again, a
dual problem of figuring out, how do you get
people to participate in the market on the one
hand while still recognizing a certain kind of
white regulation of black economic futures
as an acceptable piece of American political practice? So what does this look
like kind of on the ground? How do these
negotiations happen? Again, so much of
this is about helping you appreciate the early
period of the Jim Crow world as one of negotiation. So this is Hath Wa Har Chee,
or a man whose anglicized name is Tony Tommie. Now, he was, by every
possible measure, a master showman of
the 1910s and 1920s. He actually worked
with DW Griffith in providing indigenous
actors for Griffith films during the early motion picture
industry, which was actually based in Hollywood,
Florida before there was Hollywood, California. The hurricane of
1926 actually is what changed California to
the motion picture epicenter. But Tommie was somebody
who knew exactly how to tug on the expectations
of whites politically and the symbolic
assumptions that they had about the timeless
kind of Native American. He also was trying as best
he could to get public sector investments in indigenous
life because there were public health crises, there
were education crises, there were housing
crises that were afflicting indigenous people in
the hinterlands around Miami. So again, some of you
may remember this story if you read A World
More Concrete. I tend to like it as just
a way of, in some ways, capturing the closing
of the indigenous world and the opening of the Jim Crow
world in more formal terms. Now, this is a shot
from the “Forward to the Soil” event of 1927. And just to be very quick about
what basically happens here. Tony Tommie works with
members of the Miami Chamber of Commerce, and they
do a kind of surrender ceremony out in the bush. He finds a headdress from a
local Indian collector, a peace pipe. He invents a flag
for the occasion, just so he can surrender it. And during the course
of the afternoon, he proceeds to initiate
a ceremony wherein Native American women– excuse me– Native American
men dig holes in the ground with wooden implements. Behind those men are
Native American women who plant seed into those holes. Behind those women
are rows of tractors made of rubber and steel that
tear up all the earth that had just been planted. And behind those tractors are 13
white women, all wearing sashes reflecting the 13
colonies and dressed like farmers, who then proceed
to plant seed in the new soil behind. And over this entire
affair, Hath Wa Har Chee is speaking in
native Miccosukee, even though he speaks
fluent English, and he’s saying that the red
man is a child of destiny; the white man is a
child– excuse me– the red man is a
child of nature; the white man is a
child of destiny. And it’s time for
the child of nature to surrender to the
child of destiny. And he proceeds to pull
out the peace pipe, just take a couple
puffs with the Miami Chamber of Commerce head. He then proceeds to
take his headdress and lift it off his head and put
it on the top of the Chamber’s new chief, and declared
mastery over 110,000 acres of Native American land. Now, if any of you are familiar
with South Florida’s geography, this land ends up basically
being Miami Lakes, Hialeah, and a series of very affluent
suburban communities. The land itself passes to a man
by the name of Ernest Graham. Ernest opens a
dairy farm, and he’s working on behalf of a
local sugar corporation. He has three sons. One is named William,
Robert, and Philip. There are three. Philip basically uses the family
connections and the wealth generated by this
land to work his way into becoming the editor in
chief of The Washington Post. Phil Graham. William Graham uses
this land to become a very affluent real estate
developer, selling off lots in Miami Lakes. And young Robert, who showed a
talent for reading and books, goes on to Harvard and becomes
a lawyer and subsequently Senator Bob Graham
and Governor Bob Graham of Florida, all of this
begun from this early illegal– illegal– land transaction. Tony Tommie himself,
out of this negotiation, didn’t get anything. He actually, within 30 days,
was dead from tuberculosis. He and his wife
were the only people to get or contract
tuberculosis, apparently. As a final point
of this, there were no chiefs of the Seminoles. He totally just
behaved in this way. There were a council
of elders, and when they heard about the land
transaction, needless to say, they were very upset
about the whole thing. So Tony Tommie went
to his death feeling as if the doctors of the
tribe put bad medicine on him, so to speak. Now, the kind of transactions
here, under Tony Tommie, are only slightly
different from what becomes a certain kind
of colonial negotiation. And it’s really
important to understand that the principles
of indirect rule are operating constantly
