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Chapter 3: University Homes

Chapter 3

University Homes: Creating a Political Opportunity Structure with a New Deal

This chapter will examine how African-Americans utilized public housing developments in Atlanta as a space to reconstruct (or redefine) race, specifically, African-American citizenship in the post-Reconstruction southern urban political economy.  On a larger scale, this chapter studies the African-American social welfare and relief organizations that were active prior to the New Deal, the racial politics of the New Deal’s policymaking and implementation, and the scalar political effects of the New Deal Public Works Administration’s Housing Division program.  The second half of this chapter uses the example of the University Homes, its tenant association, and the surrounding community to contextualize these national changes in racial politics on a local level.  In the University Homes case, the political opportunity structure is decidedly top-down, and shaped significantly by the “outer wheel,” or elite, professional, African-American interests in Atlanta (Ferguson, 2002).  The political opportunity structure of public housing developments used tenant associations hand-picked by an elite (professional class) African-American managerial staff – associations that had significant influence from not only the local Atlanta elite, but also that of the recently-hired African-Americans in the expanding Federal Government.  This small, yet powerful group pushed the uplift ideology within New Deal program implementation – a strategy aiming to improve the political, economic, and social standing of all African-Americans by focusing on lifting the masses out of poverty (Ferguson, 2002; Bacote, 1955; Baylor, 1996).  Following the severe rollback of African-American civil liberties in the decades following Reconstruction, the “Black Cabinet” (Pritchett, 2008, 67) laid vital groundwork to create political opportunity structures in African-American urban communities across the country, in spaces including, but not limited to, public housing developments. 

This chapter also hopes to serve as a starting off point for an evolutionary examination of the political opportunity structures of public housing developments in Atlanta.  The heavy influence of elite interests on the political mobilization and action of the first public housing tenant associations were phased out over time as the population of the developments (and the communities which surrounded them) – and consequently, the political interests – changed to a predominantly poor and female-headed household.  The early tenant associations had a male political influence – men served in visible positions of political power and led the action for these political opportunity structures (Archives, Moron, 1936-1940).  As such, the evolution of the political opportunity structures of public housing developments in Atlanta is contextualized with the intersection of race, class, and gender politics. 

African-American Elites in Atlanta: Private Philanthropy Provides Public Relief

The policies that produced the first large-scale Federal government construction of public housing for low-income citizens during the Roosevelt Administration were monumental in the twentieth century, primarily as there was no precedent of a national relief program in the United States (Vale, 2000).   Prior to the New Deal, poverty relief was a privately funded and managed operation, with philanthropic and religious organizations providing relief for the poor and indigent (Vale, 2000) under local poor laws.  The privately funded relief was rooted in Puritan theology, with poverty viewed as a symptom of immoral behavior, as opposed to a byproduct of a structural tension between labor and capital (O’Connor, 2002; Marx, 19).  The ideology of poverty relief changed when the Progressive reform at the turn of the twentieth century applied social science methods to the “problem” of poverty, attempting to quantify the scale and causes of the issue, while removing the moral mischaracterizations of the poor.  Even as these reforms shaped the social welfare policy currently administered in the United States (means-testing, pilot programs, cost-benefit analysis), it also contributed to the still predominant stratification of the poor (widows and orphans at the top, able-bodied men at the bottom).   Progressive reform introduced corporate philanthropy (the precursor to the non-profit organization) and the ideology that employers and industrialists have an obligation to provide relief for the negative externalities of industrialization on a larger scale. However, these general-purpose organizations were only successful when their supporting corporations were profitable (O’Connor, 2002, 39). Therefore, the ability for these organizations to effectively target and provide welfare during economic recessions was weakened; similarly, religious organizations that relied on community funding were limited in their relief work during economic downturns.  Hence, the scale and severity of the Great Depression necessitated a nationally funded relief program with local administration.            

With varying degrees of citizenship across the country, African-Americans operated under a separate system of poverty relief from that described above.  Racial segregation separated blacks and whites in the city and country, in both the north and south, such that few private or religious organizations would have to grapple with “the race issue” when determining community relief allotments.  Early twentieth century African-American neighborhoods were often comprised of different socioeconomic classes (with the exception of the upper class, who were able to purchase land and homes in areas outside of black slums), with a church - and in larger communities, a commercial strip - acting as an anchor for the community.  Blacks were excluded (both legally and spatially) from interacting with whites in social, political, and residential environments, creating widespread social issues for the race following the rolling back of Reconstruction policies.  Public services and goods (sidewalks, roads, streetlights, schools, utilities, housing inspections, firemen, police, parks) were scarce in black neighborhoods, creating an overwhelming need for poverty relief, and limited sources of private funds.  In spite of the significant structural causes of African-American poverty in the early twentieth century, the ideology that guided the relief efforts from the African-American elite was surprisingly moralistic and Puritanical (Rouse, 1984).  Further, African-American philanthropists had less-altruistic motivations for their charitable endeavors: uplift ideology – a strategy promoted by DuBois most famously with the talented tenth – necessitated that in order for any (read: upper-class) African-American to have full political, social, and economic freedom in the country, all African-Americans (read: lower-class) have to be lifted up by middle class values and practicing the politics of respectability (Ferguson, 2002).  The social welfare organizations focused on curbing juvenile delinquency with organized youth activities (domestic activities for young girls, military and labor skills for young boys), providing public health and etiquette classes for adults of the lowest income bracket, and finally, providing political and philosophical talks for adults of all socioeconomic statuses (Rouse, 1984; Ferguson, 2002).        

The politics of respectability within black political ideology and action remain relevant in a contemporary discussion of racial politics.  At the root, this politics privileges white, male, middle-aged, middle-class interests, with their Puritanical influences and inherent racial and gender biases.  The politics of respectability renders women invisible by making men the political leaders, although black men remain in supporting roles to white men or white male ideas.  Youth are also silenced within the politics of respectability.  The middle class values that dominate the politics of respectability are a sharp contrast to the values of the poor and working class; individuality and private property dominate middle class interests, whereas working and lower-class values privilege communal property and goods as necessary survival strategies (Stack, 1974).  In short, the politics of respectability that dominates black political ideology silences the majority of the poor and working class interests in favor of the interests of a powerful, but minority, elite class.      

The benefit of hindsight allows for the condemnation of uplift ideology, however, at the turn of the twentieth century, blacks were in such a subjugated position after nearly forty years of freedom from bondage, the lack of public goods and services in black neighborhoods created a desperate political environment.  Black private relief had its roots in the integrated social organizations formed after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, yet following the end of Reconstruction black women formed their own social clubs to address the rise of lynching against black men that the integrated women’s organizations did not protest.  While national organizations such as the National Urban League (NUL) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) provided political visibility and legitimacy for African-Americans, the regional differences in African-American citizenship necessitated either a national overhaul of racial politics (e.g. a second Reconstruction) or targeted local organizing.  In Atlanta, elite African-Americans sought to improve African-American conditions through a multipronged approach of securing the vote (before 1946, blacks in Georgia were allowed to vote in general elections and special elections, but could not participate in the whites-only Democratic primaries), improving black community conditions (sidewalks, roads, lights, utilities), and securing equal accommodation (parks, schools, hospitals) from local jurisdictions (Rouse, 1984). 

One such organization that promoted the aforementioned political goals was the Neighborhood Union, founded in 1908 by Lugenia Burns Hope, wife of Morehouse College president Rev. Dr. John Hope (Rouse, 1984).  Mrs. Hope’s involvement with political causes occurred as a result of the needs of herself and her neighbors: in 1901, the City of Atlanta did not provide one playground for black children; further, black children were increasingly left home alone or to wander in the streets as their mothers went to work to supplement the artificially low wages of their husbands.  The inability for working-class black men to singularly support their families like their white counterparts created a host of inequalities in black communities, while simultaneously providing a wealth of opportunities for these communities to engage in political action and mobilization (Castells, 1983).  The wage inequalities created both a submerged working and middle-class in African-American communities, and this submerged group became one of the more politically active segments of the community in the decades leading up to and including the Civil Rights Movement.     

The inequality between the races was not limited to economics; politically, blacks were disenfranchised in Atlanta since the rollback of Reconstruction policies in the Compromise of 1877.  The national rollback of Reconstruction (and the withdrawal of Federal troops from Southern areas) was accompanied with a rollout of Jim Crow state and municipal policies, mandating social segregation between the races and erecting racial exclusions and definitions around civil liberties.  Political reconstruction threatened the stability of institutional white supremacy in the South, as the population of black citizens in heavy slave-trading markets far exceeded that of whites.  With the Compromise of 1877, Federal troops left Southern states, effectively ending the decade-long era of Reconstruction.  Virtually overnight, Southern legislators constructed policies to exclude African-Americans from participating in political, social, and economic activities with whites.  The purpose of Jim Crow and various Black Codes throughout the South was to legally subjugate African-Americans into a marginalized political, social, and economic caste.  While the economic effects of a legally subjugated group has been documented (Wilson, 2009; Omi and Winant, 1996; Fusfeld and Bates, 1984) for maintaining a white supremacy, the political effects of this subjugation to maintaining white supremacy in the South warrants exploration as well.         

As Progressive reform shifted the political environment from a laissez-faire approach to the economy to a more Keynesian approach to labor and social policy, black philanthropists utilized the uplift ideology and respectability politics as a way of creating a deserving poor within the previously ignored black communities.  As the scale and magnitude of the Great Depression necessitated supply-side policies that provided publicly funded jobs, housing, and infrastructure to the struggling nation, elite African-Americans saw the New Deal as an opportunity to lift the masses up and establish a new black citizenship.           

The New Deal: Liberal Politics and the Great Depression

The politics of the New Deal embodied a variety of Progressive (liberal) and conservative economic interests lobbying to influence the final policies.  The Great Depression that prompted this political economic shift in the United States triggered a series of disasters in both the private and public sectors: approximately 50 percent of all mortgages in 1933 were in default, housing starts had declined by 90 percent since the previous housing boom of 1925, and the unemployment rate was 25 percent when President Roosevelt took office that year (Radford, 2004).  The failure of his conservative predecessor, Herbert Hoover, to improve the economy after several policies to subsidize the private sector prompted the Democratic Roosevelt Administration to create more supply-side (i.e., job creation) policies.  The political economic shift was also supported by the changing demographics in the country.  Industrialization and a major immigration boom two decades prior (ca. 1880s) produced Democratic ward politics in the nation’s urban areas.  Thus, northern Democrats who supported urban social welfare policies in Congress outnumbered rural-based southern Democrats who dominated the party for a century prior (Radford, 2004).  Progressive politics marked the beginning of a technocratic era in planning and policymaking, yet these politics, for all of their liberal window dressing, were still quite conservative with regards to racial and gender issues.  The obvious usage of white, Protestant, middle-class values as a normative goal for Progressive policymakers – applied in public housing policy with the community modernism framework – reinforced structural inequalities across racial, gender, and class lines across the nation, as well as set the precedent for the stratification of welfare recipients in modern social policy.        

Parson defines community modernism as an era in urban planning emphasizing the value of the built environment in the social reproduction of low-income communities in urban areas (Parson, 2005).  Rooted in Park’s theories, Progressive Housers designed public housing developments with expansive public spaces for domestic, political, and economic interaction (Parson, 2005).  Community modernism is an approach to urban growth and city planning that incorporated the emerging social work literature regarding the moral inferiority of the poor (O’Connor, 2001).  Progressive policies and programs that focused on the built environment as a determinant of social life were reactionary responses to the perceived urban crime waves that occurred after the 1890 Depression (Baylor, 1996).  As a result, the concept of “reform” or “settlement” housing – where private philanthropists developed, constructed, and managed affordable housing for the working class – included significant social programs that attempted to acclimate the (largely ethnic white) working class into middle-class norms and values (Radford, 2004).  These social programs were mimicked in early public housing developments via the largely management-controlled tenant associations (Parson, 2005).   

 

Industrializing urban areas had growing minority populations, but the success of the community modernism experiment was largely limited to ethnic white communities (Parson, 2005).  The reform and settlement programs that predated the PWA Housing Division efforts in Midwestern and Northeastern cities were generally not constructed in “Black Belts” or neighborhoods with significant African-American populations.  Reasons why settlement houses did not locate more frequently in African-American neighborhoods are not discussed at length in the literature (however, see Radford, 2004, for discussion on Rockefeller’s Co-operative Dunbar Homes and the PWA’s Harlem River Houses).  I posit these reasons are rooted in the individual and institutional discrimination of the period.  Individually, the notion of communal living with African-Americans was unattractive for developers and philanthropists as residential integration was considered immoral – the very behavior co-operative housing was attempting to inhibit.  Institutionally, African-American neighborhoods (Black Belts) often contained the worst housing stock on the most marginalized tracts of land (Sugrue, 1996). To invest in the private housing stock was risky, as the surrounding area would also require significant private (or public) investment to generate return on the investment capital (Marcuse, 1971).  Further, given the precarious nature of African-American employment in the industrializing city (a precariousness reinforced through individual and institutional discrimination), the operational feasibility of African-American multi-family housing was bleak in the early twentieth century.  The individual and institutional discrimination that produced unstable African-American social and economic conditions in the City creates the context for the role of African-Americans in urban disinvestment.  As a result, poor African-American communities received lesser political consideration (project funding, materials, planning, programmatic support, publicity) during the New Deal than their white counterparts.

African-American liberal political interests were suppressed in favor of the conservative economic interests.  These conservative economic interests were represented by the real estate and banking lobby that were likely to feel the greatest threat from the Federal government’s intervention into property markets via housing finance, construction, and slum clearance (Radford, 2004).  New Deal legislation threatened to reduce the profitability of both industries, with increased regulation of housing finance and increased competition in the housing construction and finance markets.            

Reconstructing Race

Legally, race in the United States was in a constant state of flux, with different places and spaces allowing for varying levels of black citizenship throughout the country.  At the origin of this divide was the peculiar institution of slavery, and the original division of the country into free and slave states.  The ability for blacks to transform their citizenship through either political or economic means (either escape to a free state or outright purchase of one’s freedom) supports the idea of race as a socially constructed ideology in the United States.  Similarly, the ability for those in power (white, upper-class, Protestant men) to racialize processes, events, and spaces supports the idea that the social construct of race is an ever-changing process (i.e., racialization), as opposed to a fixed thing.     

It’s appropriate to critically analyze race at this juncture in the research as black Atlantans in the 1930s were politically, economically, and socially disadvantaged relative to black Atlantans fifty years prior.  Specifically, the rollback of Reconstruction-era policies marked a period of dramatic racial reconstruction, in addition to the racialization of previously race-neutral processes of urbanization.  In the 1870s, African-Americans sat on Atlanta’s City Council, and prominent blacks had a limited, but necessary, role in the electoral and governing regimes of the city – a pattern that emerged again in the 1950s, as described in Hunter’s Community Power Structure (Bacote, 1955; Hunter, 1953).   The role of African-Americans in Atlanta politics reduced significantly in the next decade due to the rising influence of the Democratic Party in the South, and the growing reliance of the one-party system in urban politics.  Anti-Federalism from former Confederate statesmen made the Republican Party less attractive, and these Democratic factions created regulations that limited not only blacks’, but also poor whites’ political participation.  Poll taxes and property requirements made voting an elite activity, and provided the first blatant connection between businessmen and politics in the City.

At the time of University Homes’ planning and design, Atlanta’s black political participation was at its “nadir” according to esteemed African-American political scientist C.A. Bacote (1955).  In 1892, the Atlanta Democratic Executive Committee, as a private political organization, adopted a whites-only primary, preventing blacks from voting in the influential Democratic primaries for municipal and state offices.  During the Reconstruction Era in the South (1870-1890), blacks had a tenable amount of political power and legitimacy in urban politics, resulting in two black City Councilmen elected from Atlanta’s Third and Fourth Wards in 1870.  By 1890, Blacks held positions on the Citywide Democratic Committee, which was now splintered in factions against the growing Populist movement, as national issues of the unstable economy and prohibition dominated urban politics (Bacote, 1955).  The divided Democratic Party created a divided Black vote, and this inability to capture this presumed easy voting bloc, coupled with weakened Republican and Populist parties, allowed the Democrats to enforce the all-white primary in 1892, and again in 1897 after it was temporarily repealed in 1895. 

The all-white Democratic primary had the dual purposes of consolidating white political power while also redefining the social construct of race in the post-bellum South.  With slavery prohibited with the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Thirteenth through Fifteenth Amendments granting African-Americans new rights in the South, whites and blacks grappled with new social and political dynamics in the Southern urban political economy.  In the post-Emancipation South, Blacks immediately sought about obtaining new social equality and political legitimacy by mobilizing the resources of existing community and religious organizations.  The election of William Finch and George Graham to the Atlanta City Council in 1870 demonstrated the power of a harnessed and targeted “black vote,” and the black population continued to support the Republican candidates in local elections until the withdrawal of Federal troops in 1877.  The black vote was particularly powerful in post-bellum Southern municipal elections given the high proportions of black populations at the time.  The growing power of a virtually new group of citizens (Southern blacks) was tempered via white supremacist legislature in the South.  As Georgia transformed into a one-party state through the physical removal of the Republican Party (via the removal of Federal troops to enforce Reconstruction policies in the South) and the electoral removal of the Populist Party, blacks were stripped of virtually all political power until the 1946 King v Chambers Supreme Court decision that would deem the Georgia all-white Democratic primary unconstitutional.  As such, the white primary provided white Southerners with the ability to consolidate their political power around the social construct of race, while relegating blacks to virtually the same political and social rights they had during bondage.                       

In spite of this second-class citizenship, blacks were as politically active as possible during the period of political “nadir” to which Bacote refers (Bacote, 1955).  Although black Atlantans could not vote in primaries, they were permitted to vote in the general and special elections, and redefined their citizenship through this political action.  In 1921, a four million dollar bond issue was on the general election ballot to construct new schools for the area’s white children.  Black voters organized both registration drives and voter education drives to reject the bond issue twice (Bacote, 1955; Baylor, 1996).  The bond issue finally passed on the third try, and $1.25 million was allocated to the construction of schools for African-American children.  With this repetitive and focused political action, black Atlantans were able to redefine their citizenship (and as a result, their racial status in the post-Reconstruction South) through political action.    

Political action as a means to redefine racial status and citizenship had its limits as a sustainable strategy.  As free blacks grappled with whites over political, economic, and social power in the post-bellum political economy, white supremacy as an overruling ideology was enforced outside of a legislative structure.  Violence permeated all facets of post-bellum Southern life, and race relations were often framed by the varying intensity of violence against blacks (i.e., good race relations meant little visible violence against blacks, poor race relations meant significant visible violence against blacks).  Young notes that violence as a form as oppression is systemic, and can be used as a tool of the dominant to keep another group subjugated (Young, 1990).  In the case of violence in the post-bellum South, it was used in concert with a political, economic, and social structure that promoted white supremacy and marginalized black interests.  Therefore, much of the black political apathy and lack of political participation is tied to the ominous, oppressive presence and threat of violence throughout the post-bellum South.  That mere acts of civil disobedience (as an example, the act of Primus King voting in a Atlanta Democratic primary that eventually led to the Supreme Court ruling) required years of planning and alliance with white liberals who could provide police protection, suggested that black political action would always be subjugated to white political interests (Baylor, 1996; Bacote, 1955, Ferguson, 2002).

The planning, construction, and management of the University Homes – and to an extent, the importance of the Black Cabinet within Roosevelt’s Administration – allowed for black Atlantans to control their political interests on a more favorable political scale.  That is, black Atlantans were able to bypass the white supremacist local and state power structure that oppressed black political interests with legal disenfranchisement (the whites-only Democratic primary) and state-sanctioned violence (unequal protection of blacks and enforcement of laws by all-white local police forces) by accessing the Federally-supported New Deal resources (Pritchett, 2008; Ferguson, 2002).  While Bacote claims that black political action was at its nadir during the 1930s in Atlanta, by re-adjusting the scale of the political action from the Local and State to the Federal level, we see the black elite who comprised the local advisory committee for University Homes were quite engaged, active, and acquired political legitimacy for African-Americans in the City.  This political legitimacy (or political capital) would provide political opportunities in the forms of Federal benefits and pilot social welfare programs in the City for the next half century (Ferguson, 2002).                    

University Homes: Planning and Design

On October 18, 1936, the Atlanta Daily World (ADW) published an article announcing two major events in Atlanta’s African-American community: the impending registration for application to the city’s first public housing project for African-Americans, and the arrival of the project’s assistant housing manager, Alonzo G. Moron (ADW, 1936).  Moron, the former Commissioner of Public Welfare for the Virgin Islands, was a graduate of Hampton Institute (later Hampton University, where he was accepted into Phi Beta Kappa), Brown University (awarded a Masters of Arts in Sociology), and served as an Urban League Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh between 1932 and 1933 (ADW, 1936).  The article listed many of Moron’s accomplishments, including that he was the first African-American appointed as a social worker by the Baltimore Emergency Relief Committee.  The ADW article quickly (and discretely) identified Moron as a man of the Atlanta upper crust, and thus, as a member of Atlanta’s united yet powerless African-American power structure.  This inclusion in the African-American power structure was not limited to Atlanta – Moron’s elite educational background and political connections qualified him to ascend to the growing black elite power structure in Washington, DC.  At the time of the article’s publication, there had not been a Federal appointment for the manager of University Homes.  By 1939 Moron had performed his duties so well he was in the position to demand a promotion, which his supervisors at the Housing Division quickly awarded him (Archives, 1939).     

The Advisory Committee of University Housing, a “local citizens advisory committee” (ADW, 1936) had been reconfigured in the wake of John Hope’s (president of Morehouse College and committee chair) death in February 1936.  Ironically, several elite African-American Atlantans served on this “local committee”, despite their non-local addresses – two of the eight committee members resided in New York and Washington, DC, and none of the committee members resided in the Beaver Slide neighborhood that was demolished for the construction of University Homes.  However, these committee members all had a vested interest in the public housing development, and eradicating the slums that preceded it, as they were all affiliated with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in Atlanta – later known as the Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUC).  John Hope, as president of Morehouse College, proposed University Homes in conjunction with C.F. Palmer (proposing Techwood Homes) [Baylor – insert Palmer/Hope relationship here].  The alternative (and paternalistic) motives for constructing University Homes suggested heavy interference from the elite and accommodating African-Americans in Atlanta; the overly paternalistic housing programs of the PWA Housing Division guaranteed that such interference would receive Federal support, both financially and politically.  From the onset, the poor African-Americans who resided in the Beaver Slide community prior to the slum clearance, and the working-class African-Americans who would reside in University Homes were virtually excluded from the planning and policymaking processes (Baylor, 1996).       

The planning, design, and construction processes for University Homes placed it at the center of black elite life in both Atlanta and Washington, DC.  As the first public housing development financed exclusively for black working-class families, it demonstrated an affirmative redefinition of black citizenship, in its inclusionary planning for a largely disenfranchised group.  While the New Deal provided poor and working class whites with the political and economic resources to create a white middle class, it simultaneously provided limited political and economic opportunities for a submerged black working class (Ferguson, 2002).  The plan for a black public housing development was the result of an all-black advisory, design, and construction committee.  While those in charge were most certainly not the same as those who would directly benefit from the new housing, the elite members of the University Homes Advisory Committee were in just a visible a role as the future tenants, acting as an “Outer Wheel,” or spokesmen, for the African-American race to white Americans (Ferguson, 2002).  In fact, advisory committee chairman John Hope was often placed in politically visible roles after being named the first black president of Morehouse College in 1906. The role in the Outer Wheel allowed for privileged African-Americans to gain direct political, economic, and social opportunities within a white supremacist urban political economy, while dictating the opportunities available to the “Inner Wheel,” (Ferguson, 2002), or working- and lower-class blacks.      

After the untimely death of John Hope in 1936, Spelman President Florence M. Read was named as interim chairperson of the local advisory committee, and was instrumental to the planning, design, and opening of University Homes.  Read, a Mount Holyoke alumnae, served as president of Spelman College from 1927-1953 (Read Papers Archives). During her tenure as Spelman president, Read was an ideal candidate for membership in the black section of the Community Power Structure, the black elite electoral coalition of the Atlanta urban regime, and was thus instrumental in supporting the public housing development as a political opportunity structure.  Read’s leadership of the advisory committee provided a great deal of practicality and humanity when structuring the first Federally-financed public housing program for blacks.  During the committee meetings, Read often advocated for economic allowances for women, non-traditional family structures, individuals susceptible to structural causes of poverty and discrimination, and other marginalized groups.  An adept politician, Read was able to advocate for these marginalized groups while navigating the covertly racist and gendered political environments between Washington, DC and Atlanta, GA (Read Papers Archives). 

As committee chairperson, Read took her leadership responsibilities seriously, organizing, running, and taking the minutes of each of the bi-weekly committee meetings.  The advisory committee also took their duties seriously, and understood the gravity of their obligation to the African-American community – both within Atlanta and throughout the United States.  At this point, drafts of the Wagner Housing Bill were circulating through the House of Representatives, and the public housing program that PWA piloted had a strong possibility of becoming permanent. University Homes was the first major expenditure in African-American communities at a national level, and in the minds of many, would set a precedent on how (or whether) blacks received national, state, and local resources in the future.  The rolling out of the public housing program at University Homes was a simultaneous redefinition of race and citizenship in the South. 

