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American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America) [Paperback]

Robert O. Self
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 28, 2005 0691124868 978-0691124865

As the birthplace of the Black Panthers and a nationwide tax revolt, California embodied a crucial motif of the postwar United States: the rise of suburbs and the decline of cities, a process in which black and white histories inextricably joined. American Babylon tells this story through Oakland and its nearby suburbs, tracing both the history of civil rights and black power politics as well as the history of suburbanization and home-owner politics. Robert Self shows that racial inequities in both New Deal and Great Society liberalism precipitated local struggles over land, jobs, taxes, and race within postwar metropolitan development. Black power and the tax revolt evolved together, in tension.

American Babylon demonstrates that the history of civil rights and black liberation politics in California did not follow a southern model, but represented a long-term struggle for economic rights that began during the World War II years and continued through the rise of the Black Panthers in the late 1960s. This struggle yielded a wide-ranging and profound critique of postwar metropolitan development and its foundation of class and racial segregation. Self traces the roots of the 1978 tax revolt to the 1940s, when home owners, real estate brokers, and the federal government used racial segregation and industrial property taxes to forge a middle-class lifestyle centered on property ownership.

Using the East Bay as a starting point, Robert Self gives us a richly detailed, engaging narrative that uniquely integrates the most important racial liberation struggles and class politics of postwar America.


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Editorial Reviews

Review

Winner of the 2005 James A. Rawley Prize, Organization of American Historians

Winner of the 2005 Best Book in Urban Affairs, Urban Affairs Association

Winner of the 2004 Ralph J. Bunche Award, American Political Science Association

Winner of the 2004 Best Book in North American Urban History, Urban History Association

"[A]n original and complex explanation for the urban crisis that transformed Oakland, California, from 1945 to 1978. . . . By placing the history of Oakland and its African American community in a new theoretical framework that emphasizes suburban growth, tax revolts, and battles over land, jobs, and political power, Self has challenged historians to reconsider the way that they study postwar black urban communities."--Albert S. Broussard, Journal of American History

"[M]eticulously researched. . . . [A] compelling, complex, and original account of black and, to a lesser extent, white community politics in metropolitan Oakland California from 1945 to 1978."--Cynthia Horan, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

"By placing the history of Oakland and its African American community in a new theoretical framework that emphasizes suburban growth, tax revolts, and battles over land, jobs, and political power, Self has challenged historians to reconsider the way that they study postwar black urban communities."--Albert S. Broussard, Journal of American History

"If you are concerned with the postwar city, race, economics, and politics, get this book and read it."--Kenneth Durr, American Historical Review

From the Publisher

Winner of the 2005 James A. Rawley Prize, Organization of American Historians. Winner of the 2005 Best Book in Urban Affairs, Urban Affairs Association. Winner of 2004 Ralph J. Bunche Award, American Political Science Association Winner of 2004 Best Book in North American Urban History, Urban History Association

Product Details

  • Series: Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America
  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 28, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691124868
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691124865
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,235 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Self teaches history at Brown University. He writes about American politics in the twentieth century and teaches a variety of courses on the same subject. His interests range widely and include the history of American cities and suburbs, the history of family, and the history of sex and sexuality in the twentieth century. He is also the co-author (with James Henretta, Rebecca Edwards, and Eric Hinderaker) of a college-level textbook, America's History.

