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  • Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and Its Limitsby Ansley T. Erickson
  • Matthew Delmont
Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and Its Limits. By Ansley T. Erickson. Historical Studies of Urban America. ( Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2016. Pp. xxiv, 390. $40.00, ISBN 978-0-226-02525-4.)

Ansley T. Erickson's Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and Its Limitsexamines the history of segregation, desegregation, and educational inequality in Nashville, Tennessee, from the 1950s through the 1990s. Erickson weaves together metropolitan history, educational history, and policy history to show how "inequality shifted form in American education" (p. 4). Erickson concludes, "Nashville navigated desegregation with relative statistical success while remaining unable or unwilling to value all of the district's students, their communities, and their places in the metropolis" (p. 11). Drawing on extensive archival research and over fifty original oral histories, Making the Unequal Metropolisis a deeply researched and analytically sophisticated book that builds on the work of historians of education, politics, and civil rights like Jack Dougherty, Matthew D. Lassiter, and Jeanne Theoharis. Similar to these scholars, Erickson shows how schools play an integral role in the making of cities and suburbs. "[SJchool policy became an actor in [Nashville], embedded in and contributing to the basic structures of metropolitan inequality," Erickson argues (p. 9). She concludes, "As Nashville schools went from formal segregation to statistical desegregation, they demonstrated how deeply education is tied to, and helps construct, the political economy of metropolitan space" (p. 313).

Among the many impressive aspects of this book is how Erickson navigates different scales of analysis. She deftly shows how struggles over educational inequality stretched across local, metropolitan, state, and federal levels and how policy choices at each of these levels shaped school segregation and desegregation. In chapter 4, for example, Erickson analyzes how school site selection guidelines prepared by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare revealed "official federal assumptions that quality education should be found in suburban settings," while also setting the "ideological and practical direction for school construction" in Nashville (pp. 123, 128). By repeatedly making these connections among the local, metropolitan, state, and national levels, Making the Unequal Metropolisis both a nuanced case study of educational history and civil rights in Nashville and a nationally relevant study of how "school policy choices continued to distribute resources—material, human, and social—unequally even within policy interventions ostensibly targeting equality" (p. 21).

Making the Unequal Metropolisalso covers a longer chronological period than many other histories of postwar urban/suburban development. By tracing this story through the 1980s and 1990s, Erickson is able to show how different people and organizations attempted to articulate and enact visions of [End Page 475]educational equality and how these visions transformed over time. "Black community leaders, from school board members to ministers to parent advocates, struggled to reconcile for themselves how much statistical desegregation was worth: in closures of cherished institutions, in time and distance on the bus, in feelings of alienation at new schools in unfamiliar and sometimes inaccessible areas," Erickson writes (p. 276). While the players in these later chapters are not well known nationally, the social, political, and legal issues Erickson analyzes will resonate for scholars working on metropolitan development and education in other locales.

Making the Unequal Metropolisis an important and timely book. Over six decades after Brown v. Board of Education(1954), Erickson's study provides new ways of thinking, talking, and teaching about the history and legacies of school segregation in the United States.

Matthew Delmont
Arizona State University


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pp. 475-476
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