One of the first meetings following Hope’s death covered topics ranging from the size and location of the development’s community center to the political implications of the housing manager’s birthplace and pedigree.  On March 23, 1936 in the Administrative Building at Atlanta University, Read convened the local advisory committee to discuss the progress of the planned buildings and facilities (non-residential) for the University Homes project.  Before the meeting officially started, recently appointed member (and prominent member of Atlanta’s “Outer Wheel”) Austin Thomas (A.T.) Walden, Esq. debated with fellow committee members Kendall Weisiger (assistant to the President of Southern Bell Company) and Solomon W. Walker (founder and President of Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance) about the feasibility of getting a new public school for black children constructed after University Homes was built.  The four committee members seemed aware that financing was the smallest obstacle in the provision of public infrastructure for Atlanta’s black communities; the assembly of land – suitable, adjacent sites that were within the black community and did not impinge on white property values were becoming more difficult to assemble as black populations grew.

The aforementioned is an example of the local committee taking advantage of the political opportunities at the Federal scale, and mobilizing these resources into opportunities at the local level.  Slum clearance and public housing construction increased population estimates for communities, warranting a re-examination of public goods and service provision.  Certain basic public goods were required in the site plans, and the PWA bore the cost of installing new public infrastructure for sewage, water, gas, and electric.  University Homes was the only PWA construction in Atlanta to have an on-site power plant, providing reliable and safe electricity to the 675 units.  For black communities, these basic utilities had exponential effects, often creating safer and more sanitary neighborhoods.  Prior to University Homes, local officials had done little with regards to service and infrastructure provision in black neighborhoods.  Although the community was able to gain political benefits during general and special elections, the majority of planning and budgeting decisions in Atlanta excluded black communities prior to the New Deal.  The federal status of the project, and the spaces created within and around the development, afforded political opportunities to both University Homes’ tenants and residents of the surrounding community.      

To maximize these political opportunities from the Federal level, the local advisory committee deliberated for several months over the qualifications of the housing manager for University Homes.  The two candidates for the job were Alonzo Moron and Albert W. Dent.  Dent was preferred to Moron, as Dent was from Atlanta and had briefly returned after an unsuccessful foray into Houston’s black real estate market in the 1920s.  In 1931, Dent returned to Atlanta to work as alumnus secretary for Morehouse College, thereby developing a close relationship with the late advisory chair John Hope, who served as president of Morehouse College.  It was Hope who asked Dent to return to Morehouse after his trouble in Houston, likely attempting to use Dent’s real estate experience for the University Homes advisory committee and the concurrent slum clearance in the AUC community.  In 1932, Dent accepted a job at Dillard University’s Flint-Goodridge Hospital in New Orleans, and would eventually become the president of the HBCU.  Committee member Kendall Weisiger suggested the development hire both men, an option which Read thought Ickes and the Housing Division staff would consider:

“I think that is one thing they have been working on up there, they told me.  If through employing two pretty high-class men – I talked with the acting head of the management division about this – you could get more resources that wouldn’t cost you anything in other ways, it would merit it.  If we make use of the University resources, it’s going to need somebody to coordinate them with the community.  Take the things that students might do in their leadership – dramatics, and music, and in the nursery school even, the whole range of activities might come from the University.  It is going to take somebody there…” (Read Papers)    

Read, and the other committee members, understood that in order to maximize the resources available from Weaver’s Black Cabinet and the New Deal, there would have to be strong local involvement to coordinate and mobilize these resources at the local level.  Moron had the stronger background and qualifications (he was a trained social worker), but Dent was favored amongst committee members as he was from Atlanta. According to committee member Eugene Martin (Executive at the Atlanta Life Insurance Company):

“Between the two, I think Mr. Dent would be the better man from a civic standpoint.  Moron is not an Atlantan and Dent is.  So far as getting cooperation, that has some bearing. I do not mean that a person from out of the city could not get cooperation.  Moron’s home is the Virgin Islands.  At least he was born there; I guess he spent most of his life here.  Mr. Dent would be able to get more cooperation from the city at large, of doctors, etc, than someone out of the city.” (Read Papers)

           

“Cooperation” with existing resources in the City required both intimate knowledge of the local scene, and the proper social background (middle, or upper-class African-American with a minimum of a college education, preferably with an advanced degree).  The post-Depression public relief resources for black communities were primarily private philanthropic and religious organizations, most of which were led by men and women of similar social pedigree.  The strategy of the advisory committee appeared to be to promote an uplift ideology, both within and around the University Homes development.  The significance of Federal resources to local black communities was already apparent in the planning and design processes, and would surely continue to improve once the homes were constructed. 

The same March meeting continued with discussion of the development’s construction activities.  Weaver, an economist by training, was adamant about black architects, construction workers, masons, landscapers, and other relevant laborers having fair representation on PWA Housing Division projects, particularly those designated for African-American residents (Pritchett, 2008).  It was noted in the black community that African-Americans felt the Great Depression more harshly and for a longer duration than whites in the country.  Albert Dent’s early departure from Houston’s booming real estate market in 1927 suggests that even professional blacks were not immune to the effects of the Depressions’ racial bias.  The committee members discussed the difficulty a group of black painters had in organizing as a legal trade union. Specifically, the civil disobedience these painters encountered within the Fulton County administrative departments, as well as the racial discrimination they received from the white labor unions.  The two groups worked in concert to promote and maintain the difference between white and black work, that is, by racializing the labor market through racial segmentation.  The denial of black painters to organize as a legal union, and thereby receive better wages and legitimacy in the labor market, promoted a difference in wages on the basis of race.  These acts of civil disobedience within the white supremacist power structure in the South sustained the structure and the marginalization of blacks, by snubbing Federal legislation and privileging State interests.  Without full enfranchisement, Southern blacks had little recourse to these open acts of local and State defiance. 

Read and the committee, however, were using the new Federal relationship and the visibility of University Homes to suppress this civil disobedience and begin redefining the racial politics in the South.  Read had taken it upon herself to visit national labor heads when she was in Washington, DC, in an effort to get the black painters unionized.  Her efforts were stymied as local unions in Atlanta accused one painter of having communist affiliation.  After the Herndon trial in 1932, accusations of black communists suggested anarchist leanings or other radical political connotations.  However, Read remained optimistic that the black painters would triumph in the union battle, increasing the already impressive number of black laborers working on the project.  Per Read, two-thirds of the plasterers were blacks, and one-third of the brick masons  (Read Papers). 

In January 1937, the advisory committee (and the recently hired Moron) met with the district manager for University and Techwood Homes (the PWA Housing Division project for white residents), and a PWA Housing Division staff member.  The committee was meeting to set rental rates for the 675 units at University Homes, which would in turn set the Federal minimum and maximum income limits for the development.  Table XX shows the proposed rent schedule for University Homes, both with and without the utility allowance. 

Table XX: January 1937 Proposed Rent Schedule for University Homes Units

# of Bedrooms

Monthly Rent

Monthly Rent with Utility Allowance

2

$12.32

$17.37

3

$16.32

$22.12

4

$20.32

$26.77

5

$22.82

$29.77

 

Committee members S.W. Walker and L.D. Milton (bank cashier at Citizen’s Trust Company and Economics professor at Atlanta University) debated whether these rents were too high for black Atlantans, and whether it was feasible to set rents at this rate if they required income limits that would only include “the top 2%” of the black Atlanta population (Read Papers).  Committee members did not feel the rents were particularly high, as the average four-bedroom rent for a wooden house in a black neighborhood was approximately $20 to $25 per month depending on the proximity to the CBD.  Professor Milton argued that it was not sustainable for the black population to continue renting homes at such high rates, while wages remained artificially low for black workers.  By reducing the rent burden for black families, these renters could potentially save for a home down payment, and start to gain wealth and equity in the housing market.   Using the political capital to gain economic capital in the black community was yet another benefit of the public housing development as a political opportunity structure. 

Non-traditional family structure and the role of working women as household leaders were also discussed during this meeting, and it was at this point we see the racial politics within Atlanta play out.  District supervisor D.A. Calhoun argued with Florence Read about non-traditional family and gender roles, as Read advocated for more flexible admittance procedures than those at Techwood Homes.  While Calhoun indicated that each unit must contain one “legal family” – that is the immediate family of a married couple, Read countered that black families were often comprised of dependents outside of natural offspring, such as a cousin or aunt:

“I think you will find quite frequently that colored families are very generous about helping friends and relatives.  Perhaps they have just taken in a girl of high school or college age who got her living and helped with the children.”

This common survival strategy in the black community allowed for black families to survive in spite of the economic, political, and social disparities with whites.  Black families, due to low wages for black workers, were often comprised of at least two working adults, with other family members or close friends exchanging child care services for room, board, or other goods and services (Stack, 1974). 

Read also advocated for non-traditional family structures and gender equality with a suggestion to make allowances for single-person applications:

“I want to ask whether you have allowed for one person. I wish to make a stand for that.  When the Advisory Committee talked about the 2-room units, it seems to me we did have in mind the question of the lone female.  I don’t see why it isn’t performing a useful service to society to permit her to occupy a 2-room apartment in the housing.  There are some school teachers, for instance.  They cannot have a home of their own if their income does not permit it.  If they live with another family it is a hard life.  I do not see why a housing unit should not be –why they should not be permitted to live in a housing project.”

The topic of black, single women struggling to carve out their economic and social independence in the post-Depression South was close to Read’s heart, as she was a single woman herself, who was once a teacher.  Her plea was met with immediate dismissal during the committee meeting, with Calhoun indicating it was better to help “three or four people” than just help one, and Moron going so far as to suggest permitting single families into the development would promote the dissolution of black families.  The Progressive ideology that guided the PWA Housing Division policy prohibited single persons, and strongly discriminated against single-parent households.  The purpose of public housing was to help poor families out of poverty by allowing them to save for home down payments.  What Read suggested was impossible at the time, particularly for the first black public housing development.  However, her advocacy for women and non-traditional family structures did not go unheard.  The PWA Housing Division staff allowed the University Homes’ Tenant Selection Committee to place single-family households on a special waiting list.  Once married couples were given priority for the apartments, single-family households would be given an opportunity to apply for the extra units (Read Papers).            

University Homes: Management and Tenant Associations

The elite influence and privileging of middle-class norms and behaviors was not limited to the planning processes.  Implementation of public housing policy was subject to this top-down mentality as well, as evidenced by Alonzo Moron’s activities during his tenure as housing manager.  Moron was appointed by the Secretary of the Interior (Harold Ickes), but was likely referred by Ickes’ second-in-command, Robert C. Weaver.  Ickes served as administrator of the Public Works Administration (PWA) Housing Division, and Weaver was promoted to Ickes’ advisor on Negro Affairs in October of 1934 (Pritchett, 2008).  Weaver’s educational background (a Bachelor’s Degree from Dunbar College and Harvard for a PhD in Economics) and privileged family connections placed him in the new African-American elite in post-Reconstruction Washington DC.         

These connections, along with the symbolic and tangible benefits of the public housing development, made University Homes a political opportunity structure for the residents, and to a lesser extent, for those living in the surrounding community.  As a federally-financed and managed housing development, University Homes residents had direct access to a wide range of networks and benefactors that provided opportunities for the residents and community, along with tangible financial, social, and political benefits.  Moron’s years of social work experience, and the symbolic and political importance of this first black federal project in the post-Reconstruction era South, placed University Homes at the forefront of housing and social policy in the United States, not only for African-Americans, but also for other races and ethnicities.  As the manager of this nationwide social experiment in public housing, Moron carefully, and somewhat paternalistically, oversaw the social activities of the tenant association and public housing residents.  However, Moron’s guidance provided the structure for residents to take advantage of the unique space and position of the public housing development in the evolving urban political economy, mobilizing these new resources to sustain the development as a political opportunity structure.

Three months after the April 1937 opening of University Homes, the public housing development was 80 percent occupied.  One, two, and three-bedroom units were full, and the less popular (at least, for the income requirements set by the Public Works Administration Housing Division) four and five-bedroom units remained available (Moron Papers, AHA Archives).  The vacancy of four and five bedroom units – that is, the units for the larger, and likely poorer, black families, shows one of the early biases in US social and housing policy – rewarding the deserving poor.  In the case of the University Homes Tenant Selection Office, applicants for four-bedroom units needed a monthly income of at least $66 (or, $1,082 in 2013 dollars); conversely, the income for a family with three or more children could not exceed $216 per month (or $3,542 in 2013 dollars) (AHA Archives, Annual Report).  Although most black families at the time were headed by two wage-earners, the pay for “Negro work” (e.g., laborers and domestics) in 1930s Atlanta was well below that of whites, preventing larger black families from meeting the minimum income requirements for larger units in public housing. 

In spite of this early example of “cream-skimming”, or separating the upwardly mobile working class from the intransigent poor, Moron was eager to make examples of the University Homes residents for the City of Atlanta, as well as the nation.  That is, Moron wanted to show that the model citizenship found in public housing tenants extended to black families as well, in the hopes of refuting some of the negative images and stereotypes of blacks that had emerged since the rollback of Reconstruction policies.  In May of 1937, Moron selected eight female tenants - one from each of the “blocks” of University Homes, with two representatives for Blocks “A,” “B,” and “F,” due to their sizes – to act as the first informal tenant association.  He instructed the women to organize the first party to introduce tenants to one another, at the expense of the managerial staff.  The Public Works Administration Housing Division provided no funds for social activities and most recreational facilities; therefore, management staff and tenants were solely responsible for both organizing and funding any social activities.  Given the lower wages of black tenants relative to white tenants, there was an immediate racial disparity between the social activities in the segregated housing developments (AHA Archives).  As mentioned earlier, however, these racial disparities provide ample opportunities to mobilize resources and create formalized community institutions out of informal communal survival strategies (Stack, 1974; McAdam, 1999).        

The emphasis Moron placed on getting University Homes residents to organize and assemble were risky at the time.  The PWA’s Housing Division developments faced rampant accusations from the real estate lobby as being hotbeds of communism, fostering communal living and proletariat organizing via tenant association meetings (Parson, 2005).  These accusations were heightened in Atlanta, as the Angelo Herndon case of 1932 equated all black political activity with that of radical, communist activity.  Herndon was charged with inciting an insurrection in July of 1932, and began a five-year crusade against the Georgia legal system, following his swift conviction.  This culminated in the US Supreme Court case of Herndon v Lowry, a ruling that helped to redefine race in 1930s Georgia, via new political organizing rights and protections for African-Americans.  During the 1930s, even the elite philanthropic black organizations (i.e., Neighborhood Union) faced police harassment and raids in an effort to suppress communist (and black labor) organizing (Ferguson, 2002).  Moron, aware that the local authorities were wary to interfere with University Homes activities given the “Federal status” of the residents (in spite of the 1935 George-Healey Act officially transferring residents to local jurisdictions), took advantage of this positioning by frequently organizing assemblies, parties, and political speakers for residents (Moron, AHA Archives).  Similar to how Read subjugated the local biases of labor unions by advocating for black interests to national labor leaders, Moron utilized the perceived Federal status of black residents to rebuff local and State police efforts to suppress black organizing.     

The first block party organized for University Homes residents by the management-selected tenant association was done so to recruit more (particularly, male) residents to join the tenant association, and to raise money for a library within the University Home development (Moron, AHA Archives).  It is unclear whether Moron or the tenant association was responsible for deciding what the receipts from the block party funded.  However, it is clear that the number of attendees of the block party exceeded the number of residents living in University Homes, suggesting that residents of the surrounding Beaver Slide community partook in the festivities.  The results of this first tenant association event was approximately $140 (approximately $3,000 in 2013 dollars) towards furnishings, books, and periodicals for the library and several photographs (sent to the PWA’s Housing Division’s publicity office) showing thousands of African-Americans gathering and socializing peacefully, respectfully, and without incident.  Moron would send these types of publicity photos often to Washington, D.C., attempting to showcase the University Homes residents as role models for all poor and working-class African-Americans (Moron, AHA Archives).      

While the funding and creation of a University Homes library may not have been driven by the residents, it had far-reaching effects for both residents and the community.  Libraries, like all public facilities in Atlanta, were segregated by race, with black facilities intentionally subpar to those of whites (either through construction materials, availability, location, staffing, or resources).  Although a public library system had been available to white Atlantans since 1902, black Atlantans were unable to take part in this system until the Carnegie Library was constructed in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood in 1921.  Although Andrew Carnegie had donated money for both libraries in 1902, local leaders, unable to find a suitable site in a black neighborhood, refused to utilize these funds while denying blacks access to the (white) library system.  Thus, the entire black community had only one public library in Atlanta, and it was primarily accessible to those who lived on the more affluent east side of the city.  For those in the southern and western districts of the city, the library at University Homes would have been a welcome resource.  As discussed in Chapter 5, the issue of poor blacks and public housing residents’ access to public libraries in Atlanta would remain a relevant and pressing topic - thirty years later (Atlanta Community Relations Commission Papers).        

Another much needed facility in the University Homes development was the large playground that was shared by all of the housing blocks.  Each apartment building had a smaller, centrally located play area that allowed small children to play while their mothers (or neighbors) monitored them from the apartment units.  The larger playground was the milieu of the pre-teen and teenage children.  Outside of the standard play equipment (slides, bars, etc), this playground was equipped with a baseball field, a workshop for woodworking, and the development’s recreation center.  Moron wrote to PWA’s Housing Division staff:

“Following out the principle of using at University Homes whatever existing services the community offered, we requested a Playground Director from the City’s Department of Parks and Playgrounds.  The request was received very graciously and referred to the Works Progress Administration who promptly supplied us with a very good Playground Director, Mr. Scott Edwards.” (Moron Papers)

Moron requesting from the City first, and the subsequent need to hire someone from the Works Progress Administration, shows the development’s ability to formalize or legitimate these racialized and disparate public spaces in black communities.  Prior to University Homes, black playgrounds and parks numbered less than 10 in the City of Atlanta, and the number of black Playground Directors was likely half that, if any existed at all.  Hiring Edwards as the Playground Director at University Homes created more formal black spaces in the city, and allowed for black residents to continue redefining their citizenship with the New Deal programs. 

Moron continued in his memo to the Housing Division about the use of the large playground, and the activities offered by Edwards, in the context of the surrounding Beaver Slide community:

“An interesting question arose as to whether or not this large playground at University Homes should be closed to children from the neighborhood.  To date this has not become a problem and the tenants have not raised the question of their children playing with outsiders and the Management has taken the position that as long as no friction develops between the two groups and as long as the playground has not been fenced in, it will be well to let matters remain as they are, for it would be difficult to keep outsiders from the grounds unless there was a fence with gates which could be controlled by the Director.  Within the next few weeks, however, a fence will be erected around this large playground and it is our hope that we shall gradually be able to restrict use of this space to adults and children living in University Homes.  This will be with some regrets as this particular play area is the only play space available for colored children within this neighborhood which is about one and a half miles square. ” (Moron Papers)

   

The neighborhood surrounding University Homes (and the slums that were cleared to construct the development) contained African-Americans that were much poorer than the residents of the development.  In order to prevent a free-rider problem of more children using the facilities than anticipated, the fence provided benefits for those that are considered deserving, and the undeserving poor continued to go without.  This appeared to be the only divisive decision during Moron’s tenure at University Homes, one that exacerbated the class divisions in the black community.  Moron shifted the blame of this decision to erect a fence from the local advisory committee and the black elite, and instead insisted that Federal employee Scott Edwards requested limiting playground activities to the children of University Homes’ residents only (Moron Papers).

In a September 1937 letter to M. A. Hornsby, Chief of Police and Captain T.J. Malcolm, Chief of Atlanta’s Traffic Bureau, Moron followed up from a previous week’s meeting about traffic signals and signage in and around the University Homes development.  One of the qualifiers that made Beaver Slide a “slum” was the lack of formalized streets and sidewalks, in addition to the lack of public services in the area.  The PWA installed the necessary infrastructure to provide utilities for the neighborhood, but recognition from local authorities to provide public services to its communities in spite of the residents’ race did not occur immediately after the April 1937 opening.  The City had installed sidewalks and paved streets as agreed in the original lease between the PWA and the City, but traffic control and police enforcement of traffic regulations in the neighborhood were insufficient according to Moron (Moron Papers).

Moron requested a traffic light outside of the development, at the intersection of Fair and Chestnut streets, to curb the speeds of commuters and allow neighborhood children to safely cross the street to the local school.  In addition to the traffic light, Moron requested a stop sign at the intersection of Leonard Street and Greensferry Avenue, the latter which was recently widened and transformed into a main artery between the east and west sides of the City.  At the intersection of the new stop sign, Moron also wanted motorcycle police stationed to deter speeding “bugs” or private bus lines that were repeated offenders of traffic laws (Moron Papers). 

Police presence in black communities was a contentious subject in Atlanta, and throughout the South after the end of Reconstruction, and Federal troop protection.  Police officers in Atlanta were all white, and the secondary status of black citizens in the city prohibited equal application of the law and its penalties. Inviting more police scrutiny into the University Homes community seemed antithetical to the theory of public housing as a political opportunity structure for black residents.  Moron was hoping that by engaging the police with the support of the Federal government (the letter which he addressed to the respective Chiefs was on official Department of the Interior stationary) would legitimize his requests, and hopefully, help legitimate the citizenship status of the black community.  He offered to work in concert with the Police and Traffic Bureaus, indirectly suggesting that Management would not interfere if arrests were made against residents of the development and surrounding community (Moron Papers).  The hiring of black police officers was still a decade away, but the steps Moron took started redefining the relationship between the local white power structure and black citizens in Atlanta. 

 

One of Moron’s final and most ambitious projects was the construction of an auditorium within the University Homes development.  There was only one City Auditorium for black use – again, located in the affluent Sweet Auburn neighborhood, thus church basements and privately owned homes acted as substitutes throughout the City.  Placing an auditorium for public use in the middle of the AUC community would encapsulate the public housing development as political opportunity structure.  Immediately following the opening, Moron pleaded with Housing Division staff in Washington to allocate more funding to construct an auditorium.  In a July 1937 letter (three months after opening day), Moron requested:

“[A]n auditorium which can be used for large group meetings and which will give the tenants an opportunity to express themselves and allow us to abandon gradually the idea of having all activities originate from the Management or from the steering committee.  It is our sincere hope that the plans for an auditorium at University Homes now being considered by your office will be approved at an early date and then we can engage in more worthwhile activities than an occasional party or dance.” (Moron Papers)

 

This request was not immediately acted on, and over the course of the first year, Moron and the tenant association collected money during parties and raffles to construct the auditorium.  There appeared to be an agreement amongst both Management and residents that an auditorium would greatly improve resident social and political life, by allowing for larger and more inclusive parties and more distinguished speakers interested in orating to a larger group.  After much hard work, the Auditorium was opened in 1938, and most of the development’s events took place within the building.  During the massive voter registration following the King v. Chambers decision in 1946 when 18,000 black voters were registered in fifty-one days, the auditorium at University Homes acted as a registration space.  On the first day of registration at the auditorium, 750 blacks were enfranchised in three hours (Bacote, 1955).  Again, the political opportunity structure of the public housing development (in this example, the resources of the local community and Federal government provided a safe public space for black civil disobedience) created political benefits for local residents of both University Homes and the surrounding community.     

After the passage of the Wagner Housing Act in September 1937, University Homes residents, along with the management staff and advisory committee, were fearful of losing the Federal protection of the Housing Division ownership, and the loss of political capital that accrued in the short year since the development opened.  Moron discussed his fears in a memo to Florence Read and members of the advisory committee with regards to different ways of transferring ownership from the Federal to the state and local level:

“While these first fifty-two projects are more or less a novelty and have that appeal at the present time, it must be recognized that the changes in policies after they have been in operation for a period of time will have a very definite effect on the demand for housing of this type from the group of people most in need of it and also upon the ability of the Authority to secure and keep qualified personnel for the management of the projects…Those of us who are living in the south should be aware of the possible danger to Housing for Negroes if management of these projects is turned over to local Housing Authorities.  At present the Housing Authority would be a creature of the state which means that to some extent it would be dominated by the same views and prejudices which characterize the actions of the state affecting Negroes.  There would also be a tendency to depart from National standards of maintenance and operation and sink to the levels of local standards of administration and maintenance of public property.” (Moron Papers)

In several letters found amongst Moron’s papers, residents sent pleas to the local advisory committee, the management’s office, and even to the Housing Division in Washington, DC in an attempt to keep Moron as housing manager after the development was leased to the newly formed Atlanta Housing Authority.  Moron’s guidance in establishing and maintaining the tenant association, the men’s, women’s, girls’ and boys’ clubs, the Federal Credit Union, the account for tenant activities and supplies, and the entertainment and political speakers was noted during these letters.  One resident spoke of how a lease to Atlanta for sixty years should require the mandate of black management and supervision for sixty years.  In spite of this resident-led rally to keep Moron as housing manager, he was let go in 1940.  After his departure, the tenant association took a more active role in organizing activities, continuing Moron’s legacy of uplifting the masses through education, job training, and domestic assistance.  The departure of Moron marks the end of the top-down mobilization of public housing development as political opportunity structure, and marks the beginning of a more radical, tenant-driven mobilization of resources through the development’s tenant association.         

