African-American Urban History
(History 635)

James Grossman
University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois, USA

Spring 2000


This graduate-level colloquium will explore how historians have conceptualized and interpreted African American urban life. The syllabus offers a sampling of approaches rather than a comprehensive narrative and readings are organized topically rather than chronologically. The course aims toward an understanding of trends in the writing of African-American history, while exploring the assumptions and logic underlying historical argument, the intellectual and political implications of particular approaches, and related issues.

Because the course emphasizes reading, the writing assignments will focus on critical analysis of the readings. Each student will write:

  1. Four short essays - generally of 1-2 pages, double spaced with a font size of 12. The absolute maximum, though neither necessary nor desirable, is three pages. I will not read anything on a fourth page. Each essay will focus on a week's readings (any 4 weeks; take your choice as long as the first paper is submitted by the third week of the quarter). The point of these essays is to think critically about the reading. If more than one reading is assigned, the essay should address them not one by one, but rather thematically. Where a single book is assigned, the essay can read like a book review, albeit one that raises more questions than it answers. The essays should be emailed (attached and pasted in, to eliminate technological glitches) by 11 a.m. on the day the readings will be discussed. I prefer to receive them the night before, since that would provide me with an opportunity to read some of them before our discussion - but preference and practicality do not always align perfectly.

  2. Two 5-7 page essays due on Monday, May 8, and Monday, June 5 in the History Dept. office (SS330). These essays can focus on any topic related to the course. They should draw only on assigned readings and should integrate readings from at least two (and preferably more) different weeks. Again, double-spaced with a font size of 12.

All articles and excerpts from books (except Black Metropolis and Race Rebels) are on 2-hour reserve at Regenstein. Race Rebels and Black Metropolis, like other assigned books are available for purchase at the Seminary Coop Bookstore and (except for Black Metropolis) are on 1-day reserve. Regenstein has numerous copies of Black Metropolis.


Week 1.   Introductory session
Week 2.   Classic works
St. Clair Drake & Horace Cayton, Black Metropolis (Chicago, 1993; originally published 1945), xvii-lii, 99-312, 379-525, 658-767.

W.E.B. DuBois "On Sociology and the Black Community," (Chicago, 1978), 115-153.
Week 3.   Community Studies-1
Kenneth Kusmer, A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870-1930 (Illinois, 1976).

Gilbert Osofsky, "The Enduring Ghetto," Journal of American History, 40 (September 1968).

Allen Spear, "The Origins of the Urban Ghetto, 1870-1915," in Nathan Huggins et. al., eds., Key Issues in the Afro-American Experience (1971) 153-166.
Week 4.   Community Studies-2
Joe W. Trotter, Black Milwaukee: The Making of an Industrial Proletariat, 1915-1945 (Illinois, 1985), 37-79, 226-241 (on reserve; the book is out of print).

Quintard Taylor, "Black Urban Development-Another View: Seattle's Central District, 1910-1940," Pacific Historical Review 58 (1989), 429-448.

Andrew Wiese, "The Other Suburbanites: African American Suburbanization before 1950," Journal of American History, 85:4 (March 1999), 1495-1524.

Elsa Barkley Brown, "Uncle Ned's Children: Negotiating Community and Freedom in Postemancipation Richmond, Virginia" (Ph.D. dissertation, Kent State Univ., 1994), 485-551.
Week 5.   Migration
Irma Watkins-Owens, Blood Relations: Caribbean Immigrants and the Harlem Community, 1900-1930 (Indiana, 1996).

Peter Gottlieb, Making Their Own Way: Southern Blacks' Migration to Pittsburgh, 1916-1930 (Illinois, 1987).
Week 6.   Migration -2
Milton Sernett, Bound for the Promised Land: African American Religion and the Great Migration (Duke, 1997).

Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo, Abiding Courage: African -American Migrant Women and the East Bay Community (North Carolina, 1996).
Week 7.   Community and workplace
Earl Lewis, In Their Own Interests: Race, Class, and Power in Twentieth-Century Norfolk (California, 1991).

Eric Arnesen,Waterfront Workers of New Orleans: Race, Class, and Politics, 1863-1923 (Oxford, 1991).
Week 8.   Work
Tera Hunter, To 'Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors After the Civil War (Harvard, 1997).
Week 9.   Violence
William Ivy Hair, Carnival of Fury: Robert Charles and the New Orleans Race Riot of 1900 (LSU, 1976).

Terry Ann Knopf, "Race, Riots, and Reporting," Journal of Black Studies, 4:3 (March 1974), 303-327.

Gerald Horne, Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960's (Da Capo, 1995).
Week 10.   Politics
Robin Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (Free Press, 1994), chapters 2, 3, 7, 8.

Cheryl Greenberg, Or Does it Explode: Black Harlem in the Great Depression (Oxford, 1991), 93-139.

Elsa Barkley Brown, "Uncle Ned's Children," 393-484.