in the United States. And this is just to echo a point
that was raised in the opening remarks by Matt. I’m really keen on helping
people get out of a framework that thinks about American
democracy and policy and liberalism as just a
march towards citizenship. And instead, thinking about
the mechanisms of government that create the need for
this middling governing class of subaltern
people to basically broker with a white elite. So President Roosevelt’s
Federal Council on Negro Affairs, or
the Black Cabinet, becomes this really
important way of introducing black people to
certain forms of federal power, especially after the mass
demotion of African Americans under President
Woodrow Wilson in 1913. But even with the anointing of
the so-called Black Cabinet, there was a sense that
they were operating as these kind of brokers. And there’s one gentleman,
George Streator, a kind of labor
activist and journalist who’s writing Du Bois in the mid
1930s, and he’s very concerned. You know, “Will not all
these black bureaucrats behave precisely as Britain’s
Nigerian chiefs and priests?” That there’s a real sense, even
among commentators at the time, that colonialism and
American democracy are actually more like
than they are different. Now, it’s certainly
important to recognize that these black
brokers were very critical for building access to
certain kinds of federal money. So having funds
for black farmers, or creating opportunities
for black housing projects, all of this was part of the
broader set of negotiations that were only possible in the
context of building jointly a white and colored world. This brings us to
part two of the talk today, which is to discuss
segregation’s profitability. It’s in creating these
kind of dual systems that we found ways to basically
rebuild the American economy through the Great
Depression and certainly took our cues from an
earlier period of segregating the marketplace. This is a tip to my friend
Robert here, the Oakland HOLC security map, just so
you can see redlining kind of on full display. You have a grading system– I mean, most of you in
the room will probably have some familiarity with this. Some of my colleagues in the
early modern and modern period might not know it as well,
but it’s important just to understand that the
officials in the housing sector in Washington and
certainly at local housing offices around the
country believe that it was necessary to divide
the country up into a series of racial niche markets, that
you were only going to sustain economic growth by giving
people certain assurances that you weren’t going to
have unnatural or unnecessary interracial mixing. Now, it’s of course
a feature of slavery, where proximity was
necessary for the working of your average plantation. It was also true in
most Southern cities that whites depended
very heavily on an intimate connection
to African Americans and black labor, even going
down to the constant contact between black mammies and
their white children charges– nursing them, even. We know these kind of stories. But somehow, separation
became necessary through the teens, ’20s,
and certainly, then, in the ’30s, when it
got institutionalized into a kind of national
Jim Crow policy. I’ll skip ahead, just
in the interest of time, to get out of the
weeds, but just know that there are basically
four grading systems and each of those are
being used to determine who is going to get
certain kinds of support– government support. Now, one of the things I think
is really important to keep in mind around this is
basically a two-fold thing. Number one, that the redlining
practice was justified as a way to ensure racial peace. And the notion that
people were only going to live in areas where
there were no African Americans was another way in which
white popular sovereignty was institutionalized. So I want to just be very
clear about what’s going on in the redlining system. Number one, you have
a set of white values that are being banked by
the federal government and obviously by the financial
sector extending credit, but that also– and this is really
important– it’s not simply a story about people
getting access to credit and then buying homes
that can accumulate equity in the future. The redlining
system was actually created to determine
who was going to get a bailout during
the Depression itself. In other words,
African Americans in black neighborhoods
were not seen as being suitable for bailouts
from the federal government. People’s property was instead
mass transferred from, again, black to white hands by virtue
of the federal government’s agency in this process. So it surprises
some people to learn that the high watermark for
black ownership in America was 1920. Black ownership has never
approached 1920 numbers, in part because of
what happened as you move from the