Neighborhood Association in ATL Describes Local HOPE VI ↘

Conclusion-Less Chapter 2

Chapter 2 

Black Political Forums in Postwar Atlanta: Public Housing Developments as Political Opportunity Structures

 

Introduction

The search for political action, mobilization, and legitimacy within the public housing developments of postwar Atlanta should begin with an exploration of why such a search is even necessary.  Why were public housing developments acting as political opportunity structures for low-income African Americans during this period? And in what ways? This chapter will construct a theory of public housing developments as political opportunity structures using black political theory, urban political theory, and social movement theory.  The chapter will attempt to build a framework for analyses of both the processes and outcomes of black political action in postwar Atlanta public housing.  Rooted in critical theories of race, politics, and urbanity, this framework will provide the tools to analyze and critique public housing developments as political opportunity structures in the city.  Specifically, this framework will analyze how deficiencies in black political spaces in the City left few public arenas for black political dialogue and critique (Reed, Jr., 1999). 

 

As a result of a century-long reign of white supremacist institutionalization and ideology in the City’s political structure, African-Americans were limited to token political participation, elite-led political representation, and constrained political action that remained accommodationistand within the realm of uplift ideology (Reed, Jr., 1999; Ferguson, 2002). Prior to the 1946King v Chapmandecision, African-Americans were not allowed to participate in the Democratic primary elections, which were legally restricted to white voters in Georgia (Bernd, 1982).  In spite of over fifty years of suffrage at the national level following the ratification of the 15th Amendment, most African-American residents in the South were disenfranchised by poll taxes, literacy tests, property ownership requirements, and in the case of Georgia, Texas, Mississippi and a few other Democratic-majority states, white-only Democratic primaries (Key, Jr., 1984).  These primaries remained legal well into the twentieth century as primary elections were considered private affairs, governed by a state’s Democratic party.While the few (privileged) African-Americans who were registered to vote were effective in general and special elections (particularly for bond issuances, election recalls, and referendums), these opportunities to exert political power in Atlanta were limited as voter registration remained low (3,000 African-American voters were registered in Atlanta in 1944) due to the existence of the whites-only primary. 

 

The inability to vote severely curtailed the availability of political space for African-Americans in Atlanta, particularly for low-income African-Americans in the city.  Consequently, conservative black and liberal white elites firmly controlled the public spaces for black political debate and critique, as their social and economic status provided them with the best position to access these spaces.  The most popular – or highly utilized - public spaces for black political debate were publications[j1]  (The Atlanta Daily World, or ADW, was the leading black publication) and community organizations (ranging from black churches to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)[j2] .  Reed states, “Disenfranchisement raised the cost of popular participation by eliminating the most accessible forms of political speech – voting and other aspects of electoral action.” (Reed, Jr., 1999, 19).  The legal disenfranchisement of blacks from Atlanta’s influential Democratic primary removed an accessible political space for non-elite (working class and low-income) blacks. Further, until 1946, the conservative and accommodating black elite restricted African-American political discourse in the city to spaces under their ownership and control.  The black political spaces under black elite control included the black church, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), black women’s organizations, the black media (the aforementioned ADW)), and national black community organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  The 1946 decision, along with other political economic changes, created a political opportunity in Atlanta that African Americans of all socioeconomic classes exploited.  This chapter will discuss how in the years leading up to the Civil Rights Movement, black Atlantans were able to mobilize resources of both human and economic capital to make impressive gains in the political arena.  Notwithstanding these political achievements, the changing political environment constrained African-American political action, mobilization, and spaces.

 

Despite the constraints of black political forums in postwar Atlanta, historically, non-accommodationist interests were able to participate and mobilize at the local level, albeit with varying effects (Rutheiser, 1996).  Following the Great Depression, the growth of interracial labor organizations and organizations committed to communist efforts presented opportunities for black political participation at the local, national, and global level.  Interracial, class-based organizing remained a popular venue for black political participation, even if the organizing principle was not specifically oriented toward the improvement of the race’s social, economic, or political standing (Reed, Jr., 1999; Kelley, 1994).  However, the domination of white supremacist interests in Atlanta’s prewar governing coalition (in both elected positions and positions of enforcement, i.e., the police) suppressed pro-labor political expression and legitimacy.  While interracial labor organizations were attacked with equal aplomb, white supremacist organizations (with the support of the Ku-Klux-Klan-dominated Atlanta police force) targeted organized African-American laborers.  As white unemployment rose following the September 1929 stock market crash, white Atlantans organized to suppress black employment in the city.  The Order of the Black Shirts, a white supremacist group formed to intimidate black employees and the firms that employed them, freely terrorized black laborers as the police department and local government turned a blind eye (Stone, 1989; Rutheiser, 1996).  The Black Shirts’, in alliance with local government and police, violence against black union members and pro-Communist activists increased the cost of working-class black political participation in interracial labor unions.  As such, this regime of white domination and black oppression in prewar Atlanta produced few productive spaces for black political action.This chapter will discuss the history of social movements in the city in concordance with black political thought, and how the occasionally radical expression of the former informs the latter, and vice versa.

 

Finally, this chapter will focus on building a theory of public housing developments as political opportunity structures in postwar Atlanta.  Specifically, this chapter will focus on how the reduced spaces for non-elite (or non-accommodating)[j3]  black political thought in postwar Atlanta, coupled with the political vulnerability triggered by changes in the city’s political economy, created political opportunity structures from the public housing developments in the city.  Reducing the spaces for dialogue in the black community eliminated both the diversity of interests and the processes for accountability.  Without representation of any non-elite or non-accommodation interests, black elites were able to enter into an informal coalition with liberal white elites under the compromising interest of suppressing the (black) working-class vote.  Without any voting recourse, or any space to discuss countering views and interests, working class blacks were beholden to the representation of the elite blacks, even as this representation countered their own interests.  While these dynamics in elite representation and working class interests are not absolute (that is, elite interests did not always counter working-class interests), the disparity in power between the two groups necessitated more political spaces for working class and non-accommodationist blacks.  This chapter will explore these power dynamics between and within races and classes in postwar Atlanta.

 

Urban Politics in Postwar Atlanta

 

This project’s critical approach to urban politics will rely on the extensive research of Floyd Hunter’s analysis of decision-making and power in postwar Atlanta (Hunter, 1953) and Clarence Stone’s analysis of Atlanta’s urban regime in the postwar era (Stone, 1989). 

Hunter’s study of power produced a hierarchical arrangement amongst Atlanta’s business elite, comprised of large decision-makers at the top, supported by professionals who were, in turn, supported by a select (elite) African-American community (Hunter, 1953).  This “community power structure” effectively concentrated the power of decision-making at the top of the hierarchy, placing the major decisions of Atlanta’s planning and policy making in the hands of forty or so (white) privileged businessmen (Hunter, 1953).While interests amongst decision-makers may have differed, the ability to influence was limited based on one’s position within the hierarchy.  Further, while the industries in which these forty men endeavored varied (as did the actual men themselves), the race, class, and cultural status (lineage – particularly the number of generations that were born and raised in Atlanta, GA) remained the same: white, upper class, and long-time Southerner.  The community power structure theory remains an important framework for urban political analysis in postwar Atlanta as it captures the imbalance of political power from racial and economic differences.

 

Hunter’s power structure hierarchy also contained an important spatial aspect to the decision-making dynamic.  All meetings between the decision-makers at the top of the power structure were held in either their own homes, in private clubs, or in the segregated banquet halls of established hotels (Hunter, 1953).  Even the meetings for those in the professional sub-structure were held in segregated YMCAs, while African-American leaders held their meetings in local churches and community centers.  Unlike the congenial image of the public town hall that democratic decision-making often evokes, this study of power in postwar Atlanta was markedly segregated.  The spaces of power and decision-making in postwar Atlanta reflect the spaces of privilege and race in the City – planning and policy leaders were concentrated in the wealthy, white northern neighborhood of Buckhead.  The professional understructure resided (and congregated) to the northeast of the city, in all-white enclaves that were less exclusive than Buckhead, but nonetheless more exclusive than any address within the city limits.  The leaders in the African-American under-structure resided east of the CBD, along Auburn Avenue.  The spatial dynamic to the power structure suggests the act of decision-making in postwar remained concentrated in white, privileged spaces under the purview of white, privileged men.  The fact that low-income, black neighborhoods were so far removed (both spatially and ideologically) from these spaces of power suggests a lack of political opportunities for this group.

 

Comparatively, Stone’s regime – that is, the coalition that governed Atlanta – was comprised of formal and informal relationships between groups that did not have a single unifying interest.  [j4] The disparity in interests, and the dynamics in power relations this disparity produced, creates a context-dependent alliance between interests that are reliant on one another for progress, while also constrained by this dependence.  However, the disparity in interests acts as a checks and balances for the governing coalition – preventing the complete domination of one group over the actions of the regime.  The regime exists to protect privilege as an institution: who or what is privileged at the expense of greater redistribution of city resources is the result of intense struggle within the coalition (Stone, 1989).  This struggle occurs both within and around the regime, as interests attempt to get into the regime and, once in, maintain an influential position.  The inability for these coalition members to exert influence without the resources of others in the coalition suggests the struggle in power dynamics constrained the actions of the regime.  Further, this inability to exert change without the coalition’s resources suggests how interdependent the members are on one another, unable to exert change in city policy without coalition membership (Stone, 1989). 

 

In postwar Atlanta, a biracial coalition of white business leaders from downtown Atlanta and black elites headquartered in the east side Sweet Auburn neighborhood shaped urban policy under Mayors William B. Hartsfield, Ivan Allan, Jr., and Maynard Jackson[j5]  (Rutheiser, 1996; Stone, 1989).  White business leaders had the financial and institutional resources, but lacked the popular support of Atlanta’s newly enfranchised black population.  Following the 1946 Supreme Court decision declaring the whites-only Democratic primary unconstitutional in Georgia, African-American voters comprised 27% of Atlanta’s voting population (Harmon, 1996).  Thus, black elites entered into the Atlanta governing coalition to provide this popular support (thereby forming the majority of the city’s electoral coalition) in exchange for “selective incentives” (Stone, 1989, p. 15).  The business elite provided financial resources and opportunities to institutionalize and sustain African-American progress in social and economic areas.  African-American members of Atlanta’s regime – with their domination over black political spaces in the city discussed in the previous section – exchanged the electoral necessity of “the black vote” in postwar Atlanta for the business elites’ institutional connections and financial support.  In spite of this widespread electoral support from Atlanta’s black community, the selective incentives from the business elites of Atlanta’s regime were narrowly distributed in certain areas of the black community.In spite of the (concentrated) benefits to the black Atlanta community, these concessions from the regime’s white Atlanta elites did little to address the unequal geographies and disparity of resources in the city.  The next section addresses the processes that produced these unequal geographies, eliciting the need for spatial justice in postwar Atlanta. 

 

Producing Unjust Geographies in Atlanta

 

Following the 1917 U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring segregation ordinances unconstitutional, Atlanta began racially zoning the city following the 1922 passage of a comprehensive municipal planning ordinance (Baylor, 1996).  The city segregated black and white residential areas throughout the city, using race as a land use attribute.  Black residential land use was separated from white residential land use with industrial and vacant land use categories (Baylor, 1996).   Blacks had less residential lands than whites, and white areas were only re-zoned for black use if they were contiguous to other black areas or industrial land.  Atlanta’s Streets Department physically separated the two communities by restricting entrance to white communities from black communities with highways and roads.  Major highways and rail tracks often acted as barriers, while streets tended to dead-end to restrict blacks from even passing through white areas.  As a result of the local manipulation of black residential mobility, the residential segregation between races intensified after black voter registration increased in 1946 (see Maps XX-XX insert maps of % black by census tract 1940-1970).    

 

Prior to the start of public housing construction in Atlanta, the city’s governing coalition has actively produced, sustained, and replicated uneven geographies throughout the city (and later, the metropolitan area).  When Charles F. Palmer realized the benefits of clearing the poor from the downtown periphery in order to construct public housing developments, he induced a conceptual shift in the ideology guiding Atlanta’s political economy.[j6] Surprisingly, the former Confederate city developed a mutually beneficial relationship with the Federal government.  Techwood and University Homes acted as models for a controversial New Deal program, and the Federal government provided generous subsidies for the development of downtown Atlanta (Baylor, 1996).  Yet the Federal government merely subsidized a long-standing pattern in Atlanta’s urban planning that sought to segregate African-Americans to marginalized areas in the City.  Atlanta’s ruling class carefully planned the city’s land use to minimize interactions between black and white residential and commercial areas, creating separate areas for the two races, whereby the physical environment reflected the disparate power relations.  Similarly, Federal subsidies for public housing would construct segregated facilities, with inferior construction and programming for the African-American developments relative to the white developments (Baylor, 1996). 

 

In 1938, Atlanta’s Board of Aldermen created the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) under the State Housing Authorities Law (Georgia Code 99-11).  Under this statute, the AHA was a legally independent body that planned, built, owned, and managed Atlanta’s public housing.  The AHA also was legally responsible for decisions as to the locations of public housing projects.  In spite of this independence, the AHA maintained informal connections to Atlanta’s urban regime, both prior to and during the reign of the bi-racial coalition.  Per a 1972 report from the independent group Research Atlanta:

 

“The AHA was incorporated as a legally independent body but its operations have been greatly influenced through the indirect actions and political decisions of the Mayor, Board of Alderman, and City Departments….they are not held accountable for AHA decisions and therefore are able to manipulate the public housing process without suffering political consequences.” (Atlanta, 1972, pp iv-v)

 

These indirect connections produced disparate and uneven geographies within the city as slum clearance and public housing construction perpetuated the oppression of the poor and minority residents of Atlanta.  During its most active era of construction, the AHA planning committee focused slum clearance efforts on neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area[j7] , particularly African-American communities to the east and south of the CBD (see Map XX insert map of AHA projectsPhase I until 1944).  Black disenfranchisement prevented any substantial citizen resistance, while slumlords organized unsuccessfully to block construction efforts.      

 

Shortly following the end of the war, city populations greatly exceeded the available housing stock, and Congress passed the Housing Act of 1949.  Title II and III of the Act had a significant impact on residential segregation and urban-suburban dynamics for the duration of the 20th century.  As African-American populations grew in urban areas, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) subsidized housing development for white homeowners in the suburbs.  Title III, along with Title I, had the unintentional effect of displacing and containing the poor, African-American populations of urban areas in underfunded public housing developments (Hirsch, 1998).  Atlanta’s postwar governing coalition channeled resources, in the form of mortgage capital, to the suburbs while reducing the dispersion of low-income housing stock in the city, in the form of slum clearance and public housing construction (Baylor, 1996; Keating, 2001).  The regime protected their governing privilege by holding the necessary black electorate hostage in government-subsidized housing, and rewarding the white electorate with government-subsidized capital.  This subsidized capital provided white Atlantans with a mobility that defined political autonomy, while poor black Atlantans, confined to bounded discriminatory spaces in Atlanta, had limited political power.  The regime’s active role in creating and sustaining these disparate geographies in the City necessitated a spatially just solution.

 

The governing coalition in Atlanta was not solely comprised of informal connections between local government and downtown businessmen.  In 1938, Mayor Hartsfield appointed Mr. Charles F. Palmer, a successful white real estate developer in Atlanta’s central business district, as Chairman of the Atlanta Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (BOC).  The BOC was the primary authority for the creation of the Atlanta Housing Authority’s policy (Kaczkowska, 2012).  Further, the members of the Board from 1938 to 1974 were a rotation of the downtown elite.  Palmer retained his position for two years until he was appointed in Washington, D.C. as the U.S. Coordinator of Defense Housing (Martin, 1987).  Hartsfield appointed Palmer’s successor, Ms. Marion Smith, as the first female Chairperson of the Board of Commissioners.  Smith was the sister of a prominent Atlanta lawyer (Hoke Smith), and herself an established leader of Atlanta’s civic and social affairs (Martin, 1987).  Following Smith’s 1947 resignation was the appointment of one of the BOC’s longest-serving Chairman, Mr. John O. Chiles (Atlanta, 1972).  During his 20-year leadership, Chiles was also the owner of one of the largest real estate firms in the South (United States Commission on Civil Rights, 1959).  The ideological and physical domination of business interests within the AHA BOC suggests the institutionalization (or formalization) of the Atlanta regime’s informal networks. 

 

The regime exacerbated residential segregation in Atlanta after the Atlanta Housing Authority was appointed as planner and administrator of Urban Renewal federal funding [insert footnote about 1946 Georgia Redevelopment Law battle].  The Urban Renewal program was simply a rewording of Title I of the 1949 Housing Act; the 1954 Housing Act accounted for the new realities in urban planning – that cities were renewing blighted (or potentially blighted) areas for commercial or residential development.  The AHA Board of Commissioners (of which a number were real estate developers with significant property holdings in the city) subverted the purpose of the Urban Renewal program in order to shape Atlanta’s residential patterns and maximize the property values for the expanding Central Business District.  The privileging of private business interests within the regime are reflected in this description of Atlanta’s Urban Renewal Program:

 

“The goal of the Atlanta Urban Renewal Program was to eliminate slums and blighted conditions in designated areas of the City of Atlanta. AHA acquired and cleared the blighted areas, and then sold the land to private enterprises for new development. The authority also helped the owners to upgrade, improve or rehabilitate their properties by providing financial and technical assistance. AHA provided for new schools and parks, roads, streets, sidewalks and sewers in the revitalized areas, as well as developed new low rent housing units. Private investors developed new residential and office buildings, hotels and commercial centers. Homeowners made necessary repairs and cleaned up their properties” (Kaczkowska, 2012).

 

The following table and map (insert mapof Table XX projects over 1960 % black by census tract) show the spatial distribution of Atlanta’s Urban Renewal projects.  Although 20% of the program’s projects were solely beneficial to African-American residents (University Center and West End projects), virtually all of the projects were detrimental to low-income African-Americans in the city.  Of the total number of residents the Urban Renewal program displaced during clearance of blighted areas, 95% were poor African-Americans.   Often, the AHA did not provide displaced residents with replacement housing, and displacees were forced to reside in the overcrowded western sections of the city (Baylor, 1996).             

 

Since 1946, changes in both Federal legislation and local adjustments to Atlanta’s physical and political spaces produced disparate and unequal geographies in the city.  The production and reproduction of unequal geographies are spatialized evidence of the oppressive power dynamics between races and classes in the city.   While African-Americans were legally enfranchised in the city, the bi-racial coalition in Atlanta’s urban regime appears to only benefit middle-and-upper income blacks.  Low-income blacks had disparate political power in the city, compared to both upper-class blacks and low-income whites (Baylor, 1996).  As residential segregation increased, Atlanta developed racialized and classed spaces where the built environment reflected the disparate power dynamics between the city’s races and classes.  This racialized/classed space was not produced informally or indirectly – the racially-based zoning law of the City perpetuated the hierarchical arrangement of raced spaces, and an elite governing coalition sought to exclude the poor of all races from political inclusion.  Black areas in the city, excluding the Sweet Auburn neighborhood that housed the black contingent of the bi-racial coalition, were ignored during redistributive city planning.  The regime consistently ignored the sanitation, transportation, recreation, and residential needs of low-income black residents, while providing for these same needs for their white counterparts.  The spatial injustice in the city warranted a spatially just solution for low-income black Atlantans.

 

Table XX: Description of Atlanta Urban Renewal Program Projects, by Year

Urban Renewal Project

Years of Construction

Description

Butler Street

1959-1971

Development of Landmark Apartments, Holiday Inn, Marriott Hotel, Wheat Street Garden Apartments, Ford automotive sales and service building, and Antoine Graves public housing for seniors

 

Rehabilitation of some 200 housing units

Thomasville

1959

Development of Thomasville Heights public housing project

Rawson-Washington

1959-1973

Development of Atlanta Stadium and elementary school

University Center

1960-1972

Expansion of Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Morris Brown College

Rockdale

1960

Clearance of the entire area and construction of low and moderate income multi-family housing, and new elementary school

Georgia State

1962-1971

Expansion of Georgia State University

Howard High School

1964-1966

Expansion of Howard High School

Georgia Tech

1965

Expansion of Georgia Tech campus

Construction of the Tech Parkway

West End

1966

Development of Dean Rusk School and West End Mall

Rehabilitation of more than 2,000 houses

Bedford-Pine

1968

Development of Georgia Power Company corporate headquarters, Atlanta Civic Center, and C. W. Hill Elementary School

Source: Atlanta Housing Authority Administrative History, 2012

 

The regime’s manipulation of resource distribution in the city was not just the result of Federal legislation.  Following the King v. Chapman decision of 1946 declaring Georgia’s whites-only Democratic primary unconstitutional, the substantial increase in black political power in the city prompted a countering increase in the white population.  Following several failed attempts in the 1940s, in 1951, Atlanta’s Board of Alderman passed the Plan for Improvement, expanding Atlanta’s physical area from 37 square miles to 118 square miles (Atlanta, 1950).  The expansion annexed dozens of predominantly white suburbs to the north and east of the city limits, but also included semi-populated lands to the south and west for African-American residences. [j8]  The population increased from about 330,000 residents to 430,000; the proportion of blacks decreased from 41% to 33%, with white residents thus reclaiming their majority status (Atlanta, 1972). 

 

The[j9]  production of unjust geographies in Atlanta reflects the physical inscription of power in the built environment, particularly the dominant forces of the city’s regime on marginalized communities in the city.  LeFebvre describes this oppressive force as violent: “[i]n the dominated sphere, constraints and violence are encountered at every turn: they are everywhere.  As for power, it too is omnipresent,” (LeFebvre, 1991, p. 358).  Yet these marginalized spaces – these unjust geographies – are not entirely detrimental to the affected community.  LeFebvre and Castells understand the dialectic relationship between oppression and freedom in the City via spatial and social change, respectively.  Both scholars understand the oppressive social structures (Castells, 1983) and spatial structures (LeFebvre, 1991) as the producers of social change movements and re-appropriated, or “divergent” space (LeFebvre, 1991, p. 167).  The regime’s spatial marginalization and social oppression on low-income African-American communities provide a unique opportunity for a spatially and socially just response. 

 

Soja’s understanding of spatial justice combines critical theories of justice with critical theories of space.  Both the processes and outcomes that define a spatially just solution must account for the historical, social, and spatial context where these solutions unfold.  Specifically, it was not enough to provide for equal rights and outcomes that promoted the greater good in Rawlsian sense [may insert footnote on Rawls, distributive justice], as these outcomes replicated processes that sustain socio-spatial domination.  Further, demands for social justice must unfold across multiple spaces (or scales) – theoretically, space unites the diffused politics (interests) of difference across the City and maximizes political action (Soja, 2010).  Existing social processes had not only created segregated, racialized spaces in postwar Atlanta; but also spaces delegated for public and private use.  Consider the land use categories of zoning codes that segregate residential land use from commercial or industrial land use.  The spatial distance between work and home life created a separate political demand for each space.  In Atlanta, the relocation of businesses from the CBD to the northern suburbs aggregated this separation (Rutheiser, 1996).  The spatial and gendered difference between work and residential political organizing replicated this oppressive organization of spaces.  Thus, the spatial consciousness in social justice connects these disparate interests, within their respective historical contexts, to achieve a spatially just outcome.  

 

This research posits that social movements in postwar Atlanta were successful given the unique socio-spatial position of public housing developments as political opportunities structures (POS) in the city.  The POS provided a spatial consciousness for social movements, enabling spatially just outcomes across different social demands.  The next sections discuss the literature on urban social movements and political opportunity structures, and contextualize this literature for postwar Atlanta. 

 

Urban Social Movements: From Labor to Identity Politics

 

The inability of non-elite urban residents to participate in city decision-making and politics outside of the “token participation” (Arnstein, 1969) is not exclusive to postwar Atlanta.  Castells considers urban social movements (USM) to be the most effective and the most rare form of citizen action for non-elites (Castells, 1977).  The evolution of the USM – from collective demands about work conditions as a labor movement to collective demands about community conditions as an identity politics movement – reflects the evolution in the State’s response to the USM.  An effective USM not only changes the built environment or political process of the City, but also prevents such a change from occurring in the future.  Specifically, urban social movements allow non-elites to make claims on different rights in the City, yet in response; the City creates processes to prevent future groups from making claims on these rights.  In short, the USM allows groups to access the protective privilege of the urban apparatus, while prohibiting others from accessing this privilege.  The State frequently prohibits future USMs through the institutionalization of the movement into the State apparatus (Manning Thomas, 1997).  USMs are thus persistently reconstructed in order to address this prohibition.  This section will address the Marxist origins of the urban social movement as a fight of labor versus capital, its evolution to the 1960s politically conscious social movement of identity politics of race and gender, and finally, its recent transformation into the spatially conscious right to the city movement for marginalized non-elites. 

