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Thomas Sugrue’s “Origins of the Urban Crisis” Summary Essay

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Updated: Sep 9th, 2021

Sugrue’s have started with contending the policymakers’ attitude which has always highlighted the perverse circumstances of the past. To this reason, Sugrue blames indirectly the policy makers which according to him are responsible for wreaking havoc to the poor public of Detroit. He has talked about some classes in his book which are poor Americans, liberals and policymakers, black workers and white workers. All these classes are interlinked in Sugrue’s book in the following manner: Poor Americans are African Americans who have suffered through the hands of white Americans and law makers of the country in the form of racial tensions and job conflicts. Therefore African Americans have played a major role in Sugrue’s ‘Urban Crisis’.

Sugrue has focused the subject of ‘racial inequality’ in Detroit and has focused the era of 1940s and 1950s in which Detroit was a symbol of industrial and manufacturing prowess. Sugrue’s book is not only a symbol of academic excellence and awards won by many Governmental bodies; it is a complete study of post war Detroit, which has attributed towards maintaining racial inequality not only to deindustrialization but also to impoverish public policy.

The effect of the racial diversity on African Americans in Detroit has never let the policy makers to think about changing time and space for those who lived in ghettos. Before World War II, African Americans in Detroit never wondered about the harshest social and psychological effects of racial segregation they would face in the near future. Detroit manifest an economical competition for African Americans which is evident by the multiracial character of the city worked against blacks for the menial labour and manufacturing jobs. Thus the World War II, where on one side created economic opportunities on behalf of the manufacturing and industrial sector, on the other side, it created devastation for the poor African Americans of Detroit who were gradually being aware of their changing social status in front of whites. They were kept in complete destitution in context with housing and employment and were challenged by white Americans. While capturing the era of 1930s Sugrue has focussed the reason behind the racial tensions of Detroit.

It was due to the racial segregation that arise the striking contrast to the steady decline in manufacturing jobs that began in the 1950s in Detroit. One of the reasons for the racial segregation was the use of covenants to protect and maintain white neighbourhoods in Detroit. This presented the effect of creating some of the most racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the country. By dividing a ‘color line’ that separated African Americans from white Americans, black ghettos were developed and populated. ‘Neighborhoods’ is an example where most people were black and where most black people in the city lived.

With a labor surplus in a manufacturing sector and no federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, employers were free and unreliable to the extent that Detroiters could expect any unfair decisions from them. By unreliable I mean that an employer in Detroit was free to ‘hire and fire’ any African American without any explanatory reason. Many employers of African Americans in Detroit uphold the perception that white labour is preferred. That elucidates what Sugrue has mentioned in his book as a ‘three-part’ story followed with the adverse effects of workplace discrimination, deindustrialization, and housing segregation.

There is no doubt that African American struggle in Detroit, made them a substantial part of the automobile, steel, and meatpacking labor forces along with the CIO became a potent ally in the battle for racial equality, often joining with local civil rights groups and churches to campaign against racial discrimination at work and at home. But even that struggle could not helped Detroit experience a gradual post-war decline in unionized blue-collar jobs as early as the 1950s.

Although there are important non-economic causes of racial tension, there can be little doubt that job opportunities are central concerns of African Americans and whites. The white workers’ hostility towards African Americans in workplace was caused in part by a fear of job competition. But the impact of inadequate jobs was much more serious as the problem was not a matter of dollars, but also in terms of poor health, broken families, high rates of crime, squalid housing, personal degradation and misery. The Ghetto within the ghetto followed by World War II of the public housing cause returning veterans, who were guaranteed preference in public housing projects by the Federal Public Housing Administration (FPHA), increasingly inhabited HACLA units.

Civil Rights movement which held during 1950s and 1960s sensed the African Americans deteriorating economic position as the immediate cause of some of this increased militancy, relate to long-run changes in the economy, particularly industrialization and urbanization, which worsened their economic and political welfare. Their demands for equal employment opportunities and an end to discrimination by unions had important implications for labor relations. And, because of their training and experience, industrial relations specialists have a responsibility to interpret the civil rights movement to the business community.

The race problem has many more non-economic dimensions that made it difficult to negotiate between civil rights organizations and industrial business firms. Industries and firms in Detroit when confronted with competing demands for union recognition made it possible to settle the conflict by holding representation elections. But in cases where civil rights groups demonstrate against business firms to get more jobs, it was difficult to determine who spoke for African Americans, making it difficult for demonstrations to lead to fruitful negotiations.

Although a constant proportion of African Americans were in the white collar and skilled categories, but still they remained dubious about their concentrated disproportionately in unskilled, menial occupations. They were rarely promoted to supervisory positions over whites, and had occupied skilled jobs mainly in African American communities or occupations traditionally reserved for them.

Although African American had improved their income positions over the long run, depressed economic conditions during the 1950’s and 1960’s eroded their overall economic position. Whites when compared to them had better agricultural and industrial opportunities, falling racial barriers, and better training and education.

An important impediment to the African American’s ability to improve his occupational position was undoubtedly his easy identification and the image of inferiority stamped upon him by slavery. Not having the opportunity to work in a variety of skilled, technical operations, African Americans became stereotyped for certain jobs by employers, white workers, and even themselves. Since they were regarded as inferior by many whites, those who would perpetuate a feeling of superiority for their crafts or occupations often seek to exclude African Americans. They were restricted in their employment opportunities by a host of cultural and social factors and since African Americans of Detroit usually lived in segregated neighborhoods, they rarely learn about jobs with few or no African Americans in them, and they apply for the kinds of jobs they know they can get. Since aspirations are conditioned by one’s associates, few of them were motivated to apply for jobs from which they have been excluded.

Because of the historical and demographic characteristics of individual neighborhoods, the African Americans’ inadequate vocational and apprenticeship training also tended to perpetuate their employment in traditional jobs. In the South it had been customary to have segregated vocational schools where African Americans were trained only for traditional occupations. While there were some excellent vocational training schools associated with African Americans’ colleges, many were barred from these as well as apprenticeship programs because they were not high school graduates. Moreover, even the graduates of these schools have not been able to acquire additional apprenticeship training to become journeymen because of discrimination in apprenticeship training programs.

Industrial unions and firms of Detroit were more concerned with the exclusion of African Americans from employment in manufacturing industries and with job segregation within those industries than with exclusion or segregated locals. The main reason behind such variation of jobs was the strike threats by white workers to perpetuate job discrimination.

Unions and the racial policies controlled the supply of labor in their trades, for example, craft unions influenced African Americans’ employment opportunities by barring them from their unions and imposing closed shop conditions. This required the employer to get his labor from the union, so if the union bars African Americans from membership they were effectively barred from the unionized sector of the trade. In some cases, there have been ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ that they would be permitted to work only in certain areas of a trade, such as in African American neighborhoods or on lower-paying jobs, while unionized whites retained the more desirable jobs. This has been the pattern among many building trades unions, for example, where craft unions like the Plumbers, Electricians, and Sheet Metal Workers have either barred African Americans from membership or restricted them to certain kinds of work. Railroad brotherhoods have had the most rigid forms of discrimination. The historical pattern has been for these unions to bar them from membership and from the jobs.

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