His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Salon.com, and Guernica. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
(10)
4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars rigorous and accessible February 23, 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I read American Babylon after hearing about it on the radio, and came away impressed with the author's ability to make a remarkably complex process - the interplay of surburban development, urban decline, racial politics, and civil rights - accessible to an amateur such as myself. The book lays out a persuasive explanation of why things are they way they are in Oakland, and by (my) extension in many urban areas around the country, including my own hometown of Brooklyn. In doing so it seems to me to be the best sort of historical analysis: rigorous, remarkably detailed, and carefully documented, but useful to the public at large. Highly recommended.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Robert Self's "American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland" deserves the attention of grassroots political activists as much as academics. It is a brilliant analysis of the post-World War Two business strategy for Oakland, California and the boom (and boomerang to Oakland) in housing and jobs elsewhere in Alameda County that resulted. Self shows how the decline of Oakland was the other side of the coin in the creation of new communities in the open spaces nearby. He lays out the class and race contexts of the suburbanization process and shows the consequences for and responses by the labor movement and African Americans to the changes that were wrought. "American Babylon" thus provides, for example, an interesting account of the Black Panther Party. Finally, using this region in northern California as a case study, the book examines the origins of the anti-property tax movement, when the suburbs regime went sour. Since California is still embroiled over the same issues this book addresses -- taxes, urban revitalization, de-industrialization, racial equality, and the political and environmental impacts of suburban growth -- Robert Self's "American Babylon" could not be more timely.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Oakland is frequently in the news. Our school board passes a resolution asserting the language rights of African-Americans, and the country explodes in controversy. Our citizens elect a celebrity mayor, and the Wall Street Journal speculates on the reasons. None of these events are understandable without understanding Oakland's history, and Robert Self has done a terrific job of capturing its contours. He lays waste to the common myth that the Civil Rights movement was exclusively a Southern phenomenon, and reports in fascinating detail on Oakland's own Civil Rights movement. Although he reports on its most famous organization, the Black Panthers, he also describes in detail the tenacity and success of other organizations, like the Oakland Black Caucus and the East Bay Democratic Club, which produced changes in the employment and electoral rights of American-Americans.
People who want to change cities should read this book.
An Oakland College Professor
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Medium-sized Cities in the times of Urban Renewal February 9, 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Robert Self's book should interest readers interested in understanding the aftermath of urban renewal and development in US cities and the politics of race and class in the post-WWII to 1975 period. Self's work makes a contribution to studies of urban poltiics and the histories of cities and of the Civil Rights era by pointing to what has often been ignored or left invisible: that the so-called problems of people living in cities are often directly related to the overdevelopment of their surrounding suburbs (the noose), and that the problems of people of color in this country are directly related to the privileges of white people, structurally and historically. Thus, Self's book shows intimately and concretely how one might explore the dynamics of structural, institutionalized racism, in the post-Civil Rights era, when we all thought that the problem of blatant individualized racism had been solved.
In addition, the book will be useful for those of us living and working or traveling through the Bay Area: It adds another part of the story, and links the decline of Oakland with the rise of Silicon Valley, and with shifting terrains of race and class politics. It also provides important historical perspective on the forces that started the long trajectory that we now live, the decisions that sowed the seeds for the so-called ghettos, but also for the gentrification and displacement that threatens to displace our communities today.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subsidizing White Privilege - No Joke June 29, 2012
Format:Paperback
Why did it surprise me to learn that San Leandro, a suburb of Oakland CA, was a white only town? Or that the Federal Housing Authority born of the New Deal thirties expressly disallowed lending in black urban areas? Or that post WII federal subsidized loans went primarily to white families moving into protected enclaves that expressly disallowed blacks?

Because my own white privilege makes it difficult to face the uncomfortable truth that I and my kind have inherited, protected and extended the advantages of our racial makeup. Or in a word: denial.

This book argues very persuasively that white access and understanding of capital allowed and extended privilege through political power and government policy in a way that often avoid the clear label of racism. And until the seventies racial covenants and red-lining black neighborhoods expressly deprived black people of the means for a better life.

With blacks struggling for fair housing, fair employment and fair political representation, white America through the welfare state it denies exists, gave itself huge subsidies for cheap loans and job programs to build highways and other infrastructure projects that unions made sure its white members enjoyed.

I'm painting too broad a portrait because what makes this book particularly powerful is that it uses the particulars of the Oakland experience to reveal the attitudes, behaviors and policies described above. If you're white don't read this book unless you are prepared to be unsettled and disturbed. If you're not white, I doubt much of this will surprise you but be prepared to get angry all the same.
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