 

This critical, historical analysis of urban social movements is not solely characterized by the presence of civil disturbances or “riots” – instead, one can scale the scope of urban social movements down to minor transgressions, what Kelley refers to as the “politics down below” (Kelley, 1994, p. 4).  Given the virtually nonexistent political spaces for low-income blacks in postwar Atlanta, one must examine the daily activities – what LeFebvre terms “spatial practices” (LeFebvre, 1991) – to find examples of black resistance to the State within its representational spaces of public housing and racialized spaces in the city.  Methodologically, this empirical categorization provides a more robust analysis of urban social movements in the city, and the scope and scale of these USMs on the urban (changes in the built environment) and the political (changes in power dynamics).  Scaling USMs down to spatial practices further allows for examination of the effect changes on the urban and the political have on USMs, via the observed change in spatial practices. 

 

Analysis of urban social movements begins with analysis of the construction of the urban, particularly the construction of difference in the city (Young, 1999).  From this analysis of difference emerges a normative understanding of urban citizenship.  To synchronize this with the earlier LeFebvrian discussion of the production of space, the spatial practices (human behavior) of marginalized groups reflect resistance to the normative definition of urban citizenship, which is represented in the abstract as public spaces in the city.  Normative conceptions of urban citizenship reflect the privileged, or dominant, group identity in the city.  It inherently includes the power dynamics of the urban political apparatus.  The State’s racialization of public spaces in the industrial city support claims of a differential urban citizenship emerging from de jure residential segregation (Young, 1999).  Generally speaking, citizenship does not appear until a group creates an identity with relation to the construction of the urban; specifically, black citizenship is not possible until black residents (as a group) are incorporated into the city’s representational (abstract) and practiced (concrete) spaces.  In Atlanta, the State did not consider claims to black citizenship until acceptance of PWA Housing Division funds required slum clearance and housing construction in African-American communities (thus marking a concerted effort to represent black communities on city planning maps), and the enfranchisement of blacks in Georgia necessitated a shift in Atlanta’s urban regime (Stone, 1989; Reed, Jr., 1999).  Black claims on urban citizenship in Atlanta were not legitimized until blacks had an effect on both representational and practiced spaces in the city. 

 

The labor movement in the industrial city provides an example of an USM that left a marked effect on the urban and the political, while preventing future effects by institutionalizing the movement into the State apparatus. As mentioned earlier, black (elite) leaders discouraged black laborers and tradesmen from organizing in order to concentrate the limited black political power within the Republican Party.  While Black involvement in the labor movement was miniscule, it still provides context for postwar black insurgency.  The labor movement has its origins in the marginalized spaces of an insurgent political party, and created a political space for labor interests in the urban regime.  Materially, the construction of union buildings as spaces of organizing outside of the residential community depoliticizes the association between labor and community interests.   

 

The industrial city reached a point of crisis in the late 1920s, as the increasing costs of production reduced labor demand and further degraded industrial work conditions.  The purely laissez-faire approach to the economy restricted government regulation and labor organization (Piven and Cloward, 1977).  The domination of capital in urban spaces was reflected in the disproportionate amount of negative externalities produced from industrial and commercial land uses.  Consequently, capital interests politically dominated labor interests within the State apparatus.  Until the formal recognition of labor unions in the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), labor interests organized within the marginalized Communist Party.  The Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) formed as a political party in 1919, and gained popularity by infiltrating the ethnic community organizations of industrializing cities.  As unemployment grew amongst the low-skill, ethnic laborer, CPUSA pushed claims of citizenship on the State through Unemployment Councils – linking labor interests to community interests (e.g., welfare relief for the unemployed).  This association – more specifically, this association’s effects on national and urban labor policy – suggest this labor movement was an urban social movement.  

 

CPUSA created a new ideological shift in neighborhood organizing, shifting away from social and “patriotic” activities, and moving towards more political analysis and empowerment of working class communities.  The success of CPUSA, particularly its longevity in neighborhood organizing, stems from its political analysis of social problems in communities, in addition to its focus on translocal issues, which effectively liberated community organizing from the boundaries of a local neighborhood (Fisher, 1984).  CPUSA’s Unemployment Councils’ programmatic strategy of social welfare, race (ethnic) relations, housing, and translocal mobilization was largely successful due to the party’s ability to link workplace and community goals.  This link between economic and social welfare was supported by the State following the passage of the Wagner Act (NLRA) that encouraged workplace organizing.  Yet workplace organizing was encouraged in the work “spaces” – disembedding the labor movement from the community movement.  Further, the formation of the State’s welfare apparatus (the Second New Deal) and the bureaucratization of community organization had the unintended consequence of depoliticizing the link between economic and community problems.  The movement’s exclusion of African-American interests translated to minimal political gains for this group.   The State’s exclusion of African-Americans from the bureaucratized union interests in urban political regimes further reduced the spaces for black political interests. 

 

At a national level, Blacks reconstructed the urban social movement in the 1960s using identity politics in order to address the racial disparities in urban economic, social, and political capital (power). The rise in student activism at the time (spurred by anti-war protests against conscription for nonstudents) “intellectualized” community organizing, fostering a political consciousness in community organizing about the restructuring changes in the political economy.  The rapid outflow of capital from inner cities into suburbs, growing unemployment rates, substandard housing and public health issues, and great disparities in the redistribution of the “affluent” economy created a political backlash across the nation. The civil disturbances of the 1960s urban social movement had urban and political effects that spurred a minor reformation of the national welfare state.  The appropriation of public space (city streets, commercial districts) for black insurgency challenged normative ideals of urban citizenship.  Blacks were claiming political space in the city via the usurpation of (white-owned) private space.  In addition to politicizing the link of social welfare and economic growth, this USM inadvertently formed a new link between race and poverty, thereby racializing the social ills of the nation (Fisher, 1984).  In a response similar to the 1930s, the national and urban state apparatuses responded through bureaucratizing and depoliticizing these movements.  The racialization of poverty during the 1960s spawned Federal policies that sought to institutionalize anti-discrimination issues (Fair Housing Act), professionalize grassroots community organizing (Maximum Feasible Participation of the Community Action Program), and reestablish the national welfare state (amendment to Social Security and creation of Food Stamp Acts).  The State’s turn to racializing poverty, again, severed the link between the national economic system and social problems in communities.  Noticeably absent from Federal policies during the 1960s was the implementation of job programs which addressed the restructuring economy.  The Second New Deal provided production jobs through the PWA that reflected the industrial economy of urban areas.  However, Great Society job programs (VISTA, Job Corps) were reflective of the old economy, training black urban residents in low-skill tasks that failed to capture the national shift towards high-skill and high-wage service employment.  Thus, inner city blacks remained marginalized in their racialized spaces of poverty, as capital continued to flow towards the suburbs and unemployment remained high in urbanized areas. 

 

Postwar Atlanta’s urban social movement was not just characterized by civil disturbances.  In fact, civil disturbances were minimal in Atlanta, at a time when most cities were in visible upheaval (Stone, 1989).  Atlanta’s bi-racial coalition carefully brokered and negotiated land deals within the city to minimize racial integration.  Outside of the city’s legacy of racial zoning and buffering, the regime relegated blacks to marginalized urban spaces via extensive Federal subsidy.  Atlanta’s regime produced not only unjust geographies of political marginalization, but also shaped the political opportunity structures within these marginalized spaces.  These political opportunity structures take the form of public housing developments in postwar Atlanta, one of the few spaces for low-income blacks to transform daily activities (spatial practices, or grievances) into claims on the State for political access and urban citizenship.  Consequently, these public housing development political opportunity structures shaped grievances from its tenants (constructing an urban social movement) while this urban social movement resulted in urban and political effects that shaped the developments.  This dialectic is discussed in greater detail in the following section.

 

Recent right to the city urban social movements emphasize the spatial turn in claims of urban citizenship.  This project’s final chapter illustrates the effects of changes in public housing policy on the black insurgent urban social movement, and the shifting organizational forms of this USM following the neoliberalization of public housing.  [j10] 

 

Public Housing Developments as Political Opportunity Structures

 

As the political environment in Atlanta shifted in response to changes in the electorate (1946 King v Chapmandecision, 1951 Plan for Improvement), the African-American community was able to achieve political power and legitimacy in postwar Atlanta through various political opportunity structures.  Stone’s regime theory covered the gains of the black elite through the bi-racial coalition, and the ability for some working-class and low-income blacks to make small gains through patronage rewards and other selective incentives.  Yet the concentration of power within the black community amongst the black elite – as evidenced by the domination of the Auburn Avenue crowd over the city’s few black political spaces – minimized the political opportunities for low income and working class African Americans.Enfranchisement was a major victory for the black community.  However, in the three decades following the King v Chapman decision, Atlanta’s housing market grew more segregated and the labor market shifted into a bifurcated model of high-skill professionals and low-skill, low-wage workers (Keating, 2001).  Atlanta’s poor black residents had only token political participation with the vote, yet the black vote was a powerful resource in the city that this group could mobilize and leverage to gain political legitimacy and visibility (McAdam, 1999).  Atlanta’s poor black residents required their own political spaces, a political opportunity structure that would leverage their resources in exchange for alterationsto the urban and political.  I posit these poor black residents used the capacity of their own marginalized spaces, the public housing developments, as political opportunity structures in postwar Atlanta.  These political opportunity structures provided the visibility and legitimacy for poor black residents to advance their own political interests.  However, the nature of these political opportunity structures is their dependency on the vulnerable, or instable political environment.  Changes, particularly stabilizations (or institutionalization/formalization) inthe political environment could preclude the developments from functioning as political opportunity structures.

 

Public housing developments functioned as political opportunity structures in postwar Atlanta using the organizational capacity of its tenant councils.  The tenant councils allowed the public housing residents to effectively mobilize their resources (people/voters, funds, ideas, interests)for political leverage and visibility within the changing political structure.  The organizational infrastructure of tenant councils provided access to a large member base (tenants), an established structure of solidary incentives (organizational membership), a communication network (formally, a newsletter or tenant council board meeting minutes; informally, gossip), and residential leadership (see Figure XX).  Stronger tenant councils often reflect the earlier iterations of the councils from the PWA Housing Division developments, which emphasized leadership qualities to Americanizeethnic, working-class residents with middle-class values (Marcuse, 1971; Radford, 2004).  Thus, one would expect the older developments to have stronger memberships, solidary incentives, communication networks, and leadership.  The organizational capacity of tenant councils is a key component of the public housing development functioning as a political opportunity structure for poor blacks in postwar Atlanta.

Ch. 2 pts 1-3

Black Political Forums in Postwar Atlanta

The search for political action, mobilization, and legitimacy within the public housing developments of postwar Atlanta should begin with an exploration of why such a search is even necessary.  Why were public housing developments utilized as political opportunity structures during this period? This chapter will explore the necessity of public housing developments as political opportunity structures through the context of black political theory, deliberative democratic theory, urban political theory, and social movement theory.  The chapter will attempt to build a framework for analyses of both the processes and outcomes of black political action in postwar Atlanta public housing.  Rooted in critical theories of race, politics, and urbanity, this framework will provide the tools to analyze and critique public housing developments as political opportunity structures in the city.  Specifically, this framework will analyze how deficiencies in black political processes in the City left few public spaces for black political dialogue and critique (Reed, Jr., 1999). 

As a result of a century-long reign of white supremacist institutionalization and ideology in the City’s political economy [may insert footnote here to reference literature], African-Americans were limited to token political participation, elite-led political representation, and constrained political action that remained accommodationist (Reed, Jr., 1999) and within the realm of uplift ideology (Reed, Jr., 1999; Ferguson, 2002). Prior to 1946, African-Americans were not allowed to participate in the influential (Democratic) primary elections, which were legally restricted to white voters in Georgia   The “public” spaces for black political debate and critique were firmly controlled by elites (those in the middle-and-upper professional classes) who were in the best position to access this space.  The more popular public spaces for black political debate were publications (The Atlanta Daily World was the leading black publication in postwar Atlanta) and community organizations (ranging from black churches to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).  Reed states, “Disenfranchisement raised the cost of popular participation by eliminating the most accessible forms of political speech – voting and other aspects of electoral action.” (Reed, Jr., 1999, 19).  The legal disenfranchisement of blacks from Atlanta’s influential Democratic primary removed an accessible political space for non-elite (working class and low-income) blacks. Further, until 1946, the conservative and accommodating black elite restricted African-American political discourse in the City to spaces under their ownership and control.  The black political spaces under black elite control include the Black Church, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, black women’s organizations, and national black community organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 

In spite of the constraints of black political forums in postwar Atlanta, non-accommodationist interests were able to participate and mobilize in the past at the local level, albeit with varying effects (Rutheiser, 1996).  Following the Great Depression, the growth of interracial labor organizations and organizations committed to communist efforts presented opportunities for black political participation at a local, national, and global level.  Interracial, class-based organizing remained a popular venue for black political participation, even if the organizing principle was not specifically oriented toward the improvement of the race’s social, economic, or political standing (Reed, Jr., 1999; Kelley, 1994).  However, the domination of white supremacist interests in Atlanta’s pre-World War II governing coalition (in both elected positions and positions of enforcement, i.e., the police) suppressed pro-labor political expression and legitimacy.  While interracial labor organizations were attacked with equal aplomb, white supremacist organizations (with the support of the Ku-Klux-Klan-dominated Atlanta police force) targeted organized African-American laborers.  As white unemployment rose following the September 1929 stock market crash, white Atlantans organized to suppress black employment in the city.  The Order of the Black Shirts, a white supremacist group formed to intimidate black employees and the firms that employed them, freely terrorized black laborers as the police department and local government turned a blind eye (Stone, 1989; Rutheiser, 1996).  The Black Shirts’, in alliance with local government and police, violence against black union members and pro-Communist activists increased the cost of black political participation in interracial labor unions.  As such, this regime of white domination and black oppression in pre-war Atlanta produced few productive spaces for black political action.     

[need to include a story about how Auburn Ave benefit from things that did apply to entire black community – subverted interests of black community?] Reducing the spaces for dialogue in the black community concentrated both the diversity of interests and the processes for accountability.  Without representation of any non-elite or non-accommodation interests, black elites were able to enter into an informal coalition with liberal white elites under the compromising interest of suppressing the (black) working-class vote.  Without any voting recourse, or any space to discuss countering views and interests, working class blacks were beholden to the representation of the elite blacks, even as this representation countered their own interests.  While these dynamics in elite representation and working class interests are not absolute (that is, elite interests did not always counter working-class interests), the disparity in power between the two groups necessitated more political spaces for working class and non-accommodationist blacks.              

Social Justice and Urban Politics

Analysis of productive political spaces in the city for minority interests is best situated in communicative democratic theory.  Exploring actual political spaces with critical democratic theory is productive to understanding whether these spaces sustain oppressive forms of democracy (Young, 1990; Harvey, 1973).   Critically analyzing existing political processes and spaces to determine the dynamics of inclusion (and exclusion) of groups and interests, as well as the dynamics of domination the spaces reinforce or reproduce, allows for a clearer determination of the productivity of these spaces.  Specifically, analysis of these “framing processes” (McAdam, 1999, p. x) that undergird the city’s political decision-making determines whether a neutral political opportunity structure is enabling or constraining political action.  When speaking of “politics” or determining what is “political,” I refer to Young’s definition:

“Politics, the critical activity of raising issues and deciding how institutional and social relations should be organized, crucially depends on the existence of spaces and forums to which everyone has access…[a]s a normative ideal city life provides public places and forums where anyone can speak and anyone can listen,” (Young, 1990, p. 240). 

Thus, political spaces in the City must exist in spaces where the actual public (not just the privileged form of a public – e.g., the elites) is able to not only access it, but also to speak and to listen freely.  Yet this type of accessible and egalitarian space is increasingly rare in the city, with the Atlanta postwar regime beginning to segregate and exclude its spatial organizing processes through its elite command of land use decision-making processes (Keating, 2001; Baylor, 1996).  Postwar housing policy at all levels of the US government privileged the growth of the suburban housing market (Hays, 1995).  Cities were increasingly zoned to accommodate business (interests) at the center, with outlying (i.e., low-value) urban lands devoted to siting Federally funded urban renewal housing projects (Radford, 1996; Hays, 1995). In Atlanta, the bi-racial coalition that characterized its postwar regime carefully segregated African-Americans into the west side of the city, while whites were pushed toward the explosive growth of the northern suburbs of the city.  This coordinated, top-down reorganization of Atlanta’s spaces reinforced the decision-making processes that produced narrow and monolithic political spaces for blacks in the city.  In this “direct relation of exploitation” (Young, 1990, p. 247), cities become the dumping ground for the inferior land uses of the nearest suburbs.  Politically, cities became increasingly less autonomous as suburban populations grew – and this weakening autonomy compounded the impotence of black political spaces in postwar Atlanta. 

The productivity of black political spaces is also contextualized in the social justice literature.  Casting away the normative ideal of distributive justice, Harvey defines social justice as a “principle which will allow us to evaluate the distributions arrived at as they apply to individuals, groups, organizations, and territories, as well as to evaluate the mechanisms which are used to accomplish this distribution…a specification of a just distribution justly arrived at,” (Harvey, 1973, p. 98).  Again, we seek to understand the efficiency of existing justice in postwar Atlanta through both its outcomes and the processes that produce those outcomes.  Socially just outcomes will not only improve the current minority interest’s position in the city, but also set the precedent for future minority interests to claim their share of the city.  The determination of whether a specific action is “just” is discussed in the following section, which bridges the gap between spatial processes in the city and socially just outcomes.  While not completely devoid of a normative approach to justice, spatial justice theory does provide a critical framework for studying minority political action in Atlanta. 

This project’s critical approach to urban politics will rely on the extensive research of Clarence Stone’s analysis of Atlanta’s urban regime in the postwar era (Stone, 1989).  Stone’s regime – that is, the coalition that governed Atlanta – was comprised of formal and informal relationships between groups that did not have a single unifying interest.  The disparity in interests, and the dynamics in power relations this disparity produced, creates a context-dependent alliance between interests that are dependent on one another for progress, while also constrained by this interdependency.  The disparity in interests acts as a checks and balances for the governing coalition – preventing the complete domination of one group over the actions of the regime.  The regime exists to protect privilege as an institution: who or what is privileged at the expense of greater redistribution of city resources is the result of intense struggle within the coalition (Stone, 1989).  This struggle occurs both within and around the regime, as interests attempt to get into the regime and, once in, maintain an influential position.  The inability for these coalition members to exert influence without the resources of others in the coalition suggests the struggle in power dynamics constrained the actions of the regime.  Further, this inability to exert change without the coalition’s resources suggests how interdependent the members are on one another, unable to exert change in city policy without coalition membership (Stone, 1989). 

In postwar Atlanta, a biracial coalition of white business leaders from downtown Atlanta and black elites headquartered in the east side Sweet Auburn neighborhood shaped urban policy under Mayors William B. Hartsfield, Ivan Allan, Jr., and Maynard Jackson (Rutheiser, 1996; Stone, 1989).  White business leaders had the financial and institutional resources, but lacked the popular support of Atlanta’s newly-enfranchised black population.  Following the 1946 Supreme Court decision declaring the all-white Democratic primary unconstitutional in Georgia, African-American voters comprised 27% of Atlanta’s voting population (Harmon, 1996).  Thus, black elites entered into the Atlanta governing coalition to provide this popular support (thereby forming the majority of the city’s electoral coalition) in exchange for “selective incentives” (Stone, 1989, p. 15).  The business elite provided financial resources and opportunities to institutionalize and sustain African-American progress in social and economic areas.  African-American members of Atlanta’s regime – with their domination over black political spaces in the city – exchanged the electoral necessity of “the black vote” in postwar Atlanta for the business elites’ institutional connections and financial support.  In spite of this widespread electoral support from Atlanta’s black community, the selective incentives from the business elites of Atlanta’s regime were narrowly distributed in certain areas of the black community.  [list some examples of white business support to black community and the results from primaries post 1946-1951].  In spite of the (concentrated) benefits to the black Atlanta community, these concessions from the regime’s white Atlanta elites did little to address the unequal geographies and disparity of resources in the city.  The next section addresses the processes that produced these unequal geographies, eliciting the need for spatial (social) justice in postwar Atlanta. 

       

Producing Unjust Geographies in Atlanta

Since the beginning of public housing construction in Atlanta, the city’s governing coalition has actively produced, sustained, and replicated uneven geographies throughout the city (and later, the metropolitan area).  When Charles F. Palmer realized the benefits of clearing the poor from the downtown periphery in order to construct public housing developments, he induced a conceptual shift in the ideology guiding Atlanta’s political economy.  The former Confederate city developed a mutually beneficial relationship with the Federal government.  Techwood and University Homes acted as models for a controversial New Deal program, and the Federal government provided generous subsidies for the development of downtown Atlanta (Baylor, 1996).  From 1936 to 1944, [insert statistics on number of public housing and %].  [provide additional statistics on number of (poor) Atlantans displaced and to what areas of the city by race]. 

In 1938, Atlanta’s Board of Aldermen created the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) under the State Housing Authorities Law (Georgia Code 99-11).  Under this statute, the AHA was a legally independent body that planned, built, owned, and managed Atlanta’s public housing.  The AHA also was legally responsible for decisions as to the locations of public housing projects.  In spite of this independence, the AHA maintained informal connections to Atlanta’s urban regime, both prior to and during the reign of the bi-racial coalition.  Per a 1972 report from the independent group Research Atlanta:

“The AHA was incorporated as a legally independent body but its operations have been greatly influenced through the indirect actions and political decisions of the Mayor, Board of Alderman, and City Departments….they are not held accountable for AHA decisions and therefore are able to manipulate the public housing process without suffering political consequences.” (Atlanta, 1972, pp iv-v)

 

These indirect connections produced disparate and uneven geographies within the city as slum clearance and public housing construction perpetuated the oppression of the poor and minority residents of Atlanta.  During its most active era of construction, the AHA planning committee focused slum clearance efforts on neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area, particularly African-American communities to the east and south of the CBD (see Map XX insert map of AHA projects Phase I until 1944).  Black disenfranchisement prevented any substantial citizen resistance, while slumlords organized unsuccessfully to block construction efforts.       

The governing coalition in Atlanta was not solely comprised of informal connections between local government and downtown businessmen.  In 1938, Mayor Hartsfield appointed Mr. Charles F. Palmer as Chairman of the Atlanta Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (BOC).  The BOC was the primary authority for the creation of the Atlanta Housing Authority’s policy (Kaczkowska, 2012).  Further, the members of the Board from 1938 to 1974 were a rotation of the downtown elite.  Palmer retained his position for two years until he was appointed in Washington, D.C. as the U.S. Coordinator of Defense Housing (Martin, 1987).  Hartsfield appointed Palmer’s successor, Ms. Marion Smith, as the first female Chairperson of the Board of Commissioners.  Smith was the sister of a prominent Atlanta lawyer (Hoke Smith), and herself an established leader of Atlanta’s civic and social affairs (Martin, 1987).  Following Smith’s 1947 resignation was the appointment of one of the BOC’s longest-serving Chairman, Mr. John O. Chiles (Atlanta, 1972).  During his 20-year leadership, Chiles was also the owner of one of the largest real estate firm in the South (United States Commission on Civil Rights, 1959).  The ideological and physical domination of business interests within the AHA BOC suggests the institutionalization (or formalization) of the Atlanta regime’s informal networks. 

Shortly following the end of the war, city populations greatly exceeded the available housing stock, and Congress passed the Housing Act of 1949.  Title II and III of the Act had a significant impact on residential segregation and urban-suburban dynamics for the duration of the 20th century.  As African-American populations grew in urban areas, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) subsidized housing development for white homeowners in the suburbs.  Title III, along with Title I, had the unintentional effect of displacing and containing the poor, African-American populations of urban areas in underfunded public housing developments (Hirsch, 1998).  Atlanta’s postwar governing coalition channeled resources, in the form of mortgage capital, to the suburbs while reducing the dispersion of low-income housing stock in the city, in the form of slum clearance and public housing construction (Baylor, 1996; Keating, 2001).  The regime protected their governing privilege by holding the necessary black electorate hostage in government-subsidized housing, and rewarding the white electorate with government-subsidized capital.  This subsidized capital provided white Atlantans with a mobility that defined political autonomy, while black Atlantans, confined to bounded discriminatory spaces in Atlanta, had limited political power.  The regime’s active role in creating and sustaining these disparate geographies in the City necessitated a spatially just solution.

The regime’s manipulation of resource distribution in the city was not just the result of Federal legislation.  Following the King v. Chalmers decision of 1946 declaring Georgia’s all white Democratic primary unconstitutional, the substantial increase in black political power in the city prompted a countering increase in the white population.  Following several failed attempts in the 1940s, in 1951, Atlanta’s Board of Alderman passed the Plan for Improvement, expanding Atlanta’s physical area from 37 square miles to 118 square miles (Atlanta, 1950).  The expansion annexed dozens of predominantly white suburbs to the north and east of the city limits, but also included semi-populated lands to the south and west for African-American residences.  The population increased from about 330,000 residents to 430,000; the proportion of blacks decreased from 41% to 33%, with white residents thus reclaiming their majority status (Atlanta, 1972). 

