African Americans in the Furniture City is unique not only in terms of its subject, but also for its framing of the African American struggle for survival, civil rights, and community inside a discussion of the larger white community. Examining the African-American community of Grand Rapids, Michigan between 1850 and 1954, Randal Maurice Jelks uncovers the ways in which its members faced urbanization, responded to structural racism, developed in terms of occupations, and shaped their communal identities.
Focusing on the intersection of African Americans’ nineteenth-century cultural values and the changing social and political conditions in the first half of the twentieth century, Jelks pays particularly close attention to the religious community’s influence during their struggle toward a respectable social identity and fair treatment under the law. He explores how these competing values defined the community’s politics as it struggled to expand its freedoms and change its status as a subjugated racial minority.
A City within a City examines the civil rights movement in the North by concentrating on the struggles for equality in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Historian Todd Robinson studies the issues surrounding school integration and bureaucratic reforms as well as the role of black youth activism to detail the diversity of black resistance. He focuses on respectability within the African American community as a way of understanding how the movement was formed and held together. And he elucidates the oppositional role of northern conservatives regarding racial progress.
A City within a City cogently argues that the post-war political reform championed by local Republicans transformed the city's racial geography, creating a racialized "city within a city," featuring a system of "managerial racism" designed to keep blacks in declining inner-city areas. As Robinson indicates, this bold, provocative framework for understanding race relations in Grand Rapids has broader implications for illuminating the twentieth-century African American urban experience in secondary cities.
With roots in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad—nicknamed “The Fishing Line” for its connections to attractive Michigan tourist areas—was organized in the mid–nineteenth century to take advantage of the lucrative logging business of the vast forests of the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan and other potential freight traffic. Once built into northern Michigan, it had an important role in developing the region’s tourist industry. Financed and built by officials of the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad system, the GR&I eventually was merged into that company. Using a plethora of newspapers, public documents, and other primary source materials, Meints has crafted an engaging narrative that is easily accessible to the lay reader as well as specialists in railroad and local history. Tracing a thorough corporate history of a fascinating but little-known regional line from its beginning through the early twentieth century, The Fishing Line: A History of the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad is a must-read.
Large numbers of Latino migrants began to arrive in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the 1950s. They joined a small but established Spanish-speaking community of people from Texas, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Delia Fernández-Jones merges storytelling with historical analysis to recapture the placemaking practices that these Mexicans, Tejanos, and Puerto Ricans used to create a new home for themselves. Faced with entrenched white racism and hostility, Latinos of different backgrounds formed powerful relationships to better secure material needs like houses and jobs and to recreate community cultural practices. Their pan-Latino solidarity crossed ethnic and racial boundaries and shaped activist efforts that emphasized working within the system to advocate for social change. In time, this interethnic Latino alliance exploited cracks in both overt and structural racism and attracted white and Black partners to fight for equality in social welfare programs, policing, and education.
Groundbreaking and revelatory, Making the MexiRican City details how disparate Latino communities came together to respond to social, racial, and economic challenges.