Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., Ed., African Americans and the Rise of Buffalo's Post-Industrial City, 1940 - Present, Volumes 1 & 2

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Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., ed., African Americans and the Rise of Buffalo's Post-Industrial City, 1940 - Present, Volumes 1 & 2

In 1899 when W.E.B. DuBois published his landmark study, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study, he in part hoped that revealing the struggles and difficulties faced by African American residents would help mobilize action to improve their life circumstances. Years later, black sociologists trained at the University of Chicago and at the University of Pittsburgh also generated a series of important studies of African American life in the United States. They, too, saw their work as more than just academic exercises and hoped their research would lead to improvements in the lives of African Americans. While the ultimate success of those studies in achieving their aims is debatable, the belief of the authors in the need to produce solid research which can guide public policy is not. Much too often over the past thirty years, public policy, especially with regard to African Americans, has not rested upon a solidly researched understanding of their needs. Many times programs initiated to help have worked to undermine the infrastructures of those communities rather than support them.

These volumes, produced jointly by the Buffalo Urban League, the Buffalo Common Council, and the Center for Applied Public Affairs Studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo follow in the tradition begun by DuBois, Charles Johnson, E. Franklin Frazier and others. The current volume seeks to place carefully structured research at the center of future public policy decisions for the city of Buffalo. The authors believe that more needs to be known about the evolution of the post-industrial African American community in Buffalo and other cities. Patterns of employment, educational opportunities, housing choices, neighborhood development, and social organization changed substantially after 1940, they argue, and to under them properly, it is necessary to analyze the nature of those changes. The nine chapters in the second volume examine those topics as well as provide an historical overview and a set of policy recommendations. The first volume offers a synopsis of the findings in volume 2 for readers more interested in the conclusions drawn from the research than in a detailed exploration of the topics and the methodology.

However, the research approach used by the authors of volume 2 should not be ignored. Each author has tried to acquire the most up-to-date information available in order to formulate their analysis and recommendations. Questionnaires, government records, telephone interviews, police statistics, and any reliable past or current sources of information were used by the researchers. From this material an intriguing picture of the evolution of the African American population in Buffalo after 1940 emerges. As a group they find themselves slowly marginalized by discrimination and the city's changing economic base. In addition, many people do not have the education needed to obtain post-industrial jobs. Their difficulties are reflected in higher unemployment figures, limited housing options, widening class differences, and increasing problems with crime. The picture presented of Buffalo is not a new one, similar descriptions apply to other cities, but the analysis provided of how the circumstances emerged is new.

The authors systematically and chronologically follow change as it occurs. In the process they attempt to pinpoint the times or issues which shape the post-industrial Buffalo African community. …