Despite the increase in residential area for African-Americans, residential segregation continued to persist in Atlanta.  While the 1917 U.S. Supreme Court decision declared segregation ordinances unconstitutional, Atlanta began racially zoning the city following the 1922 passage of a comprehensive municipal planning ordinance (Baylor, 1996).  The city segregated black and white residential areas throughout the city, using race as a land use attribute.  Black residential land use was separated from white residential land use with industrial and vacant land use categories (Baylor, 1996).   Blacks had less residential lands than whites, and white areas were only re-zoned for black use if they were contiguous to other black areas or industrial land.  Atlanta’s Streets Department physically separated the two communities by restricting entrance to white communities from black communities with highways and roads.  Major highways and rail tracks often acted as barriers, while streets tended to dead-end to restrict blacks from even passing through white areas.  As a result of the local manipulation of black residential mobility, the residential segregation between races intensified after black voter registration increased in 1946 (see Maps XX-XX insert maps of % black by census tract 1940-1970).     

The regime exacerbated residential segregation in Atlanta after the Atlanta Housing Authority was appointed as planner and administrator of Urban Renewal federal funding [insert footnote about 1946 Georgia Redevelopment Law battle].  The Urban Renewal program was simply a rewording of Title I of the 1949 Housing Act; the 1954 Housing Act accounted for the new realities in urban planning – that cities were renewing blighted (or potentially blighted) areas for commercial or residential development.  The AHA Board of Commissioners (of which a number were real estate developers with significant property holdings in the city) subverted the purpose of the Urban Renewal program in order to shape Atlanta’s residential patterns and maximize the property values for the expanding Central Business District.  The privileging of private business interests within the regime are reflected in this description of Atlanta’s Urban Renewal Program:

“The goal of the Atlanta Urban Renewal Program was to eliminate slums and blighted conditions in designated areas of the City of Atlanta. AHA acquired and cleared the blighted areas, and then sold the land to private enterprises for new development. The authority also helped the owners to upgrade, improve or rehabilitate their properties by providing financial and technical assistance. AHA provided for new schools and parks, roads, streets, sidewalks and sewers in the revitalized areas, as well as developed new low rent housing units. Private investors developed new residential and office buildings, hotels and commercial centers. Homeowners made necessary repairs and cleaned up their properties” (Kaczkowska, 2012).

The following table and map (insert map of Table XX projects over 1960 % black by census tract) show the spatial distribution of Atlanta Urban Renewal Program projects.  Although 20% of the program’s projects were solely beneficial to African-American residents (University Center and West End projects), virtually all of the projects were detrimental to low-income African-Americans in the city.  Of the total number of residents the Urban Renewal program displaced during clearance of blighted areas, 95% were poor African-Americans.   Often, the AHA did not provide displaced residents with replacement housing, and displacees were forced to reside in the overcrowded western sections of the city (Baylor, 1996).              

 

Since 1946, changes in both Federal legislation and local adjustments to Atlanta’s physical and political spaces produced disparate and unequal geographies in the city.  The production and reproduction of unequal geographies are spatialized evidence of the oppressive power dynamics between races and classes in the city.   While African-Americans were legally enfranchised in the city, the bi-racial coalition in Atlanta’s urban regime appears to only benefit middle-and-upper income blacks.  Low-income blacks had disparate political power in the city, compared to both upper-class blacks and low-income whites (Baylor, 1996).  As residential segregation increased, Atlanta developed racialized spaces where the built environment reflected the disparate power dynamics between the city’s predominant races.  This racialized space was not produced informally or indirectly – the racially-based zoning law of the City perpetuated the hierarchical arrangement of raced spaces.  Black areas in the city, excluding the Sweet Auburn neighborhood that housed the black contingent of the bi-racial coalition, were ignored during redistributive city planning.  The regime consistently ignored the sanitation, transportation, recreation, and residential needs of low-income black residents, while providing for these same needs for their white counterparts.  The spatial injustice in the city warranted a spatially just solution for low-income black Atlantans.

            

Table XX: Description of Atlanta Urban Renewal Program Projects, by Year

Urban Renewal Project

Years of Construction

Description

Butler Street

1959-1971

Development of Landmark Apartments, Holiday Inn, Marriott Hotel, Wheat Street Garden Apartments, Ford automotive sales and service building, and Antoine Graves public housing for seniors

 

Rehabilitation of some 200 housing units

Thomasville

1959

Development of Thomasville Heights public housing project

Rawson-Washington

1959-1973

Development of Atlanta Stadium and elementary school

University Center

1960-1972

Expansion of Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Morris Brown College

Rockdale

1960

Clearance of the entire area and construction of low and moderate income multi-family housing, and new elementary school

Georgia State

1962-1971

Expansion of Georgia State University

Howard High School

1964-1966

Expansion of Howard High School

Georgia Tech

1965

Expansion of Georgia Tech campus

Construction of the Tech Parkway

West End

1966

Development of Dean Rusk School and West End Mall

Rehabilitation of more than 2,000 houses

Bedford-Pine

1968

Development of Georgia Power Company corporate headquarters, Atlanta Civic Center, and C. W. Hill Elementary School

Source: Atlanta Housing Authority Administrative History, 2012

The production of unjust geographies in Atlanta reflects the physical inscription of power in the built environment, particularly the dominant forces of the city’s regime on marginalized communities in the city.  LeFebvre describes this oppressive force as violent: “[i]n the dominated sphere, constraints and violence are encountered at every turn: they are everywhere.  As for power, it too is omnipresent,” (LeFebvre, 1991, p. 358).  Yet these marginalized spaces – these unjust geographies – are not entirely detrimental to the affected community.  LeFebvre and Castells understand the dialectic relationship between oppression and freedom in the City via spatial and social change, respectively.  Both scholars understand the oppressive social structures (Castells, 1983) and spatial structures (LeFebvre, 1991) as the producers of social change movements and re-appropriated, or “divergent” space (LeFebvre, 1991, p. 167).  The regime’s spatial marginalization and social oppression on low-income African-American communities provide a unique opportunity for a spatially and socially just response. 

Soja’s understanding of spatial justice combines critical theories of justice with critical theories of space.  Both the processes and outcomes that define a spatially just solution must account for the historical, social, and spatial context where these solutions unfold.  Specifically, it was not enough to provide for equal rights and outcomes that promoted the greater good in Rawlsian sense [may insert footnote on Rawls, distributive justice], as these outcomes replicated processes that sustain socio-spatial domination.  Further, demands for social justice must unfold across multiple spaces (or scales) – theoretically, space unites the diffused politics (interests) of difference across the City and maximizes political action (Soja, 2010).  Existing social processes had not only created segregated, racialized spaces in postwar Atlanta; but also spaces delegated for public and private use.  Consider the land use categories of zoning codes that segregate residential land use from commercial or industrial land use.  The spatial distance between work and home life created a separate political demand for each space.  In Atlanta, the relocation of businesses from the CBD to the northern suburbs aggregated this separation (Rutheiser, 1996).  The spatial and gendered difference between work and residential political organizing replicated this oppressive organization of spaces.  Thus, the spatial consciousness in social justice connects these disparate interests, within their respective historical contexts, to achieve a spatially just outcome.   

This research posits that social movements in postwar Atlanta were successful given the unique socio-spatial position of public housing developments as political opportunities structures (POS) in the city.  The POS provided a spatial consciousness for social movements, enabling spatially just outcomes across different social demands.  The next sections discuss the literature on urban social movements and political opportunity structures, and contextualize this literature for postwar Atlanta. 

Urban Social Movements: From Labor to Identity Politics[AD1] 

The inability of non-elite urban residents to participate in city decision-making and politics outside of the “token participation” (Arnstein, 1969) is not exclusive to postwar Atlanta.  Castells considers urban social movements (USM) to be the most effective and the most rare form of citizen action for non-elites (Castells, 1977).  The evolution of the USM – from collective demands about work conditions as a labor movement to collective demands about community conditions as an identity politics movement – reflects the evolution in the State’s response to the USM.  An effective USM not only changes the built environment or political process of the City, but also prevents such a change from occurring in the future.  Specifically, urban social movements allow non-elites to make claims on different rights in the City, yet in response; the City creates processes to prevent future groups from making claims on these rights.  In short, the USM allows groups to access the protective privilege of the urban apparatus, while prohibiting others from accessing this privilege.  The State frequently prohibits future USMs through the institutionalization of the movement into the State apparatus (Manning Thomas, 1997).  USMs are thus persistently reconstructed in order to address this prohibition.  This section will address the Marxist origins of the urban social movement as a fight of labor versus capital, its evolution to the 1960s politically conscious social movement of identity politics of race and gender, and finally, its recent transformation into the spatially conscious right to the city movement for marginalized non-elites. 

This critical, historical analysis of urban social movements is not solely characterized by the presence of civil disturbances or “riots” – instead, one can scale the scope of urban social movements down to minor transgressions, what Kelley refers to as the “politics down below” (Kelley, 1994, p. 4).  Given the virtually nonexistent political spaces for low-income blacks in postwar Atlanta, one must examine the daily activities – what LeFebvre terms “spatial practices” (LeFebvre, 1991) – to find examples of black resistance to the State within its representational spaces of public housing and racialized spaces in the city.  Methodologically, this empirical categorization provides a more robust analysis of urban social movements in the city, and the scope and scale of these USMs on the urban (changes in the built environment) and the political (changes in power dynamics).  Scaling USMs down to spatial practices further allows for examination of the effect changes on the urban and the political have on USMs, via the observed change in spatial practices. 

Analysis of urban social movements begins with analysis of the construction of the urban, particularly the construction of difference in the City (Young, 1999).  From this analysis of difference emerges a normative understanding of urban citizenship.  To synchronize this with the earlier LeFebvrian discussion of the production of space, the spatial practices (human behavior) of marginalized groups reflect resistance to the normative definition of urban citizenship, which is represented in the abstract as public spaces in the City.  Normative conceptions of urban citizenship reflect the privileged, or dominant, group identity in the City.  It inherently includes the power dynamics of the urban political apparatus.  The State’s racialization of public spaces in the industrial city support claims of a differential urban citizenship emerging from de jure residential segregation (Young, 1999).  Generally speaking, citizenship does not appear until a group creates an identity with relation to the construction of the urban; specifically, black citizenship is not possible until black residents (as a group) are incorporated into the City’s representational (abstract) and practiced (concrete) spaces.  In Atlanta, the State did not consider claims to black citizenship until acceptance of PWA Housing Division funds required slum clearance and housing construction in African-American communities (thus marking a concerted effort to represent black communities on City planning maps), and the enfranchisement of blacks in Georgia necessitated a shift in Atlanta’s urban regime (Stone, 1989; Reed, Jr., 1999).  Black claims on urban citizenship in Atlanta were not legitimized until blacks had an effect on both representational and practiced spaces in the city. 

The labor movement in the industrial city provides an example of an USM that left a marked effect on the urban and the political, while preventing future effects by institutionalizing the movement into the State apparatus. As mentioned earlier, black (elite) leaders discouraged black laborers and tradesmen from organizing in order to concentrate the limited black political power within the Republican Party.  While Black involvement in the labor movement was miniscule, it still provides context for postwar black insurgency.  The labor movement has its origins in the marginalized spaces of an insurgent political party, and created a political space for labor interests in the urban regime.  Materially, the construction of union buildings as spaces of organizing outside of the residential community depoliticizes the association between labor and community interests.    

The industrial city reached a point of crisis in the late 1920s, as the increasing costs of production reduced labor demand and further degraded industrial work conditions.  The purely laissez-faire approach to the economy restricted government regulation and labor organization (Piven and Cloward, 1977).  The domination of capital in urban spaces was reflected in the disproportionate amount of negative externalities produced from industrial and commercial land uses.  Consequently, capital interests politically dominated labor interests within the State apparatus.  Until the formal recognition of labor unions in the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), labor interests organized within the marginalized Communist Party.  The Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) formed as a political party in 1919, and gained popularity by infiltrating the ethnic community organizations of industrializing cities.  As unemployment grew amongst the low-skill, ethnic laborer, CPUSA pushed claims of citizenship on the State through Unemployment Councils – linking labor interests to community interests (e.g., welfare relief for the unemployed).  This association – more specifically, this association’s effects on national and urban labor policy – suggest this labor movement was an urban social movement.   

CPUSA created a new ideological shift in neighborhood organizing, shifting away from social and “patriotic” activities, and moving towards more political analysis and empowerment of working class communities.  The success of CPUSA, particularly its longevity in neighborhood organizing, stems from its political analysis of social problems in communities, in addition to its focus on translocal issues, which effectively liberated community organizing from the boundaries of a local neighborhood (Fisher, 1984).  CPUSA’s Unemployment Councils’ programmatic strategy of social welfare, race (ethnic) relations, housing, and translocal mobilization was largely successful due to the party’s ability to link workplace and community goals.  This link between economic and social welfare was supported by the State following the passage of the Wagner Act (NLRA) that encouraged workplace organizing.  Yet workplace organizing was encouraged in the work “spaces” – disembedding the labor movement from the community movement.  Further, the formation of the State’s welfare apparatus (the Second New Deal) and the bureaucratization of community organization had the unintended consequence of depoliticizing the link between economic and community problems.  The movement’s exclusion of African-American interests translated to minimal political gains for this group.   The State’s exclusion of African-Americans from the bureaucratized union interests in urban political regimes further reduced the spaces for black political interests. 

At a national level, Blacks reconstructed the urban social movement in the 1960s using identity politics in order to address the racial disparities in urban economic, social, and political capital (power). The rise in student activism at the time (spurred by anti-war protests against conscription for nonstudents) “intellectualized” community organizing, fostering a political consciousness in community organizing about the restructuring changes in the political economy.  The rapid outflow of capital from inner cities into suburbs, growing unemployment rates, substandard housing and public health issues, and great disparities in the redistribution of the “affluent” economy created a political backlash across the nation. The civil disturbances of the 1960s urban social movement had urban and political effects that spurred a minor reformation of the national welfare state.  The appropriation of public space (city streets, commercial districts) for black insurgency challenged normative ideals of urban citizenship.  Blacks were claiming political space in the city via the disruption of (white-owned) private space.  In addition to politicizing the link of social welfare and economic growth, this USM inadvertently formed a new link between race and poverty, thereby racializing the social ills of the nation (Fisher, 1984).  In a response similar to the 1930s, the national and urban state apparatuses responded through bureaucratizing and depoliticizing these movements.  The racialization of poverty during the 1960s spawned Federal policies that sought to institutionalize anti-discrimination issues (Fair Housing Act), professionalize grassroots community organizing (Maximum Feasible Participation of the Community Action Program), and reestablish the national welfare state (amendment to Social Security and creation of Food Stamp Acts).  The State’s turn to racializing poverty, again, severed the link between the national economic system and social problems in communities.  Noticeably absent from Federal policies during the 1960s was the implementation of job programs which addressed the restructuring economy.  The Second New Deal provided production jobs through the PWA that reflected the industrial economy of urban areas.  However, Great Society job programs (VISTA, Job Corps) were reflective of the old economy, training black urban residents in low-skill tasks that failed to capture the national shift towards high-skill and high-wage service employment.  Thus, inner city blacks remained marginalized in their racialized spaces of poverty, as capital continued to flow towards the suburbs and unemployment remained high in urbanized areas. 

Postwar Atlanta’s urban social movement was not just characterized by civil disturbances.  In fact, civil disturbances were minimal in Atlanta, at a time when most cities were in visible upheaval (Stone, 1989).  Atlanta’s bi-racial coalition carefully brokered and negotiated land deals within the city to minimize racial integration.  Outside of the city’s legacy of racial zoning and buffering, the regime relegated blacks to marginalized urban spaces via extensive Federal subsidy.  Atlanta’s regime produced not only unjust geographies of political marginalization, but also shaped the political opportunity structures within these marginalized spaces.  These political opportunity structures take the form of public housing developments in postwar Atlanta, one of the few spaces for low-income blacks to transform daily activities (spatial practices, or grievances) into claims on the State for political access and urban citizenship.  Consequently, these public housing development political opportunity structures shaped grievances from its tenants (constructing an urban social movement) while this urban social movement resulted in urban and political effects that shaped the developments.  This dialectic is discussed in greater detail in the following section. 

Ch 2 pt 1 and 88% of pt 2

Black Political Forums in Postwar Atlanta

The search for political action, mobilization, and legitimacy within the public housing developments of postwar Atlanta should begin with an exploration of why such a search is even necessary.  Why were public housing developments utilized as political opportunity structures during this period? This chapter will explore the necessity of public housing developments as political opportunity structures through the context of black political theory, deliberative democratic theory, urban political theory, and social movement theory.  The chapter will attempt to build a framework for analyses of both the processes and outcomes of black political action in postwar Atlanta public housing.  Rooted in critical theories of race, politics, and urbanity, this framework will provide the tools to analyze and critique public housing developments as political opportunity structures in the city.  Specifically, this framework will analyze how deficiencies in black political processes in the City left few public spaces for black political dialogue and critique (Reed, Jr., 1999). 

As a result of a century-long reign of white supremacist institutionalization and ideology in the City’s political economy [may insert footnote here to reference literature], African-Americans were limited to token political participation, elite-led political representation, and constrained political action that remained accommodationist (Reed, Jr., 1999) and within the realm of uplift ideology (Reed, Jr., 1999; Ferguson, 2002). Prior to 1946, African-Americans were not allowed to participate in the influential (Democratic) primary elections, which were legally restricted to white voters in Georgia   The “public” spaces for black political debate and critique were firmly controlled by elites (those in the middle-and-upper professional classes) who were in the best position to access this space.  The more popular public spaces for black political debate were publications (The Atlanta Daily World was the leading black publication in postwar Atlanta) and community organizations (ranging from black churches to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).  Reed states, “Disenfranchisement raised the cost of popular participation by eliminating the most accessible forms of political speech – voting and other aspects of electoral action.” (Reed, Jr., 1999, 19).  The legal disenfranchisement of blacks from Atlanta’s influential Democratic primary removed an accessible political space for non-elite (working class and low-income) blacks. Further, until 1946, the conservative and accommodating black elite restricted African-American political discourse in the City to spaces under their ownership and control. 

In spite of the constraints of black political forums in postwar Atlanta, non-accommodationist interests were able to participate and mobilize in the past at the local level, albeit with varying effects (Rutheiser, 1996).  Following the Great Depression, the growth of interracial labor organizations and organizations committed to communist efforts presented opportunities for black political participation at a local, national, and global level.  Interracial, class-based organizing remained a popular venue for black political participation, even if the organizing principle was not specifically oriented toward the improvement of the race’s social, economic, or political standing (Reed, Jr., 1999; Kelley, 1996).  However, the domination of white supremacist interests in Atlanta’s pre-World War II governing coalition (in both elected positions and positions of enforcement, i.e., the police) suppressed pro-labor political expression and legitimacy.  While interracial labor organizations were attacked with equal aplomb, white supremacist organizations (with the support of the Ku-Klux-Klan-dominated Atlanta police force) targeted organized African-American laborers.  As white unemployment rose following the September 1929 stock market crash, white Atlantans organized to suppress black employment in the city.  The Order of the Black Shirts, a white supremacist group formed to intimidate black employees and the firms that employed them, freely terrorized black laborers as the police department and local government turned a blind eye (Stone, 1989; Rutheiser, 1996).  The Black Shirts’, in alliance with local government and police, violence against black union members and pro-Communist activists increased the cost of black political participation in interracial labor unions.  As such, this regime of white domination and black oppression in pre-war Atlanta produced few productive spaces for black political action.     

Reducing the spaces for dialogue in the black community concentrated both the diversity of interests and the processes for accountability.  Without representation of any non-elite or non-accommodation interests, black elites were able to enter into an informal coalition with liberal white elites under the compromising interest of suppressing the (black) working-class vote.  Without any voting recourse, or any space to discuss countering views and interests, working class blacks were beholden to the representation of the elite blacks, even as this representation countered their own interests.  While these dynamics in elite representation and working class interests are not absolute (that is, elite interests did not always counter working-class interests), the disparity in power between the two groups necessitated more political spaces for working class and non-accommodationist blacks.              

Social Justice and Urban Politics

Analysis of productive political spaces in the city for minority interests is best situated in communicative democratic theory.  Exploring actual political spaces with critical democratic theory is productive to understanding whether these spaces sustain oppressive forms of democracy (Young, 1990; Harvey, 1973).   Critically analyzing existing political processes and spaces to determine the dynamics of inclusion (and exclusion) of groups and interests, as well as the dynamics of domination the spaces reinforce or reproduce, allows for a clearer determination of the productivity of these spaces.  Specifically, analysis of these “framing processes” (McAdam, 1999, p. x) that undergird the city’s political decision-making determines whether a neutral political opportunity structure is enabling or constraining political action.  When speaking of “politics” or determining what is “political,” I refer to Young’s definition:

“Politics, the critical activity of raising issues and deciding how institutional and social relations should be organized, crucially depends on the existence of spaces and forums to which everyone has access…[a]s a normative ideal city life provides public places and forums where anyone can speak and anyone can listen,” (Young, 1990, p. 240). 

Thus, political spaces in the City must exist in spaces where the actual public (not just the privileged form of a public – e.g., the elites) is able to not only access it, but also to speak and to listen freely.  Yet this type of accessible and egalitarian space is increasingly rare in the city, with the Atlanta postwar regime beginning to segregate and exclude its spatial organizing processes through its elite command of land use decision-making processes (Keating, 2001; Baylor, 1996).  Postwar housing policy at all levels of the US government privileged the growth of the suburban housing market (Hays, 1995).  Cities were increasingly zoned to accommodate business (interests) at the center, with outlying (i.e., low-value) urban lands devoted to siting Federally funded urban renewal housing projects (Radford, 1996; Hays, 1995). In Atlanta, the bi-racial coalition that characterized its postwar regime carefully segregated African-Americans into the west side of the city, while whites were pushed toward the explosive growth of the northern suburbs of the city.  This coordinated, top-down reorganization of Atlanta’s spaces reinforced the decision-making processes that produced narrow and monolithic political spaces for blacks in the city.  In this “direct relation of exploitation” (Young, 1990, p. 247), cities become the dumping ground for the inferior land uses of the nearest suburbs.  Politically, cities became increasingly less autonomous as suburban populations grew – and this weakening autonomy compounded the impotence of black political spaces in postwar Atlanta. 

The productivity of black political spaces is also contextualized in the social justice literature.  Casting away the normative ideal of distributive justice, Harvey defines social justice as a “principle which will allow us to evaluate the distributions arrived at as they apply to individuals, groups, organizations, and territories, as well as to evaluate the mechanisms which are used to accomplish this distribution…a specification of a just distribution justly arrived at,” (Harvey, 1973, p. 98).  Again, we seek to understand the efficiency of existing justice in postwar Atlanta through both its outcomes and the processes that produce those outcomes.  Socially just outcomes will not only improve the current minority interest’s position in the city, but also set the precedent for future minority interests to claim their share of the city.  The determination of whether a specific action is “just” is discussed in the following section, which bridges the gap between spatial processes in the city and socially just outcomes.  While not completely devoid of a normative approach to justice, spatial justice theory does provide a critical framework for studying minority political action in Atlanta. 

This project’s critical approach to urban politics will rely on the extensive research of Clarence Stone’s analysis of Atlanta’s urban regime in the postwar era (Stone, 1989).  Stone’s regime – that is, the coalition that governed Atlanta – was comprised of formal and informal relationships between groups that did not have a single unifying interest.  The disparity in interests, and the dynamics in power relations this disparity produced, creates a context-dependent alliance between interests that are dependent on one another for progress, while also constrained by this interdependency.  The disparity in interests acts as a checks and balances for the governing coalition – preventing the complete domination of one group over the actions of the regime.  The regime exists to protect privilege as an institution: who or what is privileged at the expense of greater redistribution of city resources is the result of intense struggle within the coalition (Stone, 1989).  This struggle occurs both within and around the regime, as interests attempt to get into the regime and, once in, maintain an influential position.  The inability for these coalition members to exert influence without the resources of others in the coalition suggests the struggle in power dynamics constrained the actions of the regime.  Further, this inability to exert change without the coalition’s resources suggests how interdependent the members are on one another, unable to exert change in city policy without coalition membership (Stone, 1989). 

In postwar Atlanta, a biracial coalition of white business leaders from downtown Atlanta and black elites headquartered in the east side Sweet Auburn neighborhood shaped urban policy under Mayors William B. Hartsfield, Ivan Allan, Jr., and Maynard Jackson (Rutheiser, 1996; Stone, 1989).  White business leaders had the financial and institutional resources, but lacked the popular support of Atlanta’s newly-enfranchised black population.  Following the 1946 Supreme Court decision declaring the all-white Democratic primary unconstitutional in Georgia, African-American voters comprised 27% of Atlanta’s voting population (Harmon, 1996).  Thus, black elites entered into the Atlanta governing coalition to provide this popular support (thereby forming the majority of the city’s electoral coalition) in exchange for “selective incentives” (Stone, 1989, p. 15).  The business elite provided financial resources and opportunities to institutionalize and sustain African-American progress in social and economic areas.  African-American members of Atlanta’s regime – with their domination over black political spaces in the city – exchanged the electoral necessity of “the black vote” in postwar Atlanta for the business elites’ institutional connections and financial support.  In spite of this widespread electoral support from Atlanta’s black community, the selective incentives from the business elites of Atlanta’s regime were narrowly distributed in certain areas of the black community.  [list some examples of white business support to black community and the results from primaries post 1946-1951].  In spite of the (concentrated) benefits to the black Atlanta community, these concessions from the regime’s white Atlanta elites did little to address the unequal geographies and disparity of resources in the city.  The next section addresses the processes that produced these unequal geographies, eliciting the need for spatial (social) justice in postwar Atlanta. 

