Cover image for Sweet land of liberty : the forgotten struggle for civil rights in the North
Sweet land of liberty : the forgotten struggle for civil rights in the North
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, c2008.
Physical Description:
xxviii, 688 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. ; 25 cm.
Unite and fight -- "Sweet land of liberty" -- "Pressure, more pressure and still more pressure" -- "1776 for the Negro" -- Hearts and minds -- "Balance of power" -- "No place for colored" -- "God have pity on such a city" -- "No right more elemental" -- Freedom now -- "New frontier" -- "Fires of frustration and discord" -- "Long hot summers" -- "Unconditional war" -- "The black man's land" -- "It's not the bus, it's us" -- "Fighting for our lives."
Sweet Land of Liberty is an epic, revelatory account of the abiding quest for justice in states from Illinois to New York, and of how the intense northern struggle differed from and was inspired by the fight down South.


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Book 323.1196 SUG 1 1

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The struggle for racial equality in the North has been a footnote in most books about civil rights in America. Now this monumental new work from one of the most brilliant historians of his generation sets the record straight. Sweet Land of Liberty is an epic, revelatory account of the abiding quest for justice in states from Illinois to New York, and of how the intense northern struggle differed from and was inspired by the fight down South.

Thomas Sugrue's panoramic view sweeps from the 1920s to the present--more than eighty of the most decisive years in American history. He uncovers the forgotten stories of battles to open up lunch counters, beaches, and movie theaters in the North; the untold history of struggles against Jim Crow schools in northern towns; the dramatic story of racial conflict in northern cities and suburbs; and the long and tangled histories of integration and black power.

Appearing throughout these tumultuous tales of bigotry and resistance are the people who propelled progress, such as Anna Arnold Hedgeman, a dedicated churchwoman who in the 1930s became both a member of New York's black elite and an increasingly radical activist; A. Philip Randolph, who as America teetered on the brink of World War II dared to threaten FDR with a march on Washington to protest discrimination--and got the Fair Employment Practices Committee ("the second Emancipation Proclamation") as a resu

Author Notes

Thomas J. Sugrue is a historian at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is currently Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Professor of History and Sociology. Sugrue's first book, The Origins of the Urban Crisis , won the prestigious Bancroft Prize in American History, the President's Book Award of the Social Science History Association, the Philip Taft Prize in Labor History, and the Urban History Association Prize for Best Book in North American Urban History. He has also published essays and reviews in The Washington Post, The Nation, London Review of Books, Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer , and Detroit Free Press.

From the Hardcover edition.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

According to Sugrue (The Origins of the Urban Crises), most histories of the civil rights movement "focus on the South and the epic battles between nonviolent protestors and the defenders of Jim Crow during the 1950s and 1960s." The author's groundbreaking account covers a wider time frame and turns the focus northward to "the states with the largest black populations outside the south." Sugrue highlights seminal people, books and organizations in his tightly focused study that restores many largely forgotten Northern activists as integral participants in the civil rights movement--such as Philadelphia pastor Leon Sullivan; Roxanne Jones of the "welfare rights movement" and first black woman elected to the Pennsylvania State Senate; and James Forman, advocate for reparations. The National Negro Congress, the Revolutionary Action Movement and the National Black Political Convention share history with the NAACP and the Urban League, as Sugrue traces the phoenixlike risings from the ashes of old organizations into new. Dense with "boycotts, pickets, agitation, riots, lobbying, litigation, and legislation," the book is heavily detailed but consistently readable with unparalleled scope and fresh focus. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

