Repression, Isolation, Segregation and the Urban Ghetto
African Americans have systematically been denied equal opportunities and this is particularly true within American inner cities. The social, cultural, and economic isolation of these urban ghettos has profound impacts and affects on its dwellers. This isolation and segregation has led to the evolution of profoundly divergent and dichotomous life chances for black and white Americans. The black urban poor are confronted with a lifestyle that promotes oppositional culture to the norms of society and challenged by an everyday exposure to violence, drugs, and crime. This paper attempts to explore the historical conditions that laid the foundation for the modern black urban ghetto.
Racism and segregation have a long history in America. For most of America’s history, black Americans have been denied fundamental rights that include the right own property and the right to vote. Until the 1920s, racial discrimination was largely considered a product of the backward practices of an economically and socially antiquated South. Because of their powerful rhetoric, important political connections, and financial support, northern whites had often been important activists in early fights for racial equality. Northern whites saw their urban environment as socially and economically integrated. Black doctors, lawyers and financiers mingled freely with upper class whites; this unconscious socialization was not only common among white collar professions but also amongst the middle and lower classes.
Unfortunately, this social harmony would end abruptly with the second Great Migration of southern blacks to northern cities during the 1940s and 1950s. This migration resulted from the economic modernization of the South. Increasingly, farmers turned to cotton-picking machines over the hands of laborers to harvest cotton. Compounding this problem, more efficient factories left many southerners jobless. Thus, technological advances in the farming industry deprived many southerners of their jobs. The black community was particularly devastated by the mechanization of their chief occupation because they were often the first fired and the last hired in an economy that overtly preferred white labor.
The hardship and poverty which resulted from near total economic exclusion left former black sharecroppers and black factory workers searching for new, better opportunities. The industrial boom in northern cities was their answer. A combination of word of mouth and active recruiting by northern companies and newspapers lured poor blacks to the North. Chicago’s leading black newspaper, the Chicago Defender, was a principal recruitment device for Southern blacks and it successfully inspired many blacks to migrate north. Whatever the information source, the promise was always of better opportunity and equality. For the migrants of the 1920s, this was largely true, but, by the 1950s, the large...