Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Wolfinger reviews Countryman on Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia

James Wolfinger, DePaul, reviews Matthew Countryman, Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006) on H-Pol. Here's an excerpt:
In the last twenty years historians have examined race relations and the African American experience in Detroit, Chicago, New York City, and other American cities.[1] These studies have helped revolutionize our understanding of the black experience in the urban North in the post-World War II period. Despite this flourishing body of academic work, Philadelphia has remained a largely neglected site. Matthew Countryman's new book, Up South, helps fill this historiographical gap, but does much more. In his study of black politics in the city of brotherly love, Countryman demonstrates how African Americans moved from liberal politics in the late 1940s and '50s to black power in the late 1960s. In so doing, Countryman challenges scholars to rethink the roots and development of black power and to move Philadelphia and similar northern cities closer to the center of postwar African American history....
Increasingly disenchanted with liberal strategies, many African Americans turned to community-based activism that sought to use mass mobilization to obtain racial equality (p. 83). These new leaders had not abandoned the liberal belief in interracial activism, but by the late 1950s they turned from pursuing abstract legal rights through administrative means to using the power of organized ordinary black Philadelphians to obtain equal rights. It was a matter, Countryman argues, of shifting from "questions of equal opportunity to ones of socioeconomic equality" (p. 112). Leon Sullivan and other church leaders formed an organization called the 400 Ministers that led "selective patronage" campaigns (essentially boycotts) against discriminatory employers such as Tastykake, Gulf Oil, and others. Sullivan also formed the Opportunities Industrialization Center to give African Americans the training they needed for skilled work in the city's industries. This approach secured at least a handful of jobs, but much like the interracial liberal organizations before them, Sullivan and the 400 Ministers learned their strategies could not overcome the obstacles before black Philadelphia.

For the rest, click here.