New York Review of Books Review

The fight for civil rights in the North was very different from the movement in the South. MENTION the civil rights movement and Birmingham, Selma and Memphis spring to mind. Rarely do we recall Boston, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. But there was a civil rights movement in the North, Thomas J. Sugrue reminds us in "Sweet Land of Liberty," and it is impossible to understand race relations today without pondering what we can learn from it. Sugrue's long and exhaustively researched book brings that movement back to life. No one should underestimate just how thoroughly racist attitudes and practices shaped the lives of residents of Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia in the decades after World War II. Justifying the exclusion of African-Americans from his affordable new suburban housing developments, William Levitt said that he "could not take a chance On admitting Negroes and then not being able to sell his houses." Yet housing was only one of many issues reinforcing an unofficial but powerful color line in the North. Accounts of police brutality, restricted public beaches, segregated schools and racist hiring practices fill page after page of this book. At the same time Sugrue, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania, recounts the struggles of those, many long forgotten, who devoted themselves to promoting racial equality. Sugrue tells so many stories that it is impossible to summarize them all. I found myself particularly taken with his treatment of one theorist and one activist. The theorist is Henry Lee Moon, a journalist and political strategist who worked for the C.I.O. and the N.A.A.C.P. Moon sought a way for black Americans to exercise influence in national politics, and he found it in the concept of "balance of power," the title he gave to his 1948 book. Understanding that African-Americans were losing their allegiance to the party of Lincoln, Moon was able to persuade a number of Democratic Party politicians, up to and including Harry Truman, that black votes could swing close elections their way, eventually undermining the grip that Southern segregationists held on the party. In the 2008 election Democratic segregationists are gone, but Moon's analysis remains; for Democrats, winning the black vote is still the key to winning the electoral vote. That all this was anticipated 60 years ago is quite amazing. Harlem, 1945. The activist brought to life so well is Roxanne Jones. A resident of one of Philadelphia's poorest neighborhoods, Jones, like many of her neighbors, was unable to afford a car, and spent hours each day on buses and trolleys getting to work. Surrounded by people barely able to get by, she devoted her life to organizing protests against the humiliations and inefficiencies of Pennsylvania's welfare system. Eventually she became the first black woman elected to the State Senate, where she advocated legislation designed to improve the lives of the inner-city poor. Her funeral in 1996 drew politicians from both political parties. Today there is a post office named after her in North Philadelphia. Sugrue highlights Moon and Jones for a reason; both implicitly questioned the ideas that dominated the civil rights movement in the South. Inspired by Gunnar Myrdal's "American Dilemma," and led primarily by preachers, the Southern movement had been moral in tone: blacks should strive to lift themselves up, and whites should aim to live up to American ideals of freedom and equality. Such an approach, Sugrue argues, was inappropriate for the North. For one thing, Northern whites were persuaded that so long as they avoided explicitly segregationist laws, their consciences were clean. For another, racial progress in the North was so slow that more dramatic steps were required than nonviolent protest or high-minded sermons. Sugrue says that only through actions threatening the privileges of whites - boycotts, demonstrations, community control of schools could blacks narrow the disparities. Although moved by Sugrue's history, I was unpersuaded by his advocacy. He spends a disproportionate amount of time writing about Marxist extremists and crackpot demagogues, devoting a dozen pages, for example, to the Revolutionary Action Movement, a violence-spouting Maoist sect. Yet he manages only two paragraphs for the Ocean Hill-Brownsville controversy in Brooklyn, which did so much to fracture the alliance between blacks and Jews. Sugrue's book all too often focuses on the positions that black organizations took with respect to global issues rather than on the domestic conditions that produced urban poverty and segregated schools. In addition, Sugrue pays insufficient attention to the price the Northern civil rights movement paid for its refusal to take morality seriously. Once blacks used the language of empowerment and self-determination, whites were free to do so as well: those Boston Irish-American parents resisting busing appealed to the same themes of community autonomy and rejection of outsiders that black activists did in demanding control of their schools. Lacking a moral compass, more than a handful of Northern civil rights workers became hustlers if not downright criminals. Most important of all, by insisting that everything was a struggle for power, Northern activists all too often treated whites as enemies to be fought rather than allies to be cultivated. Justified or not, black power produced a white backlash. To advance in American society, any minority needs allies. The strategies Sugrue so admires were incapable of producing them. SUGRUE devotes his epilogue to the lessons learned from his history. Rightly noting that much progress has been achieved, he concludes that none of it was "solely or primarily the result of a shift in white attitudes." Causality in this matter is impossible to establish, but I think Sugrue is wrong. White attitudes toward blacks have changed strikingly during the past six decades, and for the better; the mere fact of Barack Obama testifies to that. Imagine how much more might have changed if the Northern civil rights movement had borrowed more of the moral appeal to conscience that inspired civil rights in the South. Alan Wolfe's "Future of Liberalism" will be published next year. No one should underestimate how much thoroughly racist attitudes shaped the lives of people in Northern cities.