post-Reconstruction era politics of ownership
through the Depression without any federal support. You again have a move of money,
resources, and physical land into white hands. This is an image of Baltimore,
where I currently live. Then you see these
red areas here, and then affluent areas in the
green and blue in the outs. Right? And so people began
to make it almost easy to feast upon these
neighborhoods of downwardly mobile African Americans
and really deny them access to ownership. Now, without ownership as a
viable option for most people, again, certain forms of
violence, certain forms of hardship and exploitation
become uniquely borne by black communities. This is just an example of
some of the housing that existed in these Jim Crow era
redlined black communities. Wooden construction, oftentimes
extraordinarily dangerous, no indoor plumbing, no paving. Oftentimes in the South,
certainly no mosquito screens. Anybody here ever
been to Disney World? One, two, three. That question came out
of nowhere, I know, but you’ll see my
point a minute. Right? Anybody here ever taken
a kid to Disney World? OK. One or two, three. Yeah. So if you’ve ever
been to Disney World or taken a kid to Disney World,
you’ve either given or gotten the speech. And the speech goes
something like this. Don’t touch anything. Don’t ask for anything. I’m not buying you anything. [LAUGHTER] Nothing here is for you. Right? And you give the speech
or you get the speech because it’s known
that once you go through those gates
at Disney World, everything is going to
be much more expensive. Right? Back in the day, when I used
to buy film for the camera– you guys remember film? Film was like four
times the price of film at like the local drugstore when
you went inside Epcot or Disney World. Right? It’s the same reason why
nobody here really goes grocery shopping or clothes
shopping at the airport even thought there
are offerings there. You can go to a Brooks Brothers. That’s kind of like an annex. It’s behind the gate. But you know things are going to
be very expensive once you walk through those airport gates. And oh, by the way,
the selection’s going to be that great, either. You can only have so many
shirts with, like, Providence across the front, right? Living in the Jim Crow
real estate world– the Jim Crow South,
but even parts North– was like living in Disney
World without the rides. Everything costs more
because of the confinement, because of the gates and the
walls, both real and invisible. You paid more for health care. You paid more for food. You paid more for durable goods. You certainly paid
more for housing. This kind of property would
oftentimes cost more– not just more than
white occupied property of similar quality, but
certainly white properties of better quality. In fact, some of the
properties pictured here cost more than
a hotel room in Miami during the exact same period. In 1949, you could get
a hotel, waterfront, in Miami for $17.50 a week. This particular slum property
here would run as much as $18 a week just to live in it. And you have to share it with
seven or eight people because of black underemployment,
just to make that rent. And oh, by the way, every
Saturday the rent collector would show up [KNOCKS] looking
for his rent at 5:00 and 6:00 in the morning. And it was every Saturday
because the mythology around black people
in the Jim Crow era was they weren’t disciplined
enough economically to save their money for
monthly rental payments, so they had to be weekly
rental payments and the like. So this was just
one of the many kind of nested indignities
of living and residing in the Jim Crow period. It’s also one of
the reasons why, for many of the
black elite, they believed that by brokering
for a public option, like public housing,
you could somehow make it easier to survive some
of the hardships in the Jim Crow period. So things like the Liberty
Square housing project in South Florida
were seen as being a necessary balm against certain
forms of predatory practice. It’s also– as a
side note, again, one of these sites
of negotiation where we’re going to have
segregation for housing on a colored-only,
whites-only basis. And then we’ll let you
have a black administrator to run the housing project or
have a black commissioner be in charge of selecting those
who are going to be involved in the housing project. Again, a site of negotiation
on a Jim Crow basis. At the same time, the
culture of Jim Crow was that, really, of
slavery and its afterlife. And so films like Gone With
the Wind and the iconography of the faithful slave– all of this was concurrent
with the emergence of this colored-only,
whites-only world being subsidized by the
federal government. So again, portrayals of
black loyalty and paternalism were part and parcel of
the kinds of negotiations that were happening at the level
of the politics in this period. The folks who were
