Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900-1980

Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900-1980

Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900-1980

Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900-1980

Synopsis

The story of white flight and the neglect of black urban neighborhoods has been well told by urban historians in recent decades. Yet much of this scholarship has downplayed black agency and tended to portray African Americans as victims of structural forces beyond their control. In this history of Cleveland's black middle class, Todd Michney uncovers the creative ways that members of this nascent community established footholds in areas outside the overcrowded, inner-city neighborhoods to which most African Americans were consigned. In asserting their right to these outer-city spaces, African Americans appealed to city officials, allied with politically progressive whites (notably Jewish activists), and relied upon both black and white developers and real estate agents to expand these "surrogate suburbs" and maintain their livability until the bona fide suburbs became more accessible.

By tracking the trajectories of those who, in spite of racism, were able to succeed, Michney offers a valuable counterweight to histories that have focused on racial conflict and black poverty and tells the neglected story of the black middle class in America's cities prior to the 1960s.

Excerpt

You can squeeze ’em in the ghetto,
An’ with written covenant,
Make ’em live in teeming hovels
Where they pay excessive rent.
You can threaten banks an’ bankers
An’ make money hard to get,
But there’ll always be some fishes
Who escape the jim-crow net.

So in free an’ liberal Cleveland
Where the bigots hide their hand
There has been a constant movement
To the East Side “promised land”
‘Cause the lure of ready money
An’ the yen to make a buck
Is what trips the race-containers
Who are simply out of luck.

Sure the banks refuse you money,
An’ the neighbors start to yell,
An’ the bigots stir their stooges
Into raisin’ lots of hell.
But the movin’ fnger’s writin’
An’ the words are plain as day,
An’ the courts have spoken plainly
That jim-crow is dead to stay.

An’ us Negroes on the sidelines
Have to give a silent cheer,
To the Negro who is willing,
To become a pioneer
On the road that leads away from
Rotten houses in the ghetto
An’ who’re deaf to racial discord
Of the bigots liberetto [sic].

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