William Dorsey's Philadelphia and Ours: On the Past and Future of the Black City in America

By Roger Lane | Go to book overview

Chapter 13
Transition: From There to Here

Urban black history in the 20th century has not moved along straight lines. Its three major themes for the purposes of this book are, first, the basic migration from farm to city; second, the assault on racism and move toward acceptance; and third, the change in economic opportunity and conditions, from those of wage-earners and the unemployed at the bottom to educated professionals at the top. The first two have proceeded unevenly, in fits and starts, but generally up; economic conditions have followed an even more complex path, sometimes up and sometimes down.

Americans in general were aware of the first two movements as they occurred, as African-Americans were ever more visible on city streets, and the milestones in their long battle for dignity and inclusion were visible in the daily papers, or later on television. Some of the social problems with economic roots, notably rising rates of crime, were also all too apparent. But in general the basic economic situation was not as clear as the more dramatic events which made the headlines, from the Great Migration and Harlem Renaissance of the 1910s and 1920s to the protests and later riots of the 1960s and 1970s. The muse of history, Minerva's owl, "flies at dusk," surveying the day only after its close, and it often took years to compile the dry statistics which trace economic and educational trends, and even more years for this historian, at least, to appreciate what they meant.

The events of the last years of William Dorsey's life followed mostly along the lines laid out during his prime, with some significant variations. If it was not already obvious between 1870 and 1900, the decade of the Great Migration, between 1910 and 1920, showed that the black future lay in the cities. The agricultural South, already weak, was further exhausted by the boll weevil's attack on the cotton crop. And the manpower needs of the World War I era

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