pushing against some of these mechanisms
were ironically white landlords themselves. So I write a fair amount
about white landlords and how they complicate
the history of segregation. This is an example of
we want white tenants in our white community. It’s basically a concern about
blockbusting white landlords being able to push
the color line and let black people in because
frankly, without the options to have effective housing
or appropriate housing, you had condensations
of black renters just expanding and ballooning
in black neighborhoods and oftentimes
vacancies in white part of the rental economy. And so they were
always trying to tether some kind of
profit-making to bringing black people into the white
housing projects, with– you know, the natural
responses being oftentimes white violence. This is just an
example of the way in which entire
regions were built around the indispensability
of black labor. So here is Miami
Central Negro District. And it’s located essentially
between Miami Beach, between the golf course
here and the other leisure destinations that tourists
were tapping into. The Orange Bowl,
where one saw games. The affluent neighborhoods
of Coral Gables. And eventually the airport here. And so you needed to
have close proximity of the black working class
to service this leisure destination. But at the same time,
the housing quality being what it was, it
created a negative press when there were fires, when
there were crimes, when there were outbreaks of tuberculosis. And so many planners
tried to use their ability to rewrite the landscape
with expanding powers of land regulation, especially
in the postwar period, to try to unmake some of
these black neighborhoods and really cast people
out to the fringes. And so there’s a conflict
that emerges between those who are looking to use
ever-professional means of urban development
against those who are making their money from this poverty. And this is a very
important tension that oftentimes
gets overlooked, is that some of the most principal
conflicts of the Jim Crow world were not between whites and
blacks in a general sense, but actually between people who
were defending black property rights and profiteering
on the one hand, and those who wanted to
basically displace black people and also use displacement
as a means of race reform. So you have two
different approaches to what to do with the
fundamental problem of property, property ownership,
and the kinds of money that segregation is making. OK? The general story of
suburbanization, Levittowns, consumer spaces, new
appliances and that is definitely happening
around this time. And African Americans are
trying to access this in ways that they would hope to. But obviously, most
suburbanization was by and large kept
out of black hands. You had, in some cases,
too, the forcible expulsion of black people from the orbits
of these expanding suburbs. So this particular
episode in Miami in 1947 is one in which in fact you
have an area of white homeowners whose displacing
black suburbanites in the name of building
a whites-only school, a whites-only firehouse,
a whites-only green space. And they’re using the public
provisions of eminent domain law to say we have the right
to do this and basically cast black residents–
in this case, about a hundred families– to
the far reaches of Broward County and Dade County. In some cases, you had
people’s homes physically put on the back of flatbed
trucks and moved 15 miles away, placed in the dirt, only to have
them a month later knocked down by the hurricane of 1947. Right? So this is, again,
climate gentrification, environmental injustice,
circa postwar US. In light of these
kinds of violences, in light of more
professionalized, modernized pogroms– Tulsa displacement now on
steroids and sterilized through eminent domain– you create another kind of site
of negotiation, in which case many of the slum
profiteering landlords were also involved in
the very early nascent black suburbanization movement
of the postwar period, opening up housing
for black folk and sometimes doing
it on terms that were not the most generous. So buying homes on contract,
having certain kinds of debt instruments
that were still profiteering from black
aspirations of upward mobility. This becomes a critical
element in the expansion of the postwar
growth in suburban and metropolitan America. Lake Meadows in Chicago,
Pontchartrain Park in New Orleans. This is an image here
of Richmond Heights in South Florida. Richmond Heights, in particular,
was built 15 miles south of the black downtown. Only a single bus route took
people from Richmond Heights into the downtown area or onto
their places of employment. It was considered to be so
far as to be behind God’s back was the language of the day. But it was also
a place that gave many black people for the