Kirkus Review

Sweeping, well-documented history of the struggle for racial equality above the Mason-Dixon line. Bancroft Prizewinner Sugrue (History and Sociology/Univ. of Pennsylvania; The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 1996, etc.) argues that in the North, practices in the workplace, education, public accommodations and housing were as effective as "Whites Only" signs in keeping blacks and whites separated. The civil-rights struggle there was just as fierce, he continues, and is as significant to an understanding of the present as the oft-told Southern story. Identifying racial injustice as a political problem of unequal power relationships, he examines the ways in which institutions have created and maintained racial separation and racial privilege. Drawing on the contemporary writings of black journalists, government investigative reports and the records of local, regional and national civil-rights groups, the author focuses on New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois, the states with the largest black populations outside the South. He examines the impact of massive African-American migration in the 1920s from the rural South to Northern cities, then turns to the fight in the '30s and '40s for economic security by interracial coalitions of black militants and small numbers of religious activists and secular leftists. A second wave of migration to Northern industrial centers launched by World War II ultimately changed the racial composition of many cities and sparked grassroots battles over housing, schools and public accommodations. Sugrue provides unforgettable stories of black encounters with segregated hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, beaches and amusement parks, as well as moving accounts of grassroots resistance to unequal schooling and restricted housing. He enlivens this complex history of political movements and shifting coalitions with personal stories: the middle-class advocate of "uplift and respectability" who evolved into a militant; the college student whose request for a movie ticket eventually opened RKO theaters to black patrons; the New York school teacher who headed a movement demanding jobs for black construction workers. Scholarly yet accessible. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

