Fifty-one years ago, during the “long, hot summer” of 1967, civil disorders erupted in over 150 cities across the United States. One of the deadliest of the conflagrations occurred in Newark, New Jersey, where several days of rebellion and repression ensued after police officers beat an unarmed black taxi cab driver. The battle in Newark caused twenty-six deaths, nearly a thousand injuries, and millions of dollars in property damage. Ever since, scholars have grappled with the causes and consequences of America's “urban crisis,” a slow rolling structural calamity rooted in decades of job losses, disinvestment, depopulation, and racial inequality. In recent years, however, historians have begun to move beyond the familiar theme of decline by focusing on the persistence of urban dwellers. Julia Rabig's The Fixers fits squarely within this still-emerging tradition. Throughout, her focus is on “the fixers”—the city dwellers and suburbanites who fought for a brighter future for Newark before, during, and long after the urban uprisings of the 1960s. In Rabig's telling, the fixers were a diverse array of individuals and organizations, including the African American activists who worked to elect the city's first black mayor, Kenneth Allen Gibson, in 1970; the impoverished tenants who waged a lengthy rent strike to improve public housing; the workers who picketed construction sites in support of affirmative action; the black nationalists who envisioned new housing and community centers; and the dissident Catholic priests who labored alongside black women to provide affordable housing. Pragmatists at heart, the fixers were committed to improving the city through a combination of protest and negotiation. Fixers such as Gustav Heningburg of the Greater Newark Urban Coalition—a man who felt equally comfortable at demonstrations and inside corporate boardrooms—occupied liminal spaces within the world of Newark politics, often mediating disputes between protesters, government officials, and business leaders. Rabig's work upends much of the conventional wisdom about Newark and other struggling cities by showing in convincing detail how fixers were able to win significant reforms, even amid broader structural crises. In 1968, for instance, Heningburg and others negotiated with urban renewal officials over the construction of a medical and dental college, ultimately winning concessions that granted new education and employment opportunities to local residents. Likewise, as the federal government retreated from the War on Poverty in the late 1960s and 1970s, fixer-led community development corporations such as the New Community Corporation helped fill the void by building and managing low-income housing complexes and day care centers. Although such endeavors failed to remedy Newark's entrenched patterns of inequality, the efforts of the fixers highlight the creativity and resilience that have often been hallmarks of urban reformers. The Fixers is an outstanding work of academic history. It is a deeply researched and persuasively argued monograph that makes a significant contribution to the literature on the civil rights and black power movements, the privatization of municipal government and services, and twentieth-century urban politics, particularly related to the War on Poverty. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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