first time green spaces and, again, places
to kind of act on their own suburban dreams. Again, all of this is being
negotiated on a strictly Jim Crow basis. And the argument being that
it’s much more peaceful to separate the races. And many African
Americans believing, too, that this is going to be a
place where we can safely be ourselves and achieve
a measure of middle class existence. This is one of those suburban
homes in a neighborhood called Brownsville in Liberty City,
just beyond what at that time was the municipal boundaries
of the city of Miami. And this is Billie Holiday
with a group of local teachers, really showing and exhibiting
a certain kind of affluence in the postwar period
that was considered to be a real achievement
for many African Americans. I also love this
image, very quickly, because it captures kind
of the asymmetries of power that existed even
in black America on a segregated side, which is,
you know, Billie Holiday here, in the lovely taffeta dress
and staring at the camera. All the gaze is kind of
fixated on her as a celebrity. And then the somewhat
nameless worker here, basically manning the
operation as the help. The landlords and entrepreneurs
who are investing and expanding black consumer and
leisure options are building the Hampton
House Motel and Villas. That was a white-owned
development that was actually occupied by
Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke
the night that Ali won the championship in 1964. You have the Orange
Blossom Classic, negotiated by
landlords in the area, to allow black people to play
college football in the Orange Bowl. The Mary Elizabeth
Hotel here, owned by an African American
doctor and his family, who built the finest
concrete hotel in the South, but also owned about 300
rental properties that were not kept above code by any stretch. Into this world, you
have, again, more brokers. And this is where I think
it’s, again, important to just kind of bear
down a little bit, which is to understand
these people who are lubricating the workings
of Jim Crow’s profitability. Luther Brooks is a Georgian
who migrates down to Miami during the Great Depression
and basically sets up an infrastructure of
property management where landlords who
live in New England, who live in the Midwest, can
basically acquire properties they’ve never even seen to
have their rents collected, to have the properties managed,
to have the taxes paid. And Luther Brooks just gets
8% of whatever it comes back from the property itself. He actually managed
14,000 units at one time. Half of all black
people in Miami lived in a property
managed by Luther Brooks. And he used the money
that he generated to basically put some black
kids through medical school, to run block debutante balls,
to support black businesses, black newspaper outfits. And he was considered by many
to be impossible to root out because he also paid
off state senators and worked to keep landlord and
tenant regulations quite weak so that profit margins
could remain high. So he worked both
sides of the operation. And oh, by the way,
as a subcontractor, he owned not a piece of rental
property in the entire state. He simply was there
to manage the unit. So you could never
get him on any of the conditions
that actually generate the profits for the landlords. He would simply say, you have
to talk to Mr. So-and-so. He may live somewhere in
Medford, Massachusetts. I can’t seem to
get ahold of him. And that would be basically
the end of it, right? As the fire basically
broke out in the tenements. This is just, very
quickly, Brooks shaking hands with
Jake Gaither, who was the head coach of the
Florida A&M football team– by most accounts, the most
important black football coach in the
country at the time. Here he is giving a check
to a local black nursery. Again, the philanthropy
of Luther Brooks was quite legendary. Here’s a Christmas
dinner that was given to each of the tenants
of one of Brooks’s clients, Mr. Abe Schonfeld. Again, Schonfeld,
being Jewish, still was smart enough to recognize
the Christmas season was one in which you had to generate
a certain kind of loyalty, by giving chickens, cranberry
sauce, cake, peas, corn, and so and so– a veritable bounty there, even
as he profited from, again, the horrible conditions
in the tenements. So the paternalism
and these negotiations were a part of what, again,
kept the lubricated economy of the Jim Crow world moving. At the same time,
certain aspects of white popular
sovereignty were slowly being regulated after the
challenges of World War II, the moral challenges
of World War II, were taking shape. So the Klan basically gets
moved against by a series of Jewish local
politicians who worked their way into that first
generation of mainstream Jewish politicians in
the South in the 1940s and ’50s, African
American allies as well, certain moderate whites. And they begin to do