The commonplace focus on the Civil Rights Movement as a morality play set in the 1950s and 1960s South neglects the North as a crucial battleground in the struggle for racial equality, argues Bancroft Prize-winning University of Pennsylvania historian Sugrue (The Origins of the Urban Crisis). In his three-part, 14-chapter narrative, he shows that black exclusion, poverty, and racial violence permeated America on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. Focusing on an array of individual activists and grassroots organizations that collectively advanced equality in the states having the largest black populations outside the South from the 1920s through the Great Migration and on, Sugrue produces a political history with strong socioeconomic themes, weaving together local, national, and international developments. And he carries his analysis into the so-called post-civil rights era since the 1980s. Diagramming the dimensions of the continuing black crisis, he plumbs fragile gains and deepening racial divides. This splendid read brims with insights broadening and deepening understanding of the black-white mold of modern America. Highly recommended and essential for collections on U.S. history, social movements, race relations, or civil rights.-Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe, AZ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 1 "Sweet Land of Liberty" And this will be the day--this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning: My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring! And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that: Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring. As the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., brought his speech at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to a thundering close, Anna Arnold Hedgeman sat a few feet away. It was a long-overdue moment of recognition for the sixty-four-year-old civil rights activist, though it was bittersweet. The only woman on the steering committee for the march, Hedgeman had a place of honor on the dais at the base of the Lincoln Memorial. It was only at the last minute, at her insistence, that march organizers gave a few minutes on the program to Little Rock leader Daisy Bates and "casually" introduced Rosa Parks to the crowd. Hedgeman remained unacknowledged, her presence mute testimony to the importance of decades of grassroots organizing, much of it in the North, that had brought a quarter of a million people to the greatest demonstration in the nation's history. It is safe to say that most of the marchers gathered that hot August afternoon had no idea who she was. At a moment when the black freedom struggle was growing younger and more militant, Hedgeman was part of a largely forgotten generation of activists, women and men, black and white, religious and secular, whose lives embodied the long history of civil rights in the North. Anna Arnold Hedgeman's journey began in the small-town Midwest at the dawn of the twentieth century, took her through the North, and brought her into the heart of a remarkable and diverse political and social movement to challenge racial inequality in America. She came of age as millions of blacks headed north in search of opportunity but faced a regime of racial proscription there that was every bit as deeply entrenched as the southern system of Jim Crow. During her lifetime of activism, she encountered grassroots school desegregation activists and angry Klansmen; black and white churchwomen committed to dialogue on race relations; poor black migrants and struggling women workers; hypocritical white liberals who mouthed their commitment to racial equality but continued to profit from it; musicians, activists, and intellectuals who created the Harlem Renaissance; black separatists dreaming of a proud black nation; and blue-collar activists committed to building an interracial labor movement. A tireless woman of political savvy and considerable charm, she worked with nearly every important civil rights activist in the first half of the twentieth century. Hedgeman started life born into the "talented tenth," a term coined by W. E. B. DuBois for the highly educated, deeply religious, and well-connected black men and women who saw their mission as uplifting the race. Pious and proper, she was the embodiment of the black churchwoman, sometimes prone to self-righteousness but deeply committed to leading a life of faith in service of social change. For Hedgeman, as it was for many early-twentieth-century black activists, there was no boundary between politics and piety, between prayer and protest. Her calling was both spiritual and practical but also open to the dramatically changing circumstances of America as it was remade by the massive black diaspora. Hedgeman's encounter with the troubled and unresolved history of race and inequality in the North profoundly altered her vocation. She found herself drawn to the plight of poor and working-class Americans, especially the black women born in circumstances far less fortunate than her own. Even if she never jettisoned her intense religiosity or her sense of propriety, she came to see that the project of uplifting the poor into bourgeois respectability by prayer, admonition, or moral education would never be sufficient. Because of her encounter with racial and economic injustice, she came to argue that the plight of the black poor would be overcome only through a wholescale political and economic transformation. Anna Arnold's childhood was anything but ordinary. She grew up in a nearly all-white world. Born in Marshalltown, Iowa, in 1899 and raised in Anoka, Minnesota, in a devout household, she was the daughter of a college-educated southern migrant so light-skinned