Brian D. Goldstein has made an important contribution to U.S. urban history and African American history with The Roots of Urban Renaissance. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, a great deal of discussion occurred (and still takes place) among activists, intellectuals, and policy makers about how urban areas have changed and who benefits from those changes. Many of these discussions focus on the processes of gentrification in communities of color, and the book often assumes that outside influences—mainly affluent white people—are responsible for economic changes and the concomitant residential displacement in these neighborhoods. Conversely for Harlem, however, Goldstein argues that the economic changes and development, the gentrification, that occurred in that neighborhood resulted from choices made by African American community developers and activists who were lifelong residents. Federally funded urban renewal projects were dismal failures in Harlem during the post–World War II era. Blocks of residential housing were razed in favor of federally funded public high-rise housing projects, which eventually became insidious dens of poverty and crime. The momentum of the black power movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s created opportunities for community activists to push their radical agendas for community self-determination. As the decades passed, however, radical notions of community control were no longer feasible and shifted to political pragmatism led by local organizations such as the Abyssinian Development Corporation, the Harlem Urban Development Corporation, and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, as well as charismatic personalities such as Congressman Charles Rangel and the politically influential Rev. Calvin O. Butts, the pastor of Abyssinia Baptist Church and the president of the State University of New York College at Old Westbury. “Harlem community organizations with radical origins and their direct successors came to espouse a narrowed, often pragmatic approach to social, political, and spatial transformation” (p. 279). As a result, Goldstein maintains, “they produced the Harlem of the new millennium, with new and refurbished housing for middle-class families and shopping centers towering over 125th Street” (ibid.). Within an introduction, six chapters, and a conclusion defined by clear and eloquent prose, Goldstein provides a creative take on a long-debated issue. His reasoning is sound, and his research is robust, with extensive archival and popular sources. The work presents Harlem as a community neither in decline nor in ascension; instead, Harlem is clearly presented as what it has always been since the early twentieth century: a community of individuals and families trying to use all means at their disposal to make their neighborhood safe and economically viable. The Roots of Urban Renaissance is a bold and original way of thinking about Harlem and changes in urban communities nationwide. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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