things like prevent the Klan from wearing hoods,
prevent the Klan from burning crosses. All this is about
trying to get rid of some of the most
overt markers of hatred. There still were
ways in which people were trying to keep the
color lines preserved. And they were doing so with
letter-writing campaigns to governors, and saying
things like, “As a property owner in Miami, would
you please help us in our fight to protect
our homes from infiltration of the colored race.” Right? This is a somewhat more
genteel form of discrimination. Anna Northcroft,
751 NW 63rd Street. Sometimes you got the
old language as well. “Don’t want nigger
neighbors in Edison Center. Let’s get them out. Or else riot.” Signed, Mr. And Mrs. Fred
Coleman, 1052 NW 65th Street. These were formerly
white neighborhoods. They’re now black
neighborhoods in South Florida. Now, by the 1950s, the
violence that was emerging was only one piece of what
was, again, the broader problem of the Jim Crow world. There were absolutely
economic pressures. There were concerns
about racial terrorism. But for the most part,
people found ways to modernize the economy
and keep things moving. You got to the point
where you could keep a certain kind of
segregation in place without having to resort to
the same kinds of language. So this is one of my more
favorite images, where you could use the
old world language, but you had to cover your face
when the cameraman came around. I only put this image
up for one reason, which is to try to
help people appreciate the fact that the Jim Crow
world was not that long ago. Color photos do it in a way that
black and white photos simply cannot. Right? Collapsing that distance
between our time and their time. One more here. Again, these are all critical to
articulate very important sites of negotiation. In fact, as a quick aside before
we move to the last section here, you know, most
of the times when you had people who
were negotiating for colored-only
this or that, they did so with physical
tax receipts, showing that they had paid
for their infrastructure through their property taxes. And so you needed to have
a colored-only fountain, a colored-only theater
house, and the like, because they basically
help to subsidize. And that argument wound
up being quite effective, even when you had white
supremacist governments. Very quickly, last section. Jim Crow’s afterlife. So through the
1960s and ’70s, you have a somewhat sanitizing, I
guess you could describe it, of the way that we came
to talk about difference and the way in which
the uses of real estate again helped to streamline
the workings of segregation. This is the important
relationship here. What work did real
estate do in changing how we talked about
segregation, while preserving how segregation in
fact worked monetarily? OK. This is the point. What’s the relationship between
segregation and real estate in its workings? This is Carl Stokes
just talking. And he’s already out of
the mayor’s office in 1972. “America no longer talks about
spicks and wops and niggers, but rather talked about
density and over-crowding of schools, etc., to
achieve the same purpose.” Stokes was part of a
black political class that arrived in power
in the late ’60s and was trying to use, again,
expanding powers of land management to try to unmake
some of the concentrations of poverty and profiteering that
were afflicting black America. Urban renewal was seen as being
part of this desegregation approach, part of the sanitizing
and redrawing of the color lines approach. “Urban renewal project
to encourage integration” read one headline
in The Miami Times. This is the Central
Negro District from 1948. Many of you know
how this story ends. Some 50,000 residents
of the black downtown, again, churning out rents
to a profound degree for the more affluent
landlords of the country, not just of the
region, and become subject to a massive
highway interchange going into that community
through the 1960s. And you know, it’s
important to keep in mind that many of the folks who
left that area, even who were African American, basically
entered suburban communities and tried to continue to hold
onto their rental properties in the black downtown
in the meantime. However, because of the
politics of relocation housing, many of the displaced
were basically forced through, again,
further segregated housing location, right back
into black neighborhoods. In this case, in Liberty City. And there was a riot
that emerged in 1968, partially stoked by the
Republican National Convention happening in Miami at
the time, but also marked by the ways in which landlords
were already finding ways to carve up the old suburban
promised lands into now very concentrated sites
of suburban poverty. As a quick aside on this, black
ownership in Miami’s downtown was about 30%. They owned about 30%
