Thursday, March 28, 2013

Marcus Anthony Hunter's "Black Citymakers"

Marcus Anthony Hunter is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Yale University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Black Citymakers: How "The Philadelphia Negro" Changed Urban America, and reported the following:
Black Citymakers revisits the Black Seventh Ward of W.E.B. DuBois's The Philadelphia Negro (1899), documenting a century of banking and tenement collapses, housing activism, black-led anti-urban renewal mobilization, and post-Civil Rights political change from the perspective of the Black Seventh Warders. Drawing on historical, political, and sociological research, I argue that black Philadelphians were not merely victims forced from their homes - they were citymakers and agents of urban change.

On Page 99, we find ourselves in the midst of the one of the most dramatic stories in the book. The year is 1937 and it is just months after a tenement collapse killed a young black widow Lucy Spease, and her three children Bernice (age 13), Samuel (age 6), and Helen (age 5). By February of 1937 the mayor razed dilapidated housing in the Black Seventh Ward near and around the site of the tenement collapse. Placing “Condemned, Unfit for Habitation” signs on the many properties where Black Seventh Warders were currently living. “Deploying the memory of the Spease family and others who were affected the by tenement collapse,” black political groups such as the National Negro Congress ignited “working-class blacks using housing reform as a means of generating a new generation of black political leadership that would be rooted in the Democratic Party.” In addition, “the response of black residents forced” the mayor of Philadelphia “to develop broader policies on housing reform. Realizing the scope of the problem and the need for a formal city entity to supervise housing reform, city officials under Wilson’s leadership formed the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA). The PHA, created in August 1937, was charged with the mission of clearing, reconstructing, and replanning ‘the areas in which slums exist’ and of providing ‘safe and sanitary dwelling accommodations for persons of low income’.”

“The funding for the PHA came from the Wagner-Steagall Act. The Wagner-Steagall Act, passed in 1937, was the federal law that created the United States Housing Administration (USHA) and contained a provision for low-interest loans that local authorities could use to cover up to ninety percent of costs associated with slum clearance and building housing projects.” That same year, the trial of the landlord of the tenement that collapsed, Abraham Samson, “was under way.” It was discovered during the trial that a black resident, Raymond Blackwell, “had complained to Samson just hours before the collapse, and his cousin Alberta Richardson testified at the trail.”
Learn more about Black Citymakers at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue