Black Mayors, White Majorities: The Balancing Act of Racial Politics

By Ravi K. Perry | Go to book overview

EPILOGUE

In No Name in the Street, from which this book’s introductory epigraph is borrowed, James Baldwin chronicles America’s immediate postcivil rights racial status. In it Baldwin talks about the race problem: “It has been vivid to me for many years that what we call a race problem here is not a race problem at all: to keep calling it that is a way of avoiding the problem. The problem is rooted in the question of how one treats one’s flesh and blood, especially one’s children.”1 Baldwin’s comment is significant because the mayors studied in this book, in their efforts to advance black interests in majority-white cities, often spoke of the city’s young people and how to prepare a better environment for them. This approach worked. Whereas they might have faced political battles, friends and foes alike would often join them at various events throughout their communities as they sought to lift up the city’s youth. Their ability to connect with largely nonblack audiences in this way to fight the rust-belt “brain-drain” problem led to their ability to convince many whites that what was in the interests of the city’s black residents was in the interests of the city as well and thereby important to all.

In cities where relations between whites and blacks continue to be the major racial story line, these mayors sought to weave a path for improvement that was targeted at blacks, inclusive of everyone, and framed as critical to moving their cities forward. As Baldwin continues in No Name in the Street, such a path is vital for American progress: “The black and white confrontation, whether it be hostile, as in the cities and the labor unions, or with the intention of forming

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