of the housing there. Whites owned 70% of the real
estate in the black downtown. In the first generation after
formal-desegregation Liberty City, whites owned
90% of the housing. White percentages of
ownership actually went up because of
liquidation of black assets and their ability to
basically manage white flight to the point where
whites would maybe move but they wouldn’t
let go of the property that a black family would
then turn around and occupy. So you’re finding ways of making
money still in the Jim Crow way, sometimes better,
but without that signage, without that narrative of white
supremacy kind of sullying the operations. In the meantime, of
course, then you still have the same kinds
of relationships between a kind of managerial
class of blacks and whites. This time, in 1969,
negotiating the arrival of a very important
new development, the under-expressway park. Right? So after the neighborhood
was bulldozed, the city commissioner at the
time, a Ms. M. Athalie Range, helps to negotiate
having a playground built underneath the expressway
as a token of good faith in the wake of the riots in
Liberty City the year before. It’s a moment of interracial
congratulations and a sense that there’s a really
affluent sunbelt era to come. The newspapers– the
black Miami Times said this was a great idea. This is actually how they
talked about this establishment. And one of things I love about
this is, on the very page where the park is talked
about in such glowing terms, you have a quarter page ad from
Luther Brooks, whose bonded rental agency is
finding yet another way to continue to collect rents. Now he’s moved his offices as
well out of the black downtown. I’ll just skip
ahead a little bit. “If I am to enjoy a better life,
others must live better too.” Right? The messaging of
paternalism continuing. As a closing point
here, just know that many whites also basically
built their own arguments about rights and land from
certain templates borrowed from the black freedom struggle. And I’m going to skip ahead–
the Atwater quote– some of you know this, but I know
we’re kind of wrapping up. Basically Atwater just says
you can’t say nigger anymore. That’s basically what he says. And the last thing
I’ll say about this– two last points. The first– yeah, this
is actually important. Two last points. The first is that property
value and real estate prices are still
set in this country as they were set in the
1930s, in direct relation to the concentrations of black
communities, by and large. And so this is merely a shot
of the Greenmount corridor in Baltimore, where you
have housing projects and private homes valued
around $100,000, sometimes less, a small
barrier, and then just opposite that barrier, homes
in the Guilford community that, the further you
get from that road, housing values go up
by as much as $400,000. There’s a direct relationship
between one’s ability to see the Greenmount corridor
and one’s housing price. Right? The second thing is– and this
is where it really is does kind of flash to the present– is that when you have
a seeming breakdown of American institutions, when
the state doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, we’re
still living in a moment where you see the
mechanisms, the means, the iconography of white popular
sovereignty rearing their head. You may remember this from
the health care debate, when the Republicans in Congress
simply said and asserted the American people
don’t want health care, the American people
don’t want this and that. It was a racialized notion of
America– make America great again, and the like. The presidency in particular was
one of the great institutions that facilitated a certain
Jim Crow principle in so far as it was a whites-only
institution up until 2008. This particular image, the
Shepard Fairey shot of Obama, becomes iconic and helps to
capture this possible change in the system. And yet, it was used
in the 2012 campaign as yet another expression
of the old lynch law. This was actually
a meme that was found on the of Republican
campaign strategists during the re-election
campaign of Obama in 2012. And again, you don’t
get this imagery if the presidency does what it’s
always done, which is remain a whites-only institution. It’s only with the breakdown
that the reassertion of lynch law becomes necessary. And again, this is
one of those things that most people don’t
really have the wherewithal to see and understand that
when whites-only institutions seemingly don’t work
in the eyes of whites, you then get the
kinds of mob actions, you then get the kinds
of white populism that we’re now seeing in
places like Charlottesville and certainly out of
our own White House. So I thank you all very
much for your attention, and I look forward
to your questions. [APPLAUSE]

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