that he could pass for white. William Arnold was a preacher and educator committed to the prohibition of alcohol. A stern, devout man, he had high ambitions for his children. When Anna was still an infant, the Arnolds found their way to Anoka, a relatively prosperous lumber and mill town on the northernmost reaches of the Mississippi River, twenty miles northwest of Minneapolis. Only 8,809 blacks lived in the entire state in 1920. Anoka's tiny black population had risen from only 15 to 41 in the first two decades of the twentieth century. The only blacks Arnold knew for most of her childhood were immediate family members. Minnesota was relatively liberal, its white population more indifferent than hostile to the small number of blacks who peppered the state. Anna Arnold did not recall facing any racial hostility as a child, but it did affect others. In 1931, less than ten years after she left her hometown, a black Anokan barely escaped a lynch mob. Comfortable as the only black person in a room full of whites, she became the first black student at Hamline University, a small Methodist school in St. Paul. It was there, in Minnesota's capital, where racial tensions were soaring, that she had her first serious encounters with other African Americans. Several thousand blacks had moved into the Twin Cities in the early 1920s, leading to a tightening of racial restrictions in schools, housing, and employment. One member of Arnold's social circle in St. Paul was Roy Wilkins, two years her junior and later president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Fresh from college, Wilkins wrote a scathing account of their home state, decrying the "complacency" and "indifference" of its black leadership. "The most regrettable and almost tragic feature of life in Minnesota," wrote Wilkins, "is that Negroes are so satisfied with their condition that they are blind to the signs of a new time." In the 1920s, blacks faced growing hostility in the North. Throughout the region, restrictive covenants--clauses in home deeds that forbade blacks and other minorities from purchasing or renting homes-- proliferated. Nearly every new housing development built during the booming 1920s was closed to blacks. Those who attempted to breach the invisible color lines that separated neighborhoods faced violent reprisals. The result was a steep rise in housing segregation. The Ku Klux Klan gained strongholds in nearly every northern city in the 1920s. Chicago's Klan, for example, had nearly forty thousand members, and nearly one in three white men in Indiana belonged to the group at its peak in the mid-1920s. In Detroit, a Klansman lost election to the Detroit mayoralty on a technicality in 1924. Blacks faced growing restrictions. Shopkeepers, restaurant owners, and theater managers proclaimed their premises for whites only. And racially separate schools proliferated, particularly in northern towns that attracted large numbers of black migrants. Nearly all of these proscriptions--as Wilkins called them--were defended by law enforcement authorities. Anna Arnold had her first serious encounter with discrimination as a twenty-two-year-old. An ambitious student, she pursued one of the few professions open to educated black women--teaching. But St. Paul had a very small black population, and its school district had no interest in placing a "colored" teacher in one of its white schools. (With few exceptions, hardly any black teachers taught white students in the North until the mid-1950s.) Frustrated by her experience and eager to see the larger world, she took a teaching job at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, a small, all-black "citadel of moralistic Methodism." The students at Rust were, for the most part, poorly educated; the school had a small budget; and Holly Springs could not have been more different from Anoka or St. Paul. Arnold found the indignities of southern-style Jim Crow difficult to negotiate, though she learned a great deal about the history of race relations from her mentor, Rust College dean J. Leonard Farmer, whose son James would later move north and spearhead the Congress of Racial Equality. Embittered by the "overwhelming difficulties" of life in the segregated South, she headed back north after two years, feeling a "deep hate" toward southern whites. In 1924, Anna Arnold was hired by the YWCA, starting out in Springfield, Ohio. The town was hardly a refuge from the indignities that she had experienced in the South, but the Y provided a springboard for her ambition. A bastion of liberal Protestantism amid the fundamentalist revival of the 1920s, the Y attracted young, idealistic, churchgoing women who used their talents to reform and uplift poor and working-class women through continuing education, moral training, cultural events, and physical fitness programs. By the 1920s, the YWCA movement was also tentatively interracial, drawing together churchwomen who began to experiment with "interracial dialogues." One of the few white-dominated institutions that hired black women to positions of leadership, the Y became the base for a whole generation of ambitious black social workers, educators, and administrators. Building on a Christian understanding of the "brotherhood of all mankind," the Y's moral integrationists worked within churches and religious organizations toward the goal of interracial cooperation. It was a daunting challenge when, as the old adage went, Sunday services were the most segregated hour in America. Most whites listened to white ministers, imagined Jesus as white, and could scarcely envision a heaven without segregation. Religious interracialists had modest goals: to foster "tolerance" of racial difference, to encourage whites to grapple with the presence