       

Producing Unjust Geographies in Atlanta

Since the beginning of public housing construction in Atlanta, the city’s governing coalition has actively produced, sustained, and replicated uneven geographies throughout the city (and later, the metropolitan area).  When Charles F. Palmer realized the benefits of clearing the poor from the downtown periphery in order to construct public housing developments, he induced a conceptual shift in the ideology guiding Atlanta’s political economy.  The former Confederate city developed a mutually beneficial relationship with the Federal government.  Techwood and University Homes acted as models for a controversial New Deal program, and the Federal government provided generous subsidies for the development of downtown Atlanta (Baylor, 1996).  From 1936 to 1944, [insert statistics on number of public housing and %].  [provide additional statistics on number of (poor) Atlantans displaced and to what areas of the city by race]. 

In 1938, Atlanta’s Board of Aldermen created the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) under the State Housing Authorities Law (Georgia Code 99-11).  Under this statute, the AHA was a legally independent body that planned, built, owned, and managed Atlanta’s public housing.  The AHA also was legally responsible for decisions as to the locations of public housing projects.  In spite of this independence, the AHA maintained informal connections to Atlanta’s urban regime, both prior to and during the reign of the bi-racial coalition.  Per a 1972 report from the independent group Research Atlanta:

“The AHA was incorporated as a legally independent body but its operations have been greatly influenced through the indirect actions and political decisions of the Mayor, Board of Alderman, and City Departments….they are not held accountable for AHA decisions and therefore are able to manipulate the public housing process without suffering political consequences.” (Atlanta, 1972, pp iv-v)

 

These indirect connections produced disparate and uneven geographies within the city as slum clearance and public housing construction perpetuated the oppression of the poor and minority residents of Atlanta.  During its most active era of construction, the AHA planning committee focused slum clearance efforts on neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area, particularly African-American communities to the east and south of the CBD (see Map XX insert map of AHA projects Phase I until 1944).  Black disenfranchisement prevented any substantial citizen resistance, while slumlords organized unsuccessfully to block construction efforts.       

The governing coalition in Atlanta was not solely comprised of informal connections between local government and downtown businessmen.  In 1938, Mayor Hartsfield appointed Mr. Charles F. Palmer as Chairman of the Atlanta Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (BOC).  The BOC was the primary authority for the creation of the Atlanta Housing Authority’s policy (Kaczkowska, 2012).  Further, the members of the Board from 1938 to 1974 were a rotation of the downtown elite.  Palmer retained his position for two years until he was appointed in Washington, D.C. as the U.S. Coordinator of Defense Housing (Martin, 1987).  Hartsfield appointed Palmer’s successor, Ms. Marion Smith, as the first female Chairperson of the Board of Commissioners.  Smith was the sister of a prominent Atlanta lawyer (Hoke Smith), and herself an established leader of Atlanta’s civic and social affairs (Martin, 1987).  Following Smith’s 1947 resignation was the appointment of one of the BOC’s longest-serving Chairman, Mr. John O. Chiles (Atlanta, 1972).  During his 20-year leadership, Chiles was also the owner of one of the largest real estate firm in the South (United States Commission on Civil Rights, 1959).  The ideological and physical domination of business interests within the AHA BOC suggests the institutionalization (or formalization) of the Atlanta regime’s informal networks. 

Shortly following the end of the war, city populations greatly exceeded the available housing stock, and Congress passed the Housing Act of 1949.  Title II and III of the Act had a significant impact on residential segregation and urban-suburban dynamics for the duration of the 20th century.  As African-American populations grew in urban areas, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) subsidized housing development for white homeowners in the suburbs.  Title III, along with Title I, had the unintentional effect of displacing and containing the poor, African-American populations of urban areas in underfunded public housing developments (Hirsch, 1998).  Atlanta’s postwar governing coalition channeled resources, in the form of mortgage capital, to the suburbs while reducing the dispersion of low-income housing stock in the city, in the form of slum clearance and public housing construction (Baylor, 1996; Keating, 2001).  The regime protected their governing privilege by holding the necessary black electorate hostage in government-subsidized housing, and rewarding the white electorate with government-subsidized capital.  This subsidized capital provided white Atlantans with a mobility that defined political autonomy, while black Atlantans, confined to bounded discriminatory spaces in Atlanta, had limited political power.  The regime’s active role in creating and sustaining these disparate geographies in the City necessitated a spatially just solution.

The regime’s manipulation of resource distribution in the city was not just the result of Federal legislation.  Following the King v. Chalmers decision of 1946 declaring Georgia’s all white Democratic primary unconstitutional, the substantial increase in black political power in the city prompted a countering increase in the white population.  Following several failed attempts in the 1940s, in 1951, Atlanta’s Board of Alderman passed the Plan for Improvement, expanding Atlanta’s physical area from 37 square miles to 118 square miles.  The expansion annexed dozens of predominantly white suburbs to the north and east of the city limits, but also included semi-populated lands to the south and west for African-American residences.  The population increased from about 330,000 residents to 430,000; the proportion of blacks decreased from 41% to 33%, with white residents thus reclaiming their majority status (Atlanta, 1951). 

Despite the increase in residential area for African-Americans, residential segregation continued to persist in Atlanta.  While the 1917 U.S. Supreme Court decision declared segregation ordinances unconstitutional, Atlanta began racially zoning the city following the 1922 passage of a comprehensive municipal planning ordinance (Baylor, 1996).  The city segregated black and white residential areas throughout the city, using race as a land use attribute.  Black residential land use was separated from white residential land use with industrial and vacant land use categories (Baylor, 1996).   Blacks had less residential lands than whites, and white areas were only re-zoned for black use if they were contiguous to other black areas or industrial land.  Atlanta’s Streets Department physically separated the two communities by restricting entrance to white communities from black communities with highways and roads.  Major highways and rail tracks often acted as barriers, while streets tended to dead-end to restrict blacks from even passing through white areas.  As a result of the local manipulation of black residential mobility, the residential segregation between races intensified after black voter registration increased in 1946 (see Maps XX-XX insert maps of % black by census tract 1940-1970).     

The regime exacerbated residential segregation in Atlanta after the Atlanta Housing Authority was appointed as planner and administrator of Urban Renewal federal funding [insert footnote about 1946 Georgia Redevelopment Law battle].  The Urban Renewal program was simply a rewording of Title I of the 1949 Housing Act; the 1954 Housing Act accounted for the new realities in urban planning – that cities were renewing blighted (or potentially blighted) areas for commercial or residential development.  The AHA Board of Commissioners (of which a number were real estate developers with significant property holdings in the city) subverted the purpose of the Urban Renewal program in order to shape Atlanta’s residential patterns and maximize the property values for the expanding Central Business District.  The privileging of private business interests within the regime are reflected in this description of Atlanta’s Urban Renewal Program:

“The goal of the Atlanta Urban Renewal Program was to eliminate slums and blighted conditions in designated areas of the City of Atlanta. AHA acquired and cleared the blighted areas, and then sold the land to private enterprises for new development. The authority also helped the owners to upgrade, improve or rehabilitate their properties by providing financial and technical assistance. AHA provided for new schools and parks, roads, streets, sidewalks and sewers in the revitalized areas, as well as developed new low rent housing units. Private investors developed new residential and office buildings, hotels and commercial centers. Homeowners made necessary repairs and cleaned up their properties” (Kaczkowska, 2012).

The following table and map (insert map of Table XX projects over 1960 % black by census tract) show the spatial distribution of Atlanta Urban Renewal Program projects.  Although 20% of the program’s projects were solely beneficial to African-American residents (University Center and West End projects), virtually all of the projects were detrimental to low-income African-Americans in the city.  Of the total number of residents the Urban Renewal program displaced during clearance of blighted areas, 95% were poor African-Americans.   Often, the AHA did not provide displaced residents with replacement housing, and displacees were forced to reside in the overcrowded western sections of the city (Baylor, 1996).              

 

Since 1946, changes in both Federal legislation and local adjustments to Atlanta’s physical and political spaces produced disparate and unequal geographies in the city.  The production and reproduction of unequal geographies are spatialized evidence of the oppressive power dynamics between races and classes in the city.   While African-Americans were legally enfranchised in the city, the bi-racial coalition in Atlanta’s urban regime appears to only benefit middle-and-upper income blacks.  Low-income blacks had disparate political power in the city, compared to both upper-class blacks and low-income whites (Baylor, 1996).  As residential segregation increased, Atlanta developed racialized spaces where the built environment reflected the disparate power dynamics between the city’s predominant races.  This racialized space was not produced informally or indirectly – the racially-based zoning law of the City perpetuated the hierarchical arrangement of raced spaces.  Black areas in the city, excluding the Sweet Auburn neighborhood that housed the black contingent of the bi-racial coalition, were ignored during redistributive city planning.  The regime consistently ignored the sanitation, transportation, recreation, and residential needs of low-income black residents, while providing for these same needs for their white counterparts.  The spatial injustice in the city warranted a spatially just solution for low-income black Atlantans.            

Table XX: Description of Atlanta Urban Renewal Program Projects, by Year

Urban Renewal Project

Years of Construction

Description

Butler Street

1959-1971

Development of Landmark Apartments, Holiday Inn, Marriott Hotel, Wheat Street Garden Apartments, Ford automotive sales and service building, and Antoine Graves public housing for seniors

 

Rehabilitation of some 200 housing units

Thomasville

1959

Development of Thomasville Heights public housing project

Rawson-Washington

1959-1973

Development of Atlanta Stadium and elementary school

University Center

1960-1972

Expansion of Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Morris Brown College

Rockdale

1960

Clearance of the entire area and construction of low and moderate income multi-family housing, and new elementary school

Georgia State

1962-1971

Expansion of Georgia State University

Howard High School

1964-1966

Expansion of Howard High School

Georgia Tech

1965

Expansion of Georgia Tech campus

Construction of the Tech Parkway

West End

1966

Development of Dean Rusk School and West End Mall

 

Rehabilitation of more than 2,000 houses

Bedford-Pine

1968

Development of Georgia Power Company corporate headquarters, Atlanta Civic Center, and C. W. Hill Elementary School

Source: Atlanta Housing Authority Administrative History, 2012

Chapter 2 - Intro

Black Political Forums in Postwar Atlanta

The search for political action, mobilization, and legitimacy within the public housing developments of postwar Atlanta should begin with an exploration of why such a search is even necessary.  Why were public housing developments utilized as political opportunity structures during this period? This chapter will explore the necessity of public housing developments as political opportunity structures through the context of black political theory, deliberative democratic theory, urban political theory, and social movement theory.  The chapter will attempt to build a framework for analyses of both the processes and outcomes of black political action in postwar Atlanta public housing.  Rooted in critical theories of race, politics, and urbanity, this framework will provide the tools to analyze and critique public housing developments as political opportunity structures in the city.  Specifically, this framework will analyze how deficiencies in black political processes in the City left few public spaces for black political dialogue and critique (Reed, Jr., 1999). 

As a result of a century-long reign of white supremacist institutionalization and ideology in the City’s political economy [may insert footnote here to reference literature], African-Americans were limited to token political participation, elite-led political representation, and constrained political action that remained accommodationist (Reed, Jr., 1999) and within the realm of uplift ideology (Reed, Jr., 1999; Ferguson, 2002).  The “public” spaces for black political debate and critique were firmly controlled by elites (those in the middle-and-upper professional classes) who were in the best position to access this space.  The more popular public spaces for black political debate were publications (The Atlanta Daily World was the leading black publication in postwar Atlanta) and community organizations (ranging from black churches to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).  Reed states, “Disenfranchisement raised the cost of popular participation by eliminating the most accessible forms of political speech – voting and other aspects of electoral action.” (Reed, Jr., 1999, 19).  Prior to 1946, African-Americans were not allowed to participate in the influential primary elections, which were limited to white voters in Atlanta.  Thus, until 1946, African-American political discourse in the City was restricted to spaces under the ownership and control of a conservative and accommodating black elite.   

In spite of the constraints of black political forums in postwar Atlanta, non-accommodationist interests were able to participate and mobilize in the past at the local level, albeit with varying effects (Rutheiser, 1996).  Following the Great Depression, the growth of interracial labor organizations and organizations committed to communist efforts presented opportunities for black political participation at a local, national, and global level.  Class-based organizing remained a popular venue for black political participation, even if it was not specifically oriented toward the improvement of the race’s social, economic, or political standing (Reed, Jr., 1999; Kelley, 1996).  However, the emergence of a postwar economic boom strengthened white supremacist efforts against labor organizing, thereby reducing the space for black political dialogue and interests. 

Reducing the spaces for dialogue in the black community concentrated both the diversity of interests and the processes for accountability.  Without representation of any non-elite or non-accommodation interests, black elites were able to enter into an informal coalition with liberal white elites under the compromising interest of suppressing the (black) working-class vote.  Without any voting recourse, or any space to discuss countering views and interests, working class blacks were beholden to the representation of the elite blacks, even as this representation countered their own interests.  While these dynamics in elite representation and working class interests are not absolute (that is, elite interests did not always counter working-class interests), the disparity in power between the two groups necessitated more political spaces for working class and non-accommodationist blacks.               

Social Justice and Urban Politics

Analysis of productive political spaces in the city for minority interests is best situated in communicative democratic theory.  Exploring actual political spaces with critical democratic theory is productive to understanding whether these spaces sustain oppressive forms of democracy (Young, 1990; Harvey, 1973).   Critically analyzing existing political processes and spaces to determine the dynamics of inclusion (and exclusion) of groups and interests, as well as the dynamics of domination the spaces reinforce or reproduce, allows for a clearer determination of the productivity of these spaces.  Specifically, analysis of these “framing processes” (McAdam, 1999, p. x) that undergird the city’s political decision-making determines whether a neutral political opportunity structure is enabling or constraining political action.  When speaking of “politics” or determining what is “political,” I refer to Young’s definition:

“Politics, the critical activity of raising issues and deciding how institutional and social relations should be organized, crucially depends on the existence of spaces and forums to which everyone has access…[a]s a normative ideal city life provides public places and forums where anyone can speak and anyone can listen,” (Young, 1990, p. 240). 

Thus, political spaces in the City must exist in spaces where the actual public (not just the privileged form of a public – e.g., the elites) is able to not only access it, but also to speak and to listen freely.  Yet this type of accessible and egalitarian space is increasingly rare in the city, with the Atlanta postwar regime beginning to segregate and exclude its spatial organizing processes through its elite command of land use decision-making processes (Keating, 2001; Baylor, 1996).  Postwar housing policy at all levels of the US government privileged the growth of the suburban housing market (Hays, 1995).  Cities were increasingly zoned to accommodate business (interests) at the center, with outlying (i.e., low-value) urban lands devoted to siting Federally funded urban renewal housing projects (Radford, 1996; Hays, 1995). In Atlanta, the bi-racial coalition that characterized its postwar regime carefully segregated African-Americans into the west side of the city, while whites were pushed toward the explosive growth of the northern suburbs of the city.  This coordinated, top-down reorganization of Atlanta’s spaces reinforced the decision-making processes that produced narrow and monolithic political spaces for blacks in the city.  In this “direct relation of exploitation” (Young, 1990, p. 247), cities become the dumping ground for the inferior land uses of the nearest suburbs.  Politically, cities became increasingly less autonomous as suburban populations grew – and this weakening autonomy compounded the impotence of black political spaces in postwar Atlanta. 

The productivity of black political spaces is also contextualized in the social justice literature.  Casting away the normative ideal of distributive justice, Harvey defines social justice as a “principle which will allow us to evaluate the distributions arrived at as they apply to individuals, groups, organizations, and territories, as well as to evaluate the mechanisms which are used to accomplish this distribution…a specification of a just distribution justly arrived at,” (Harvey, 1973, p. 98).  Again, we seek to understand the efficiency of existing justice in postwar Atlanta through both its outcomes and the processes that produce those outcomes.  Socially just outcomes will not only improve the current minority interest’s position in the city, but also set the precedent for future minority interests to claim their share of the city.  The determination of whether a specific action is “just” is discussed in the following section, which bridges the gap between spatial processes in the city and socially just outcomes.  While not completely devoid of a normative approach to justice, spatial justice theory does provide a critical framework for studying minority political action in Atlanta. 

This research’s critical approach to urban politics will rely on the extensive research of Clarence Stone’s analysis of Atlanta’s urban regime in the postwar era (Stone, 1986).  Stone’s regime – that is the coalition that governed Atlanta – was comprised of formal and informal relationships between groups that did not have a single unifying interest.  The disparity in interests, and the dynamics in power relations this disparity produced, creates a context-dependent alliance between interests that are dependent on one another for progress, while also constrained by this interdependency.    

 

Black people can’t talk to white people about race anymore. There’s really nothing left to say. There are libraries full of books, interviews, essays, lectures, and symposia. If people want to learn about their own country and its history, it is not incumbent on black people to talk to them about it. It is not our responsibility to educate them about it. Plus whenever white people want to talk about race, they never want to talk about themselves. There needs to be discussion among people who think of themselves as white. They need to unpack that language, that history, that social position and see what it really offers them, and what it takes away from them.

-

Steve Locke - “Why I Don’t Want to Talk About Race” (via kararikue)

If we preachin, then we practice.

Revised Proposal - New Lit Review!

Introduction

On September 29, 1934, Secretary Howard Ickes of the United States Department of the Interior spoke in front of hundreds at Atlanta’s Spelman College campus for the inauguration of the nation’s first federally-sponsored slum clearance and public housing program.  The event prompted great regalia and fanfare for the perfunctory demolition of a lone shack in the Techwood Flats neighborhood (Atlanta Daily World, 1934).  This demolition, nonetheless, signaled the start of government designed, built, and managed low-income housing in the United States, a policy that exists in a variety of forms into the present day.  However, Atlanta, the first US city to acquire land for public housing and amongst the first to create a local housing authority under the 1937 Wagner Act, also became the first US city to demolish all of its family-style public housing developments in 2010.  What could have transpired over seventy-six years within these housing developments that resulted in equal celebrations of both its construction and demolition?  Further, what events have occurred around these housing developments that resulted in the marginalization of its residents who were earlier hailed as a “more valuable and patriotic citizen”(New York Times, 1940)?  These questions fall under the larger question regarding public housing developments: in what ways were public housing developments functioning as political spaces in postwar Atlanta?

To answer this question, I propose an examination of the politics of public housing in Atlanta, with particular attention to the years 1945-1974. The politics of public housing includes not only the political action of residents living in these developments, but also the political action of those in control of the design, building, and management of public housing.  This dissertation will explore the history of political movements in Atlanta’s public housing developments in the contexts of racial construction in the South, politics in the post-War South, and social movements within Southern States’ welfare institutions.  The history of public housing in Atlanta is incomplete without discussing the “peculiar institution” of race in the New South, the effects this institution had on public policy and urban planning, and the political movements that sprang forth from the marginalizing effects of those policies.  This project will attempt to explicate how the race and welfare politics of Atlanta’s public housing policies created the identity and citizenship politics in Atlanta’s public housing developments.

I will begin this project with a discussion on the theory of public housing as a political space.  Vale laid the groundwork for this theory in his work From the Puritans to the Poorhouse: Public Housing and Public Neighbors (2000), where he posits public housing as a public space.  Borrowing from LeFebvre, public space in the urban landscape is “a terrain suitable for defense or attack, for struggle” (LeFebvre, 2003, 89).  Using this epistemology of space, LeFebvre further defines political space as “the site and object of various [political] strategies” (2003, 44).  This project will attempt to test the theory of public housing as a political space using examples of Atlanta’s public housing residential councils.  These residential councils struggled against the City’s power structure to improve and control their public spaces (public housing developments), while resisting the changes in national welfare policy against this modicum of control.  Soss makes the claim that “the welfare system is where the poor make their most pressing claims, negotiate the policy decisions that affect them most directly, and come face to face with the state’s capacity to punish or protect” (Soss, 2000, 2).  Using the aforementioned as a theoretical foundation, and the case studies that follow as empirical examples, I will attempt to begin a theory of public housing developments as a necessary political space for the poor in urban areas.

Race in the postwar South was not an absolute concept that could easily compare to the concept of race in the North, or even race in the post-Reconstruction South.  The conceptual fluidity of race in the South was permissible through the economic restructuring following the end of World War II, and the migration of African Americans prior to and during the war from rural areas in the South to urban areas across the country.  The legacy of slavery in the South created a different set of social dynamics between the races that were codified and institutionalized throughout the region (Wilson, 2007).  Following the end of slavery, this codification took the form of the sharecropping system, Jim Crow, poll taxes, white primaries, and a wealth of other policies to produce and sustain a two-tier system of citizenship between whites and blacks in the South.  The postwar period in Atlanta marks a new era in the fluidity of race with the end of the white primary in 1946.  As black registration increased, the misleadingly monolithic “black vote” is formed in urban areas across the South.  The new ability to leverage the state created a new politics of race in Atlanta.  As such, an examination of the politics of Atlanta’s public housing is incomplete without first addressing the nuances of postwar racial construction in the South and the politics of this race construction in Atlanta.  Thus, chapter 2 focuses on an examination of the politics of race in postwar Atlanta. 

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 will discuss specific cases of public housing developments acting as political spaces.  These cases focus on the University Homes (the first African-American public housing constructed in Atlanta), Perry Homes (located in the northwestern section of the City, also for African-Americans), and Grady Homes (an African-American development located to the southeast of the CBD).  I have selected all African-American developments due to the particular type of political action these developments faced and produced during their existence in the City.  Perry Homes’ residential council was a major force in the organization for increased public transit access for residents of the Northwestern quadrant of Atlanta.  Grady Homes, an early African-American development, was a bit of an outlier in the Southeastern quadrant of Atlanta, as most African-American developments were relegated to the Western portion of the City.  However, the construction of Grady Homes in one of Atlanta’s few middle-class African American neighborhoods during the 1940s created interesting tensions between the existing community and new public housing tenants.  University Homes, the first African-American development in the City, faced its own battles as the first manifestation of African-American citizenship in the City (via the formal recognition of a black housing project as a legitimate community).  The purpose of this multi-site examination is to not compare the political outcomes across public housing developments, but to better understand the different contexts and outcomes of public housing as a political space.  Public housing was accepted in Atlanta as a means to produce a new racial geography in the city, through segregated developments.  City officials located white developments primarily on the eastern portion of the City, with full community services, centers, schools, and activities (Ferguson, 2002).  Black developments were provided with significantly less amenities, creating a compounded effect on communities that were simultaneously displaced and disinvested from the 1950s to the 1970s (the primary years of public housing construction in the City).  Thus, even as black communities acquired “citizenship” via their acceptance into mainstream Atlanta policy-making, they were still in need of more schools, public services, community facilities, and other civil rights in the City.  Public housing developments, and the residential councils within these political spaces, provided a forum for working-class blacks to voice their political needs to the State in a manner that was not provided to this socioeconomic group prior to public housing construction.  Chapter 3 through 5 will provide specific examples of the political action that emerged from Atlanta’s public housing, as residents attempted to control the terms of their citizenship and their communities in the City.

Chapter 6 concludes the project with a national examination of the shifts in public housing policy that threatens its viability as a political space. As local policies and institutions turn to neoliberalist strategies to stabilize the urban political economy, affordable housing policy is also making this turn towards neoliberalism.  The turn first began with the 1974 Housing and Community Development Act, which created the Section 8 (now Housing Choice Voucher) program (Smith, 2006).  This public-private partnership provided subsidies for low-income residents to enter into the private rental housing market, wherein residents pay a portion of their income to the landlord, and the Federal government pays the balance.  Similarly, the project-based Section 8 program creates contracts with landlords in the private rental market to receive subsidies for housing low-income tenants.  The passage of the HOPE VI program in 1993 continued the turn towards neoliberalism in public housing policy, by replacing “severely distressed” public housing units with mixed-income housing, using public funds for private development and ownership (Fraser et al, 2011).  As Congress debates the Preservation, Enhancement and Transition of Rental Assistance Act (PETRA), we see the final turn towards neoliberal public housing policy.  PETRA would allow direct private investment by leveraging the remaining public housing stock, and use the equity to improve the public housing supply (Fraser et al, 2011).  This act would essentially privatize the remaining public housing stock, which I posit depoliticizes the public housing development.  That is, the increasing privatization of a formerly public asset decreases the size of the “public sphere”, and limits the avenues the public (specifically, public housing residents) has to engage and mobilize against the State.  The particular success of the “Atlanta Model” of public housing is being reproduced across the country in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Oakland, cities with high number of low-income African-Americans residing in their public housing developments.  To reduce the political space of the poor in these cities could have significant effects on the political action of the demographic, and severely alter the political landscape of urban areas in the post-industrial City.

Research Questions

To better understand the external and internal politics of Atlanta’s public housing its use as a political space, I ask the following questions: 1) In what ways were the spaces of Atlanta’s public housing developments used to create and sustain political movements that address grievances between the residents and the State?; 2)What were the politics of race and social welfare in Atlanta from 1945-1974?; 3)What were the tangible outcomes of public housing developments as political spaces?; and 4)What were the spillover effects of these political movements on the surrounding community?

