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292 letters in canada 2002 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 disastrous events in Canadian working-class history. (LAUREL SEFTON MACDOWELL ) Karen Ferguson. Black Politics in New Deal Atlanta University of North Carolina Press. xvi, 336. US $19.95 Recent debates around affirmative action and welfare reform in the United States have directed renewed attention upon the growing gap between middle-class African-Americans and the much larger mass of the black population. While the division between an educated, articulate elite and a largely disempowered working class has been a salient feature of black history since emancipation, most studies of social life, politics, and civil rights struggles have tended to treat the African-American community as an undifferentiated whole. Karen Ferguson=s splendid book joins a short but distinguished list of titles that explore the ways in which class dynamics shaped the movement for black equality, allowing certain African Americans to find a voice in local politics and to access federal programs for advancement while other blacks remained invisible and excluded from the state=s largesse. Ferguson focuses her study on Atlanta, a city that supported an unusually accomplished black professional class in the early twentieth century and one that served as a showcase for many of the New Deal=s southern relief, housing, and public works projects. By attaching themselves to the growing federal bureaucracy, black social workers and educators were able to make significant strides towards inclusion in the mainstream. Yet, black reformers= use of the state had long-term negative consequences B time and again they used their new found power to pursue a >politics of respectability= that defined only a minority of Atlanta=s working poor as deserving of benefits and excluded the majority of the black population from social welfare opportunities. Although the strict segregation of the day firmly tied the fate of the black elite to the community as a whole, the reformers= selective definition of citizenship accentuated economic stratification and relegated much of the African-American working class to the margins of civic life. Ferguson is at her best when demonstrating how the black elite positioned itself for incorporation into specific policy-making processes. She shows, for instance, how social workers associated with Atlanta University secured jobs in the welfare programs ushered in by Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), and how they utilized these prize white-collar positions to expand employment opportunities for other black professionals. Similarly, black educators successfully lobbied for inclusion in National Youth Administration (NYA) civic education projects, pressuring local New Deal officials to channel scarce resources to young African humanities 293 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 Americans previously excluded from such initiatives. Faced with both racist hostility and, from white liberals, condescending paternalism, the black elite sought to consolidate its precarious position by acting as gatekeepers, allowing only >respectable= and >morally upright= members of the community the chance to participate in New Deal programs. The costs of this strategy are made dramatically clear in Ferguson=s chapter on slum clearance and urban renewal. Allying themselves with white housing authority officials, black leaders were party to the depiction of vibrant African-American working-class neighborhoods as >slums,= the demolition of black districts that threatened developers= plans for a revitalized downtown core, and the creation of a concentrated west side ghetto. Moreover, the concessions that black leaders wrung from city and federal authorities emerge as paltry at best in Ferguson=s account: the relatively small number of places reserved for blacks in Atlanta area public housing came at the cost of increased state scrutiny of the African-American population. Despite Ferguson=s many achievements, Black Politics in New Deal Atlanta is not without some small flaws. Although an early chapter considers radical alternatives to the black elite=s incorporationist strategy, Ferguson omits any sustained discussion of organized African-American workers. She observes that Atlanta largely lacked the heavy industrial base that allowed black workers in other southern cities to use the new CIO unions as vehicles to combat discrimination, but nonetheless she might have followed the leads of historians Bruce Nelson and Judith Stein, who have charted the ambiguous racial...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 292-293
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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