Civil Rights in New York City: From World War II to the Giuliani Era

By Colón, Saulo | Centro Journal, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Civil Rights in New York City: From World War II to the Giuliani Era


Colón, Saulo, Centro Journal


Civil Rights in New York City: From World War II to the Giuliani Era Edited by Clarence Taylor Bronx, NY: Fordham University Press, 2011 176 pages; $35.00 [cloth]

This book edited by Baruch College (CUNY) professor Clarence Taylor is an anthology of historical studies that contributes to and continues the scholarly discussion into what civil rights movement scholars like Jacqueline Dowd Hall, Eric Arnesen, Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua, and Clarence Lang are debating is "the long civil rights movement". This compilation effectively adds to the historical research that establishes that not only was the Civil Rights Movement temporally long but also geographically broad. Along with recent scholarship by Robert O. Self, Komozi Woodard, Jeanne Theoharis, and others this compilation, though focused on New York City, confirms not just the early, but also the varied, presence of civil rights organizations and protests in the North as well as their urgent role in helping to develop the Civil Rights Movement in the South. As the editor notes, this book "is unique because it is the only anthology that focuses on the civil rights movement in New York City from such a variety of perspectives" (p. 4).

Due to the historical interpretation by the authors of these chapters of a diverse array of leaders, organizations, and community struggles, this book dismisses the easy periodization and false characterization of an earlier, southern, united, civil rights movement and then later, more militant, fragmented, urban, identity-based power movements. In fact, according to Taylor, "in their challenge to the southern paradigm, scholars not only have questioned the 1954 starting date of the civil rights movement" but have also challenged the "portrayal of the Black Power movement of the late 1960s as a force that derailed the 'triumphant' struggle for civil rights" (p. 2). This scholarly refutation of a political dichotomy between the civil rights movements of the 1950s vs. the identity/power movements of the 1960s has effectively defeated the view of a "good vs. bad Sixties" once and for all. Instead, it reaffirms the perspective of a longer and broader "freedom struggle" by various oppressed nations and people of color against a colonizing and racializing capitalist "world-system."

The book is arranged chronologically, which helps to develop one of the main themes shared by many of the book's authors. Over time, the chapters reveal the tensions between the liberalism of the post-World War II era and the civil rights movement's challenges to liberal notions of race, merit, governance, and equality. These chapters indirectly build on each other in articulating the political conflicts critical to the conceptual and organizational development of civil rights praxis. The chapters, while not organized thematically, also focus on similar topics that in their pattern of similarity reveal the main concerns of civil rights organizations and oppressed communities of color in New York City. There is however, a subset of chapters that should be read in conjunction due to their political or organizational themes. Half of the articles are on the struggles for school "desegregation," specifically understood as not "integration," and therefore against educational apartheid. In fact, in her chapter on the civil rights struggle concerning the City University of New York, Martha Biondi reiterates that education struggles have been central to civil rights movements and that "the integration of CUNY has been the most significant civil rights victory in higher education in the history of the United States (p. 161). Besides the already noted focus, and subset of five chapters, on teachers, schools, and public and higher education that are spread out within the anthology, two by Clarence Taylor himself, there are chapters on housing (by Peter Eisenstadt) and public services (by Brian Purnell) that jointly show the difficulty with attaining liberalism's manifest goal of integration as "possible, practical, and necessary" (p. …

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