Question 1) is theoretical in nature, and will attempt to position the public housing development as a political space.  Political movements in this context means specific organizing within tenant councils, or the tenant demands against the State that produce either a restructuring of the surrounding urban space (i.e., changes in the available public goods or amenities of the neighborhood) or a restructuring of the urban governance process (i.e., new modes of political expression for public housing residents, or other low-income residents of the surrounding community).  When mentioning “The State” in this project, I refer to public entities including, but not limited to: the Federal Government, the State of Georgia, the City of Atlanta, Fulton County, the Atlanta Housing Authority, the Atlanta Regional Commission (and other pseudo-government agencies), and the Planning Division of both the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta metropolitan area.  This question is addressed in Chapter 1, with the use of existing theory and empirical evidence from Atlanta to support the claims.

Question 2) is historical in nature and will discuss the politics of race and social welfare in Atlanta between 1945 and 1974.  I’ve selected this time period in order to cover a number of racial and welfare policies that create varying effects on the public housing development as a political space.  As mentioned earlier, the end of the white primary in 1946 created a new form of political power for African-Americans, providing a political space outside of the public housing development.  Similarly, the decision to desegregate Atlanta’s public housing developments in 1965 created a racial politics within social welfare policies in the City, that were exacerbated by the recent Supreme Court decision on Brown v Board of Education in 1954.  In 1974, the moratorium from the Nixon administration on public housing construction reduced public housing funding and produced greater tensions between African-American residents and the State, in the midst of a national political economic restructuring that had tangible effects on the ability of black Atlantans to politically leverage the State.  This question, primarily addressed in Chapter 2, will discuss the external politics of Atlanta’s public housing policies that create an internal politics in the individual developments.

Questions 3) and 4) are also historical in nature and are addressed using the case studies in Chapter 3 through 5.  The tangible outcomes of political organizing for the purposes of this project include, but are not limited to: new public goods and amenities (e.g., sanitation, police, fire, and education services), improved public areas (e.g., green spaces and security), and greater access to and increased legitimacy to the State via less State scrutiny or greater tenant autonomy within the public housing program.  In examining these tangible outcomes, I ask sub-questions, specifically: 1) What are the changes in tenant council demands over time?; 2)How and when are these demands addressed by the State?; and 3) How did the tenant council demands shift in response to the State’s action or inaction?  As mentioned earlier, these case studies are an attempt to document the validity of public housing developments as political spaces, through careful examination of different neighborhood contexts that produce varying political movements within the individual developments.  The differing socioeconomic characteristics of the communities surrounding the public housing developments and the similarity of socioeconomic characteristics across public housing developments will allow for comparison of the tangible outcomes of political movements across developments.  This comparison can produce interesting nuances to the theory of public housing developments as political spaces, by examining the importance and limitations of neighborhoods in the efficacy of the development as a political space. 

This project will investigate the production of positive social space in public housing developments, which are typically thought to produce (and reproduce) negative social space.  I posit that this production of positive social space is possible through the tenant and residential councils of public housing developments.  The literature on the positive productive functions of public housing is interspersed within the literature on the politics of public housing policies (at the national level), the politics of public housing developments (at the local level), the production of a racial geography in the City of Atlanta, and the productive functions of welfare institutions (including, but not limited to, public housing developments).  The following sections summarize the literature on these topics, and inform my theory on the political functions of public housing developments and residential councils.

The Political Origins of Public Housing Developments

Prior to the passage of the 1937 Housing Act, which gave jurisdictions the ability to create local housing authorities to build, design, and manage federally-funded housing, the Housing Division of the Public Works Administration (PWA) constructed the bulk of public housing in the wake of the Great Depression (Radford, 2004).  The PWA’s direct construction developments emphasized communal living and association, green space, open floor plans to maximize sunlight, and high-quality construction.  These programmatic goals, however, explicated new aspects to the housing problem with the intervention of the State.  The purpose of the PWA’s Housing Division was not only to provide decent housing for the majority of Americans, but also to supply a great number of jobs for the increasing numbers of unemployed workers.  Thus, there emerges a tension between high quality construction for better homes and high volume construction for more jobs.  Further, the heavy subsidies required to provide decent housing at low rents brought the question of “for whom will these subsidies benefit?”  This question materializes the tension between the role of the government in redistributing resources, as well as exploring age-old tensions between the “deserving poor”, and individual versus collective social programs (O’Connor, 2001).  In addition, the introduction of high-quality, low-cost housing provided by the Federal government produced new competition for private developers in the middle-and-upper income markets.  These tensions within the public provision of housing in the United States began with the PWA and continue with today’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  While the politicization of these tensions through Federal policymaking attempt to resolve the “housing problem”, at the core of these debates are significantly larger structural problems surrounding class, the redistributive aspects of the political economy, race, and the exploitation of labor.  Thus, the politics of public housing policy is actually a politics of class, race, the political economy, and labor. 

These politics are explicated at the local level in Atlanta through its role in the creation of the 1937 Wagner Act.  The political regime for Atlanta until the end of the white primary in 1946 was unequivocally white and upper class, mainly comprised of real estate and business interests.  Prior to the war, whites had dominated the north side of the city, while blacks populated the southern portion – and to the great dismay of the landed interests – the areas surrounding the fledging Central Business District.  While the “problem” of the African-American population residing near CBDs was apparent in most industrial cities, very few reacted in the manner of the Atlanta political regime.  Leading member and prominent realtor Charles Palmer began taking up the cause of slum housing as early as 1934, financing his own trips to Europe to investigate their social housing techniques to relay to the Roosevelt Administration for what would eventually become the 1937 Housing Act (Stuntz, 1934).  The promotion of slum clearance by the real estate industry in Atlanta provided a particular politics of public housing developments in the City: public housing was explicitly created to not compete with the private rental market in the City, and thus was located in less desirable areas, constructed with less durable materials, and (at least for African-American developments) provided with less-than-adequate social services and public amenities (Ferguson, 2002).        

The Atlanta story is further complicated with the intersection of race, class, and public housing.  As mentioned earlier, the divide between middle-and-upper class African-Americans and working-class and poor African-Americans was great in the City – both spatially and socially.  The two groups lived on separate sides of Atlanta (the former in the southeast of the city, with the latter in the southwest and central parts of the city), and socialized in these respective areas.  While the introduction of public housing and slum clearance in low-income African-American neighborhoods promised to displace a significant amount of the community (with little promise to re-house the entire population), the “outer wheel” of the African-American community began an extensive public relations campaign to promote public housing to the “inner wheel” of the community (Ferguson, 2002).  While the upper classes recognized the harm of lower-class displacement, this cost was mitigated with the benefits of African-American inclusion into City and Federal policies and planning – that is – the official recognition of African-American communities as part of the larger (white) Atlanta community.  This inclusion, in the perspective of the outer wheel, was necessary to achieve the social and political equality of all African-Americans in the City.       

Both middle-and-upper class blacks and upper-class white businessmen felt the introduction of public housing – and the clearance of slums that would precede this construction – provided a solution to a number of social and political issues in Atlanta.  Under the auspice of a “housing problem” (Engels, 1995), this bi-racial, ad-hoc political coalition exerted pressure on State and local officials, as well as on black slum dwellers, to promote the solution of public housing.  In framing the public discussion regarding CBD-adjacent slums, political leaders ascribed societal ills to the slums’ environmental and social conditions.  The spread of tuberculosis, the lack of industry in the City, the decrease in tax revenue – all of these explicitly political-economic issues were absorbed into the public housing debate.  The politics of producing public housing in Atlanta is a politics that positions housing as the solution to poverty, discrimination, and redistribution.    

Across the nation, the passage of the 1937 Housing Act failed to immediately produce results at the local level, with housing authorities meeting significant resistance from local branches of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB).  In Atlanta, eight developments were built between 1936 and 1942 (Atlanta, 1983).  The entry of the United States into World War II, however, provided an opportunity to kick-start the construction of public housing, as defense workers demanded viable living spaces adjacent to new employment opportunities.  Spurred largely by labor union mobilization, these defense public housing developments were economically mixed spaces with strong tenant councils that actively worked with housing management to produce more livable environments (Parson, 2005).  In a sense, these developments mimicked those constructed by the PWA, which sought to address affordable housing solutions through an empowered residential base.  However, the defense housing was not able to fully address the racial problem, with white neighborhoods resisting the integration of black defense workers into white developments.  The repeated failures to integrate public housing developments (to address structural issues of American racism through material issues of housing shortages) in the 1940s created a major internal political issue within housing developments that were constructed for and remain heavily dominated by African-American residents. 

The end of the war marked a dramatic shift in the demographics of urban areas, leading to a destabilized housing market where demand greatly exceeded supply.  The return of soldiers from WWII coincided with the Great Migration of six million African-American sharecroppers from the rural South to the more populated cities throughout the United States.  Housing construction had slowed significantly during the war due to the diminishing supply of labor, and cities were forced to revisit the housing problem and all its tensions.  The solution of the 1949 Housing Act solidified the two-tier housing policy: it increased power and funding for the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to issue low-interest, guaranteed home mortgages (generally in areas approved for mortgage financing with low minority populations and restrictive covenants) under Title II, while creating 800,000 public housing units (Title III).  Title III separated slum clearance and the equivalent elimination provision of public housing construction, allowing for local authorities to construct public housing in outlying areas with little consideration for community integration.  Slum clearance continued with Title I of the Housing Act, yet the removal of housing for many (minority) residents frequently resulted in less housing as the land was used for public works (e.g., convention centers) and other “economic development” projects. 

The literature suggests the weakening popular support for public housing construction, as the inclusion of Title III was only possible with the inclusion of Title I – that which officially “divorced public housing construction from slum clearance” (Radford, 2006).  Over the next two decades, the 1949 Housing Act produced effects later known as the “urban crisis” (Sugrue, 1996) – FHA mortgages provided the expansion of the housing supply into the land-cheap suburbs (depopulation) and slum clearance for inefficient public works projects contributed to urban disinvestment.  The processes of deindustrialization in urban areas began prior to WWII, and were immediately heightened as high-skill and working class residents moved into the suburbs.  What remained in the cities were poor, often minority residents, with diminishing employment opportunities and severely underfunded public services.  When concentrated in public housing, this group became a political interest group, as the space of the public housing development provided a tangible link between the failure of the welfare state’s redistributive policies to improve low-income and African-American citizens’ standard of living and the impoverished state of African-American communities in urban areas relative to white communities in suburban areas (Massey and Denton, 1993).  Williams ‘states, “Public housing created a bridge between the private sphere of daily living and the political sphere of government.  It linked individual rights with social rights and…familial duties with community participation and political activism” (Williams, 2004, 7).  Thus, the problems of decreasing employment opportunities, underfunded public services, and substandard housing were embodied in the construction of public housing developments.  The failure of the progressive (liberal) politics of public housing led to the emergence of a grassroots (radical) politics in public housing.    

Atlanta: The City Too Segregated to Hate

Quite often, Atlanta is considered an exception to the norm of postwar South race-relations: instead of fiery images of Southern white resistance to African-American claims to citizenship (the integration of public spaces, private establishments, and public schools), the images of Atlanta during the postwar period are ones of acceptance and peaceful integration.  The Atlanta postwar coalition of upper-class whites and (primarily) middle- and upper class African-Americans created an early “Rainbow Coalition” of progressive interests that equated racial integration with economic success (Rutheiser, 1996; Kruse, 2005; Keating, 2001).  However, the lack of confrontation between the growing black population and the existing white population within the city limits stemmed more from the careful planning of the interracial coalition, and less from the lack of racial prejudice and native white Atlantan anger (Kruse, 2005). While this careful planning did little to erase or ameliorate the “hidden violence” of postwar Atlanta (Hirsch, 1998; Kruse, 2005), it did maintain the image of Atlanta as a city capable of handling the social transformation of implementing civil rights legislation.  As such, the coalition succeeded in its goal of positioning Atlanta as  “the City too busy to hate;” distancing itself from the tumultuous racial conflicts characteristic of Southern postwar cities while creating a racial geography in the city that belied the predominant images of interracial harmony.  Using Omi and Winant’s critical race theory, I position this construction of a racial geography in the context of structural changes in the political economy.  That is, examining how the State carefully utilizes the construct of race in its stabilization of political-economic crises. The racial geography of postwar Atlanta’s public spaces, and the policies that prompted this geography, are discussed in this section.

Public Spaces and Park’s Ecological Model

 

Traditional notions and theories of public space in the city revolve around ideas of multiple interests interacting as a process of socialization in the city.  Public space, within the planning field, is viewed as a microcosm of the city.  In the context of Park’s race-relations model and ecological theory of urbanization, public space is a space for all four stages of Park’s model (contact-conflict-accommodation-assimilation).  In the “Community Modernism” stage of urban redevelopment (1930s-1949), public spaces were created as a means for accommodating ethnic immigrants, stimulating interaction in an attempt to plan a city culture (Parson, 2005).  However, following the perceived failure of Reconstruction in the South, public spaces were constructed specifically for whites and blacks.  In the 1940s, when blacks were nearly 30 percent of Atlanta’s population, there were only three parks designated for blacks and over a hundred designated for whites (Kruse, 2005).  Similarly, public transit utilized Jim Crow to separate the races, with Whites allowed to enter from the front and sit, while Blacks were relegated to the back of the bus.  Even on the fairly democratic space of public sidewalks, blacks were forced to step off the sidewalk to let whites pass, and risked severe penalty by the State if they entered White Public Space.  The transformation of public space following Urban Renewal challenged the inclusive nature of public space – depoliticizing it through isolation and racial/economic segregation.          

 

The precursor to the Urban Renewal Program of the 1954 Housing Act, Title I of the 1949 Housing Act (the Urban Redevelopment Program) was the first official policy separating slum clearance from residential replacement (Radford, 2004).  The creation of public space in the 1950s through Federal policy shows the influence of racial and economic tension in declining urban centers.  African-Americans, the target of this particular variety of slum clearance, were “warehoused” or “contained” (Hirsch, 1998; Sugrue, 1996; Manning Thomas, 1997) in high-rise public housing developments on isolated tracts of land with “superblocks” of open, concrete space – a visible reminder of unfunded green spaces, parks, and recreational spaces for African-American residents (Hirsch, 1998).  The slums, their former home – where few public housing developments were built given the liberties of the slum clearance clause of Title I via its separation from public housing construction  (Title III) – were demolished and used to create a safe (non-Black) and consumptive space for cities’ central business districts (CBDs).  The emphasis on urban redevelopment in the first housing act is the last attempt to keep cities as the production sites of the national economy.  However, the overwhelming success of the suburbanization process (via the strengthened FHA guaranteeing home mortgages) created different outcomes for Blacks and Whites (Sugrue, 1996).  These separate, and unequal, processes of creation and outcomes of space produced the racialization of public space in American cities.  “Raced” space occurs when the normative definition of public space uses is exclusive to white, middle-class residents (Slocum, et al, 2011).  The differences in spaces were maintained through systemic and institutionalized residential segregation (Massey and Denton, 1993).  This difference in space, specifically, Atlanta’s production and maintenance of discriminatory spaces (spaces specifically for discrimination) produces a distinct, political space – one that invokes a LeFebvrian “Right to the City” position for the space’s inhabitants (LeFebvre, 1991).  The creation, and effects, of this discriminatory, yet political space, is discussed in the next section.               

 

The visible “otherness” of African-Americans was a threat to both the economic stability and ideological concepts of “whiteness” and “citizenship” for the low wage white Atlantan.  Sharing public space (particularly swimming pools, parks, and schools) with the African-Americans challenged working class whites’ notions of the “legacy of mastery” paradigm, which suggests race “’came to correspond to the distinction between free wage labor and unfree semi-feudal labor, and between those who had access to political power and those who did not’” (Ignatiev, as quoted by Wilder, 2001, 109).  African-Americans’ use of public space, a place of inclusive interaction formed through political power struggles, sparked a number of communal riots (Hirsch, 1998) in early twentieth century cities.  Working class whites, typically the aggressor in these riots (Hirsch, 1998) were greatly threatened by the perceived increase of political and economic liberties for “unfree, semi-feudal” (Wilder, 2001, 109) African-Americans.  The perceived “equality” of African-Americans within the urban political economy (in spite of the lower wages of African Americans, limited political freedoms and substandard housing) threatened the “white American” identity of working-class whites.  Although many of the communal riots were centered on the protection of residential areas, public spaces, and neighborhood amenities, what they really explicated were the underlying fears of working class whites losing their claims on American citizenship. 

 

A manifestation of the “contact-conflict” stages occurred during the widespread race riots in the early 1940s.  These riots, communal in nature, were the result of housing and labor market pressures from returning soldiers and migrating African-Americans (Hirsch, 1998).  Housing shortages occurred due to the depleted labor supply during the war.  The Great Depression preceding the war tightened residential financing to repair aging housing stock.  Thus, not only were low housing starts contributing to an undersupplied housing market, but also the existing housing supply was substandard and further tightened the housing market.  These issues were aggregated in African-American communities (Sugrue, 1996).  Residential covenants, homeownership and renter discrimination, and violence against new Black residents were all strategies used to contain Blacks to outlying, older areas of cities.  Racial tensions in cities peaked immediately following the war, as battles over neighborhoods, public amenities, and public space spilled into multi-day riots (Hirsch, 1998 and Sugrue, 1996). 

Race and the Capitalist City

To understand the ontology of race is to understand the evolution of imperialism and capital accumulation in the modern world (Wilson, 2007; Omi and Winant, 1994).  The domination and extraction of resources from colonized nations by imperial nations produced a power dynamic that required the marginalization of colonized interests through the normative framework of imperial interests (Wallerstein, 1984).  This power dynamic was sustained and enforced through the imperial State apparatus (Foucault, 1991), and marginalized interests were frequently excluded from engaging with or shaping this apparatus.  Slavery, Jim Crow, Black Codes, and Ghettos are all modern examples of the subversion and marginalization of racial minority interests within the imperial capitalist-democratic State (Wilson, 2007).  In sustaining this State apparatus, the United States met substantial challenges once African-Americans were emancipated from slavery and afforded equal status of whites.  Adding to the challenges of the State was the simultaneous industrialization of American cities, which was producing its own tensions within the State to sustain the circulation of capital.  Thus, tracing the ontology of race in America is tracing the responses of the State to maintain the power relations between the colonized and the imperial.  What many perceive to be racism, and urban inequality, actually “evolved in defense of European-American power as one of its manifestations –African enslavement – took shape in a complex and contested social terrain” (Wilder, 2000, 20).  

Omi and Winant expand on this socio-political-economic construction of race in their theory of racial formation of the racist-capitalist state (Omi and Winant, 1994).  Within this framework, race is an evolving concept that allows for the capitalist State to sustain itself through the continual exploitation of socially-constructed raced labor.  As an example, during American slavery, whites invoked a Christian versus Savage dichotomy to justify their domination over African-Americans.  Per Weber, the Protestant work ethic that contributes to the Capitalist State uses work as a mechanism to get closer to God (Weber, 1978).  The marginalizing of African-Americans into menial labor positions was necessary to civilize them (under the ideology of biological superiority), and white prejudices and institutional discrimination against blacks fomented around this historically specific moment in the racist-capitalist state.  The dynamics of individual prejudice and discrimination and the systemic discrimination of African Americans are known as small and large racial projects, respectively (Omi and Winant, 1994).  The rolling out of these small and large racial projects are necessary to sustain the racist-capitalist State which is dependent on marginalized Black labor to sustain itself.  Under this theory, the racial inequalities of urbanization are a strategic necessity in the sustenance of the urbanization of capital, and the deployment of this strategy occurs at both the individual and the collective level (Omi and Winant, 1994).  Residential segregation, the exclusion of African American-occupations from New Deal relief and Social Security in the 1930s, “Separate but Equal” Jim Crow facilities, and racial disparities in public goods and services are all examples of the rolling out of large and small racial projects to sustain the racist-capitalist State. 

Examining the modern, inner-city “ghetto” is productive to understanding how these racial projects – in existence since American slavery – are sustained and how they affect racial minorities.  Wilson categorizes modern ghettos into three phases: ghetto (1880-1968, comprised of the menial industrial worker), hyperghetto and prison (1968-1990, comprised of marginal, service-oriented worker), and the glocal ghetto (1990-, comprised of the underground, service-oriented worker) (Wilson, 2007).  In this project, I extend this definition of the ghetto to include public housing developments in Atlanta – each meet the criteria of ghettos (contained, majority African-American, high poverty and unemployment rates), with the exception of their unique relationship with the State as landlord.

The above discussion of ghettos is relevant to understanding the forms and grievances of the African-American resistance to the inequalities of urbanization, and how that translates to the struggles of tenant councils in public housing developments.  Castells’ states:

At the same time, the inner cities’ revolts sang again an old chant of the urban condition: the transformation of the space of exclusion into the space of freedom.  The ghetto territory became a significant space for the black community as the material basis of social organization, cultural identity, and political power (Castells, 1983, 67).

That ghettos were “both spaces of exclusion…[and]…spaces of freedom” (Castells, 1983, 67) suggests a dialectical relationship of urbanization and race: urbanization could not exist without marginalizing minority interests (politically, economically, socially, and spatially) and minority interests cannot exist without a normative framework exploiting the accumulation and circulation of capital in the city.   The necessity of a marginalized race for the production of capitalist urbanization was explicated in the liberal/radical divide of the 1960s urban social movements.  Radical black movements (e.g., The Black Panthers) understood racism as a necessity in the political economy, and sought to make claims on the State through the establishment of 10 Points that would both liberate African-Americans from the effects of the racist-capitalist state and also reshape the distributive processes of the State to account for past inequities (Marable, 1988).  Liberal civil rights advocates, however, focused on gaining greater political access and legitimacy within the existing State apparatus, from where they could advance the interests of the African-American community to promote individual opportunity (Fusfeld and Bates, 1987; Countryman, 2007).  The division within the black urban social movement (which would eventually lead to its stagnation and depoliticization) explicates divisions in the ontology of race.  These divisions in Atlanta fall largely along class lines – middle-and-upper class blacks aligning with the liberal civil rights movements, with lower class blacks aligning with the radical movement - with the exception of religious affiliation.      

The grievances of the liberal civil rights movement embodied a lack of opportunity for African-Americans, and the passive role of the State in mitigating the effects of capitalism on the African-American community.  The calls for technocratic solutions (Great Society Programs) and equal opportunity (Equal Opportunity Act of 1964) were rooted in the black middle class/white liberal ideology of the biological and class ontology of race.  While the liberal movement did not think Blacks were inferior per se, they did believe that racism and discrimination were the result of inferior values and misinformation regarding diversity (Countryman, 2007).  This approach to race as an external object of the capitalist State suggests their perspectives on race had biological and functionalist influences.

The grievances of the radical civil rights movement – the Black Power Movement – revolved around the lack of community control, citizen participation, and racial self-determination (Countryman, 2007).  These grievances focus not so much on the marginalizing effects of urbanization on racial minorities, but rather on the processes that sustain this marginalization.  The BPM viewed race as a necessity in the processes of urbanization and, as such, wanted only more control of the State mechanisms that controlled this process.  The case studies in this research will document examples of both radical and liberal politics in and around public housing.

The Plan for Improvement: Atlanta’s New Racial Geography

In the midst of this burgeoning black political divide, declining tax base, and decreasing (and depoliticized) white population, Atlanta’s Mayor William Hartsfield proposed a Plan for Improvement that would annex an additional 81 square miles into the City limits.  Hartsfield’s close ties to the white upper class business community in the north of the City (e.g., the Buckhead neighborhood), coupled with the end of the white primary in 1946, warranted adjustments to the political geography of the City.  At the time of the plan’s enactment, Atlanta’s population was 41% African-American.  Following the annexation, this proportion decreased to 31%.  In exchange for a weakened political base, African-Americans accepted the increase in available residential land, with the annexation including several unincorporated African-American communities in West Fulton County (Baylor, 1996).

The plan coalesced with other changes in Atlanta’s geography, primarily funded through Federal subsidies, to cement the existing racial divide in the City.  A decade after the plan was implemented, federal highway funding supported construction of Interstate-20, an east-west highway that bisects the City just South of the CBD.  Almost simultaneously, urban renewal projects that focused exclusively on economic development projects in the postwar years (e.g., commercial real estate and civic centers), at the detriment of sub-standard housing created massive displacements of black communities near the Central Business District.  The ability to manipulate both the topological and human geography of a City allowed for Atlanta’s political regime to create spaces of purpose throughout the postwar City.  For the displaced and disenfranchised populations, replacement housing was located in discriminatory and exclusionary spaces in the form of postwar public housing developments.  These spaces, and the political franchise they afford, are discussed in the next section. 

Spaces of Exclusion and Spaces of Freedom: Public Housing as Political Space

As described earlier, public housing developments were deployed as tools of the State; utilized as an illusory solution to an artificial housing problem, a problem which masked the true underlying issues of: tensions in capitalism, racial dynamics in the postindustrial city, and fiscal redistribution in the suburbanizing metropolis.  This next section will discuss how public housing developments, through its tenant councils, “visualize” these fundamental issues, through a politics in public housing.  This politics in public housing, in both its articulation of and organization around previously masked issues, suggests the production of both a Sojian positive social space, and a LeFebvrian political space, under the guise of a Castellian urban social movement.  The transformation of space from discriminatory to political (or from one of exclusion to one of freedom) requires a specific set of conditions which I posit are unique to public housing developments.  Specifically, the actions of the tenant council and the subsequent effects on the surrounding space of the public housing developments suggests these developments play a critical role in the production of space in the City.    