of "the Negro problem" in their midst, and to create spaces for interracial dialogue through what one skeptical observer called "tea, touch, and talk." To white interracialists, the very prospect of attending conferences with blacks was heady. And to black interracialists, especially those who aspired to respectability, interracial meetings were a rare opening to a white world mostly forbidden to them. When Arnold started with the Y, it was part of a still-tentative religious interracialist movement. Beginning in the 1920s, the Federal Council of Churches, an umbrella organization of mainline Protestant denominations, created a Department of Racial and Cultural Relations. Through the mid-1960s, it published a bimonthly newsletter, the Interracial News Service, and sponsored "Race Relations Sunday," an annual event in which pastors were encouraged to bring up questions of racial inequality in sermons or, for the less adventuresome, in church newsletters or afternoon seminars. However symbolic such efforts were, they attracted a dedicated cadre of activists, committed to the ideal of persuasion, who envisioned the problem of racial inequality as a moral problem. Their vision of "brotherhood," that all were equal in the eyes of Christ, would lead a small but growing number of whites to embrace the goals of the fledgling struggle for black equality. Protestant interracialism, especially in the Y, drew much of its vision from the missionary movement. Missionaries were often agents of American imperialism, men and women who dedicated their lives to bringing civilization and Christianity to the unchurched, uneducated, and undemocratic peoples of the world. As the United States extended its political, military, and economic reach abroad in the early twentieth century, missionaries were often on the front lines. However, overseas mission work had unintended consequences. By the 1920s, many returning missionaries, particularly white women, had been transformed by their encounter with foreign people of color. Though most were incapable of wholly jettisoning their sense of moral and political superiority, many returned from these stints humbled by their experiences and outraged at the suffering, deprivation, and political oppression they had witnessed. A small, vocal, and growing segment of churchwomen began to compare the situation of American blacks to that of the oppressed peoples overseas. Haltingly, they began to demand that their own churches extend their mission work to Negroes--and, even more important, they began to argue for the full recognition of blacks within their own churches. By the late 1920s, they began to push even further, forging alliances with like-minded black churchwomen. The Y movement was influenced by similar interracial currents, but like most institutions in the early twentieth century--even the most progressive--YMCAs and YWCAs were still strictly segregated by race. Any self-respecting northern city had its "White-WCA" and, if its black population was large enough, its Negro Y, a place that provided social services, housing and food, and education for urban blacks. The Negro Y was one of the most visible manifestations of a politics of respectability and race uplift that had infused black politics since the late nineteenth century. In this vision of social reform, the black elite had a special duty to promote a new vision of "the race," one that challenged prevailing white assumptions about innate black inferiority. Well-to-do blacks emphasized the importance of propriety, embracing a set of Victorian values of decorum, restraint, and caution that distanced them from the black masses, whose dress was garish; music profane; religion overly emotional; accents backward and folkish; and habits feckless and irresponsible. Respectability required abstinence from the pleasures of the flesh, a proper and restrained religion, and conservative dress. The politics of uplift was deeply condescending, but also hopeful that the poor and working classes could be redeemed through the charitable efforts and good example of their betters. Black women such as Arnold played a special role in the politics of uplift and respectability. Since the late nineteenth century, black women had created an extraordinary base of sororities and clubs. At lunches and teas, they gathered to socialize and to build lasting networks of friendship. As much as clubwomen liked to don their fine dresses, hats, and gloves, they were motivated by a higher purpose, a deep sense of responsibility toward their disadvantaged sisters. As "race women," they had a twofold duty: first, to embody the very virtues that whites believed were inherently lacking in black culture, and, second, to instill those virtues in the downtrodden. Through their moral example, but also through reform institutions, churches, and schools, black women hoped to modify the behavior and values of the poor and thus undermine the racial stereotypes that prevented the full recognition of Negroes as citizens. To be sure, early-twentieth-century black elites had no monopoly on the ideology of uplift. Progressive-era reformers--black and white alike-- condescended toward the poor and created a bevy of institutions to control and discipline the ill-behaved, the "uncultured," and the unruly. But because of the deep currents of racial oppression, blacks viewed uplift as a distinct task to be performed by blacks themselves. At the very core of the politics of uplift was a belief in racial solidarity and self-help. It was up to Negroes to pull their disadvantaged people out of spiritual and economic impoverishment. Excerpted from Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North by Thomas J. Sugrue All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.