The history of tenant organizing is rooted in the processes of urbanization in the industrial city (Engels, 1995).  The need for tenants to organize against private landlords (and to an extent, real estate developers, banking interests, and the local State) emerges during the inherent crisis tendencies of the capitalist economy (Marcuse, 1971).  The incoherency of US housing policy - with its contradictions, its privileging of homeownership as the ideal for housing tenure, and failure to address the housing question (Engels, 1995) of providing affordable, safe housing choices for the working class - provides radical spaces of resilience for low-income and working class residents (Dreier, 1982).  While other housing interests (real estate, banking, development, construction, private homeowners) had inserted themselves into the “growth machine” of US industrial cities (Logan and Molotch, 1987), private tenant organizing was episodic, appearing in moments where the crisis of the State was at its peak (Marcuse, 1971). 

As deindustrialization, depopulation, and disinvestment solidified the “crisis” of urban centers in the 1960s, urban politics took on a new form as the battle for scarce urban capital demanded political movements to allocate resources.   Manuel Castells states “[u]rban issues are thus at the forefront of contemporary political conflicts, and politics have become the core of the urban process” (Castells, 1983, xv).  The “political conflicts” or “social movements” appear to coalesce around three themes: “[d]emand focused on collective consumption, that is, goods and services directly or indirectly provided by the state…[d]efense of cultural identity associated with and organized around a specific territory…[and] [p]olitical mobilization in relationship to the state, particularly emphasizing the role of the local government” (Castells, 1983, xviii).  One can draw a parallel between what constitutes an urban political conflict, and how public housing grievances with the State become politicized.  The existence of the public housing development (a good directly provided by the State) constitutes an issue worth politicizing, and grievances towards the State as landlord constitute political issues related to the provision of this good.  Grievances pushed by tenant councils (particularly in the 1960s) reflected political mobilization against the State, in particular against the role of the local government.  During the 1960s, tenant and residential councils in public housing began organizing against housing management (the local housing authority) in regards to declining maintenance and increasing rents.  Public housing tenant councils are unique tenant movements as a result of their positioning in the political economy of housing.  Marcuse writes:

 

While technically the 2,800,000 tenants of public housing projects throughout the country pay their rents to more than 1,900 local autonomous housing authorities, their projects are built with federal funds, controlled by federal regulations, subsidized under federal formulas, and administered subject to federal standards.  The resources, the political sensitivity, the number of tenants, the visibility were all there.  (Marcuse, 1971, 51)

 

These parallels between what defines an urban social movement and the structural relations of public housing developments create an opportunity to position the public housing development as an urban social movement.

In exploring the public housing development in contrast to Castells’ concept of an urban social movement, newer interpretations of the movement allow for greater flexibility in its definition and application.  Lake’s description of social movements as “particular modalities of action whose characteristics produce spaces that we know as urban…[s]uch dependence on the urban on constitutive action affirms that all action is ephemeral and partial, perpetually requiring re-enactment and repetition but also, thereby, ceaselessly providing openings and opportunities for insurgency and transgression” (Lake, 2006, 196).  The first half of this statement indicates the social movement (public housing development) is a necessity in the production of urban space.  The second half of this statement suggests that while neither the actions of the movement, nor the movement itself are permanent, the opportunities for insurgency and transgression emerge from the actions of this movement: these space producing actions are politically legitimate as they produce additional opportunities for mobilization.  My research hopes to explore empirical analysis that verifies the necessity of the public housing development as a producer of urban space via its role as a social movement (via tenant council-led political mobilization against the local government), while examining the political legitimacy of the development in producing opportunities for insurgency and transgression (via the examination of positive spillover effects in communities adjacent to public housing developments).

Soja’s analysis of spatial justice in the city utilizes a LeFebvrian perspective of the Right to the City – that is, those in the greatest need in the City (as evidenced by their current control over their residential and social space) must take control of the production of their own space in the City.  Specifically, taking control of the democratic process from those who had previously used the process against the discriminated group (Soja, 2010).  Public housing developments, while discriminately positioned, had tenant councils as a platform to reclaim the production of their own space.  In the process of producing their residential space – through a variety of tenant council demands to improve developments and surrounding communities – councils were also producing a new type of citizenship for public housing residents; that is, producing positive social space. 

In postwar Atlanta, the efficacy of public housing developments and their tenant councils as political spaces and producers of urban space, respectively, are exemplified in the cases of Perry Homes and Grady Homes (see Chapters 4 and 5).  Per the previous section, African American-designated public housing developments were relegated to the less desirable areas of the City.  These communities were underserved by public services (transit, hospitals, police, fire, sanitation, and schools) and had significantly fewer public amenities (in terms of parks, civic and social centers, and other public spaces).  These problems were compounded given the unequal distribution of services and amenities between whites and blacks in Atlanta, and the severe overcrowding in African-American neighborhoods expedited the disinvestment of existing public goods.  In spite of the discriminatory and excluding characteristics of these spaces, Perry Homes successfully organized in the 1970s around the extension of the Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transit Authority (MARTA) into Northwest Atlanta.  Similarly, Grady Homes was pivotal in keeping the public teaching hospital, Grady Hospital, from privatization.  These cases illuminate a number of issues: working-class and low-income African-Americans were relegated to discriminatory and exclusionary spaces in postwar Atlanta – as evidenced by the substandard housing, public goods and services in their communities; tenant councils in public housing developments were in a unique position within this discriminatory space to produce positive social space through its collective demands on the State as landlord; and, this unique position allowed tenant councils to use public housing developments as political space – actively transforming urban space to reflect a more fair and just City. 

Revised Intro and Questions - Proposal

Introduction

On September 29, 1934, Secretary Howard Ickes of the United States Department of the Interior spoke in front of hundreds at Atlanta’s Spelman College campus for the inauguration of the nation’s first federally-sponsored slum clearance and public housing program.  The event prompted great regalia and fanfare for the perfunctory demolition of a lone shack in the Techwood Flats neighborhood (Atlanta Daily World, 1934).  This demolition, nonetheless, signaled the start of government designed, built, and managed low-income housing in the United States, a policy that exists in a variety of forms into the present day.  However, Atlanta, the first US city to acquire land for public housing and amongst the first to create a local housing authority under the 1937 Wagner Act, also became the first US city to demolish all of its family-style public housing developments in 2010.  What could have transpired over seventy-six years within these housing developments that resulted in equal celebrations of both its construction and demolition?  Further, what events have transpired around these housing developments that resulted in the marginalization of its residents who were earlier hailed as a “more valuable and patriotic citizen”(New York Times, 1940)?  These questions fall under a larger set of concerns I have about the ways in which public housing developments function as a political space in the City, and how these political spaces of public housing developments are produced, both by residents, and the State. 

To answer both of these questions, I propose an examination of the politics of public housing in Atlanta, with particular attention to the years 1945-1974. The politics of public housing includes not only the political action of residents living in these developments, but also the political action of those in control of the design, building, and management of public housing.  This dissertation will explore the history of political movements in Atlanta’s public housing developments in the contexts of racial construction in the South, politics in the post-War South, and social movements within Southern States’ welfare institutions.  The history of public housing in Atlanta is incomplete without discussing the “peculiar institution” of race in the New South, the effects this institution had on public policy and urban planning, and the political movements that sprang forth from the marginalizing effects of those policies.  This project will attempt to explicate how the race and welfare politics of Atlanta’s public housing policies created the identity and citizenship politics in Atlanta’s public housing developments.

Race in the postwar South was not an absolute concept that could easily compare to the concept of race in the North, or even race in the post-Reconstruction South.  The conceptual fluidity of race in the South was permissible through the economic restructuring following the end of World War II, and the migration of African Americans prior to and during the war from rural areas in the South to urban areas across the country.  The legacy of slavery in the South created a different set of social dynamics between the races that were codified and institutionalized throughout the region (Wilson, 2007).  Following the end of slavery, this codification took the form of the sharecropping system, Jim Crow, poll taxes, white primaries, and a wealth of other policies to produce and sustain a two-tier system of citizenship between whites and blacks in the South.  The postwar period in Atlanta marks a new era in the fluidity of race with the end of the white primary in 1946.  As black registration increased, the misleadingly monolithic “black vote” is formed in urban areas across the South.  The new ability to leverage the state created a new politics of race in Atlanta.  As such, an examination of the politics of Atlanta’s public housing is incomplete without first addressing the nuances of postwar racial construction in the South and the politics of this race construction in Atlanta.  Thus, this project will begin with an examination of the politics of race in postwar Atlanta (see Chapter 1). 

Chapter 2 discusses a theory of public housing as a political space.  Vale laid the groundwork for this theory in his work From the Puritans to the Poorhouse: Public Housing and Public Neighbors (2000), where he posits public housing as a public space.  Borrowing from LeFebvre, public space in the urban landscape is “a terrain suitable for defense or attack, for struggle” (LeFebvre, 2003, 89).  Using this epistemology of space, LeFebvre further defines political space as “the site and object of various [political] strategies” (2003, 44).  This project will attempt to test the theory of public housing as a political space using examples of Atlanta’s public housing residential councils.  These residential councils struggled against the City’s power structure to improve and control their public spaces (public housing developments), while resisting the changes in national welfare policy against this modicum of control.  Soss makes the claim that “the welfare system is where the poor make their most pressing claims, negotiate the policy decisions that affect them most directly, and come face to face with the state’s capacity to punish or protect” (Soss, 2000, 2).  Using the aforementioned as a theoretical foundation, and the case studies that follow as empirical examples, I will attempt to begin a theory of public housing developments as a necessary political space for the poor in urban areas.

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 will discuss specific cases of public housing developments acting as political spaces.  These cases focus on the University Homes (the first African-American public housing constructed in Atlanta), Perry Homes (located in the northwestern section of the City, also for African-Americans), and Grady Homes (an African-American development located to the southeast of the CBD).  I have selected all African-American developments due to the particular type of political action these developments faced and produced during their existence in the City.  Perry Homes’ residential council was a major force in the organization for increased public transit access for residents of the Northwestern quadrant of Atlanta.  Grady Homes, an early African-American development, was a bit of an outlier in the Southeastern quadrant of Atlanta, as most African-American developments were relegated to the Western portion of the City.  However, the construction of Grady Homes in one of Atlanta’s few middle-class African American neighborhoods during the 1940s created interesting tensions between the existing community and new public housing tenants.  University Homes, the first African-American development in the City, faced its own battles as the first manifestation of African-American citizenship in the City (via the formal recognition of a black housing project as a legitimate community).  The purpose of this multi-site examination is to not compare the political outcomes across public housing developments, but to better understand the different contexts and outcomes of public housing as a political space.  Public housing was accepted in Atlanta as a means to produce a new racial geography in the city, through segregated developments.  White developments were located primarily on the eastern portion of the City, with full community services, centers, schools, and activities (Ferguson, 2002).  Black developments were provided with significantly less amenities, creating a compounded effect on communities that were simultaneously displaced and disinvested from the 1950s to the 1970s (the primary years of public housing construction in the City).  Thus, even as black communities acquired “citizenship” via their acceptance into mainstream Atlanta policy-making, they were still in need of more schools, public services, community facilities, and other civil rights in the City.  Public housing developments, and the residential councils within these political spaces, provided a forum for working-class blacks to voice their political needs to the State in a manner that was not provided to this socioeconomic group prior to public housing construction.  Chapter 3 through 5 will provide specific examples of the political action that emerged from Atlanta’s public housing, as residents attempted to control the terms of their citizenship and their communities in the City.

Chapter 6 concludes the project with a national examination of the shifts in public housing policy that threatens its viability as a political space. As local policies and institutions turn to neoliberalist strategies to stabilize the urban political economy, affordable housing policy is also making this turn towards neoliberalism.  The turn first began with the 1974 Housing and Community Development Act, which created the Section 8 (now Housing Choice Voucher) program (Smith, 2006).  This public-private partnership provided subsidies for low-income residents to enter into the private rental housing market, wherein residents pay a portion of their income to the landlord, and the Federal government pays the balance.  Similarly, the project-based Section 8 program creates contracts with landlords in the private rental market to receive subsidies for housing low-income tenants.  The passage of the HOPE VI program in 1993 continued the turn towards neoliberalism in public housing policy, by replacing “severely distressed” public housing units with mixed-income housing, using public funds for private development and ownership (Fraser et al, 2011).  As Congress debates the Preservation, Enhancement and Transition of Rental Assistance Act (PETRA), we see the final turn towards neoliberal public housing policy.  PETRA would allow direct private investment by leveraging the remaining public housing stock, and use the equity to improve the public housing supply (Fraser et al, 2011).  This act would essentially privatize the remaining public housing stock, which I posit depoliticizes the public housing development.  That is, the increasing privatization of a formerly public asset decreases the size of the “public sphere”, and limits the avenues the public (specifically, public housing residents) has to engage and mobilize against the State.  The particular success of the “Atlanta Model” of public housing is being reproduced across the country in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Oakland, cities with high number of low-income African-Americans residing in their public housing developments.  To reduce the political space of the poor in these cities could have significant effects on the political action of the demographic, and severely alter the political landscape of urban areas in the post-industrial City.

Research Questions

To better understand the external and internal politics of Atlanta’s public housing its use as a political space, I ask the following questions: 1) What are the politics of race and social welfare in Atlanta from 1945-1974?; 2)In what ways are the spaces of Atlanta’s public housing developments used to create and sustain political movements that address grievances between the residents and the State?; 3)What are the tangible outcomes of public housing developments as political spaces?; 4)What are the spillover effects of these political movements on the surrounding community?; 5)How has the demolition of Atlanta’s family-style public housing developments affected the political space of the public housing development?; and  6)How has the demolition of Atlanta’s family-style public housing developments affected the political space of the communities surrounding the development?

Question 1) is historical in nature and will discuss the politics of race and social welfare in Atlanta between 1945 and 1974.  I’ve selected this time period in order to cover a number of racial and welfare policies that create varying effects on the public housing development as a political space.  As mentioned earlier, the end of the white primary in 1946 created a new form of political power for African-Americans, providing a political space outside of the public housing development.  Similarly, the decision to desegregate Atlanta’s public housing developments in 1965 created a racial politics within social welfare policies in the City, that were exacerbated by the recent Supreme Court decision on Brown v Board of Education in 1954.  In 1974, the moratorium from the Nixon administration on public housing construction reduced public housing funding and produced greater tensions between African-American residents and the State, in the midst of a national political economic restructuring that had tangible effects on the ability of black Atlantans to politically leverage the State.  This question, primarily addressed in Chapter 1, will address the external politics of Atlanta’s public housing policies that create an internal politics in the individual developments.

Question 2) is theoretical in nature, and will attempt to position the public housing development as a political space.  Political movements in this context means specific organizing within tenant councils, or the tenant demands against the State that produce either a restructuring of the surrounding urban space (i.e., changes in the available public goods or amenities of the neighborhood) or a restructuring of the urban governance process (i.e., new modes of political expression for public housing residents, or other low-income residents of the surrounding community).  When mentioning “The State” in this project, I refer to public entities including, but not limited to: the Federal Government, the State of Georgia, the City of Atlanta, Fulton County, the Atlanta Housing Authority, the Atlanta Regional Commission (and other pseudo-government agencies), and the Planning Division of the City of Atlanta.  This question is addressed in Chapter 2, with the use of existing theory and empirical evidence from Atlanta to support the claims.

Questions 3) and 4) are also historical in nature and are addressed using the case studies in Chapter 3 through 5.  The tangible outcomes of political organizing for the purposes of this project include, but are not limited to: new public goods and amenities (e.g., sanitation, police, fire, and education services), improved public areas (e.g., green spaces and security), and greater access to and increased legitimacy to the State via less State scrutiny or greater tenant autonomy within the public housing program.  In examining these tangible outcomes, I ask sub-questions, specifically: 1) What are the changes in tenant council demands over time?; and 2)How and when are these demands addressed by the State?  As mentioned earlier, these case studies are an attempt to document the validity of public housing developments as political spaces, through careful examination of different neighborhood contexts that produce varying political movements within the individual developments.  The differing socioeconomic characteristics of the communities surrounding the public housing developments and the similarity of socioeconomic characteristics across public housing developments will allow for comparison of the tangible outcomes of political movements across developments.  This comparison can produce interesting nuances to the theory of public housing developments as political spaces, by examining the importance of neighborhoods in the efficacy of the development as a political space. 

Questions 5) and 6) examine the current status of public housing developments as political spaces in the absence of the physical buildings.  I track the new forms of tenant councils in the aftermath of the demolition of all family-style public housing in Atlanta.  Further, I examine if former tenant council leaders are still organizing amidst the restructuring of the urban space (demolition of public housing developments and construction of mixed-income communities) and the spatial relocation of former public housing residents.  In addressing these questions of the current state of public housing developments as political spaces, I ask these sub-questions: 1)How do tenant councils/organizers exist in the present-day (without physical spaces of public housing)?; 2)How are former public housing residents organizing under the new form of public housing in Atlanta (mixed-income communities, scattered site housing)?; 3) Where are former public housing residents located, and what are the public services (schools, sanitation, police, fire) compared to their former neighborhoods?; and 4) How are low-income residents of the surrounding community organizing and engaging with the State in the absence of public housing developments?  These questions, and a broader examination of the effect of the changes of public housing policy on viability of the development as a political space, are addressed in Chapter 6.

Revised Introduction - Proposal

Working Title: The Politics of Atlanta’s Public Housing

Introduction

On September 29, 1934, Secretary Howard Ickes of the United States Department of the Interior spoke in front of hundreds at Atlanta’s Spelman College campus for the inauguration of the nation’s first federally-sponsored slum clearance and public housing program.  The event prompted great regalia and fanfare for the perfunctory demolition of a lone shack in the Techwood Flats neighborhood (ADW, 1934).  This demolition, nonetheless, signaled the start of government designed, built, and managed low-income housing in the United States, a policy that exists in a variety of forms into the present day.  However, Atlanta, the first US city to acquire land for public housing and amongst the first to create a local housing authority under the 1937 Wagner Act, also became the first US city to demolish all of its family-style public housing developments in 2010.  What could have transpired over seventy-six years within these housing developments that resulted in equal celebrations of both its construction and demolition?  Further, what events have transpired around these housing developments that resulted in the marginalization of its residents who were earlier hailed as a “more valuable and patriotic citizen”(New York Times, 1940)?     

To answer both of these questions, I propose an examination of the politics of public housing in Atlanta.  The politics of public housing includes not only the political action of residents living in these developments, but also the political action of those in control of the design, building, and management of public housing.  This dissertation will explore the history of political movements in Atlanta’s public housing developments in the contexts of racial construction in the South, politics in the post-Reconstruction South, and social movements within Southern States’ welfare institutions.  The history of public housing in Atlanta is incomplete without discussing the peculiar institution of race in the New South, the effects this institution had on public policy and urban planning, and the political movements that sprang forth from the marginalizing effects of those policies.  This project will attempt to explicate how the race and welfare politics of Atlanta’s public housing policies created the identity and citizenship politics in Atlanta’s public housing developments.

The history of political movements in Atlanta’s public housing does not begin at the opening of the Techwood and University Homes developments in 1936.  For at least half a century prior to these openings, African-American leaders underwent extensive battle in Atlanta to receive legitimate (or equal) citizenship, vis-à-vis the White-majority government’s recognition of their community needs and integration of these needs into citywide public services.   Further, battles occurred within the African-American community regarding the amount of citizenship (that is, official recognition by the City and State as a member of civil society) African-Americans were willing to accept in exchange for increased government regulation (that is, increased government supervision and scrutiny).  These simultaneous political battles, termed the “outer” and “inner” wheels of African-American political life (Ferguson, 2002), respectively, greatly influenced the design and implementation of social welfare policy in the post-Reconstruction South.  Thus, this project will begin with an examination of the social construction of race in the post-Reconstruction South (see Chapter 1). 

Following the history of post-Reconstruction racial construction is a discussion of racial politics in the New Deal south.  The New Deal was the first opportunity for African-Americans to make claims on their citizenship in the South after the Reconstruction Era (Ferguson, 2002; Pritchett, 2008).  The end of Reconstruction brought about severe rollbacks in African-American civil rights, economic opportunity, and political participation. The New Deal’s strong Progressive coalition allowed for the inclusion of women, and to some extent, African-Americans (Radford, 2004).  However, this inclusion of African-Americans varied widely by region, with Southern states seeing more resistance to share power following the perceived failure of Reconstruction.  This resistance to Federal authority in the South stymied progressive leadership of the regions public housing programs.  Atlanta, run exclusively by its business-oriented alliance of the Downtown and North Side Elite (Rutheiser, 1996), begrudgingly accepted public housing as a method to remove African-Americans from the outlying areas of the Central Business District (CBD) and contain them in rebuilt housing along the West Side.  This racial remapping of Atlanta created a pattern of residential segregation that remains relevant in the present day.  Chapter 2 discusses the racial politics of public housing planning and decision-making in Atlanta.

Chapter 3 discusses a theory of public housing as a political space.  Vale laid the groundwork for this theory in his work From the Puritans to the Poorhouse: Public Housing and Public Neighbors (2000), where he posits public housing as a public space.  Borrowing from LeFebvre, public space in the urban landscape is “a terrain suitable for defense or attack, for struggle” (LeFebvre, 2003, 89).  Using this epistemology of space, LeFebvre further defines political space as “the site and object of various [political] strategies” (2003, 44).  This project will attempt to test the theory of public housing as a political space using examples of Atlanta’s public housing residential councils.  These residential councils struggled against the City’s power structure to improve and control their public spaces (public housing developments), while resisting the changes in national welfare policy against this modicum of control.  Soss makes the claim that “the welfare system is where the poor make their most pressing claims, negotiate the policy decisions that affect them most directly, and come face to face with the state’s capacity to punish or protect” (Soss, 2000, 2).  Using the aforementioned as a theoretical foundation, and the case studies that follow as empirical examples, I will attempt to begin a theory of public housing developments as a necessary political space for the poor in urban areas.

Chapters 4, 5, and 6 will discuss specific cases of public housing developments acting as political spaces.  These cases focus on the University Homes (the first African-American public housing constructed in Atlanta), Perry Homes (located in the northwestern section of the City, also for African-Americans), and Grady Homes (an African-American development located to the southeast of the CBD).  I have selected all African-American developments due to the particular type of political action these developments faced and produced during their existence in the City.  As mentioned earlier, public housing was accepted in Atlanta as a means to produce a new racial geography in the city, through segregated developments.  White developments were located primarily on the eastern portion of the City, with full community services, centers, schools, and activities (Ferguson, 2002).  Black developments were provided with significantly less amenities, creating a compounded effect on communities that were simultaneously displaced and disinvested from the 1930s to the 1960s (the primary years of public housing construction in the City).  Thus, even as black communities acquired “citizenship” via their acceptance into mainstream Atlanta policy-making, they were still in need of more schools, public services, community facilities, and other civil rights in the City.  Public housing developments, and the residential councils within these political spaces, provided a forum for working-class blacks to voice their political needs to the State in a manner that was not provided to this socioeconomic group prior to public housing construction.  Chapter 4 through 6 will provide specific examples of the political action that emerged from Atlanta’s public housing, as residents attempted to control the terms of their citizenship and their communities in the City.       

Chapter 7 concludes the project with a national examination of the shifts in public housing policy that threatens its viability as a political space.  As local policies and institutions turn to neoliberalist strategies to stabilize the urban political economy, affordable housing policy is also making this turn towards neoliberalism.  The turn first began with the 1974 Housing and Community Development Act, which created the Section 8 (now Housing Choice Voucher) program (Smith, 2006).  This public-private partnership provided subsidies for low-income residents to enter into the private rental housing market, wherein residents pay a portion of their income to the landlord, and the Federal government pays the balance.  Similarly, the project-based Section 8 program creates contracts with landlords in the private rental market to receive subsidies for housing low-income tenants.  The passage of the HOPE VI program in 1993 continued the turn towards neoliberalism in public housing policy, by replacing “severely distressed” public housing units with mixed-income housing, using public funds for private development and ownership (Fraser et al, 2011).  As Congress debates the Preservation, Enhancement and Transition of Rental Assistance Act (PETRA), we see the final turn towards neoliberal public housing policy.  PETRA would allow direct private investment by leveraging the remaining public housing stock, and use the equity to improve the public housing supply (Fraser et al, 2011).  This act would essentially privatize the remaining public housing stock, which I posit depoliticizes the public housing development.  That is, the increasing privatization of a formerly public asset decreases the size of the “public sphere”, and limits the avenues the public (specifically, public housing residents) has to engage and mobilize against the State.  The particular success of the “Atlanta Model” of public housing is being reproduced across the country in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Oakland, cities with high number of low-income African-Americans residing in their public housing developments.  To reduce the political space of the poor in these cities could have significant effects on the political action of the demographic, and severely alter the political landscape of urban areas in the post-industrial City.