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FW: H-South Reply: Wilson Responds to Dupont's Review of _Race a nd Place in Birmingham_

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  • A.J. Wright
    more fyi..aj wright // ajwright@uab.du ... From: H-South Review Editor Ian Binnington [mailto:binningt@uiuc.edu] Sent: Thursday, December 14, 2000 1:17 PM To:
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 14, 2000
      more fyi..aj wright // ajwright@...

      -----Original Message-----
      From: H-South Review Editor Ian Binnington [mailto:binningt@...]
      Sent: Thursday, December 14, 2000 1:17 PM
      To: H-SOUTH@...
      Subject: H-South Reply: Wilson Responds to Dupont's Review

      Review of "Race and Place": A Reply

      Authors replying to reviews of their works always appreciate the reviewer
      taking the time to read their works. Professor Robert Dupont's review of
      _Race and Place in Birmingham: The Civil Rights and Neighborhood Movements_
      reflects a complete reading of the book, and as the author I appreciate
      that he took the time to do so.

      The reviewer is correct to note that this work is an analysis of the civil
      rights and neighborhood movements in Birmingham. The book does not attempt
      to document who did what, when, and where. Historians and others have
      provided a better descriptive documentation of the civil rights movement in
      Birmingham than this work.

      The critical issues that this work engages are: (1) what type of social
      movements were the civil rights and neighborhood movements and why did
      these movements occur when they did; (2) what were the larger structural
      and institutional forces that set the stage for these movements in
      Birmingham; and (3) why these movements, as significant as they were, are
      incapable of responding to problems facing the black community in an age of
      increasing capital flexibility and mobility?

      These are complex issues and require a multiperspectival approach. Answers
      will not be found in one privileged perspective. Although a powerful tool
      of analysis, this work does not privilege the Marxist perspective, but also
      uses urban regime, regulationist, and postmodern theories to analyze race
      and place in Birmingham. Both the civil rights and neighborhood movements
      are defined as postmodern movements, which allow us to situate them within
      the larger context of late twentieth century capitalism. As postmodern
      movements, they occurred at a particular juncture in capital
      development. This juncture does not represent a radical break with
      modernity, but it does provide an explanation for why the civil rights and
      neighborhood movements occurred when they did, and why class in the
      classical Marxist sense was not, and could not be, the means for organizing
      against racial and economic inequality in America.

      Marx's concept of class denied any recognition of the many identities that
      make up the working class, e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, etc. Black
      workers during the early stage of industrial capitalism in Birmingham
      attempted to join with whites in a larger class movement that allowed
      little if any recognition of black identity, e.g., populist and labor
      movements at the turn of the last century. A. Philip Randolph, the father
      of the (post)modern civil rights movement, attempted to build black support
      for the Socialist Party of America, and was willing to accept the help of
      whites and participate in the wider class struggle. But the failure to
      recognize and appreciate the many identities that make up the working class
      allowed Birmingham industrialists and others to play whites against blacks,
      which defeated the populist movement. And whenever black and white workers
      attempted to unite along class lines during and following the Great
      Depression, white opponents of such movements used "Red Scare" tactics to
      dismiss the movement as communist inspired. Randolph eventually concluded
      that the movement for racial equality in America had to be a black
      movement, which became for the black community its postmodern turn.

      As a postmodern movement the civil rights movement set the stage for the
      politics of black identity, which eventually gave rise to the black power
      movement and other movements based on identities other than that of
      class. Following on the heels of the civil rights movement in Birmingham
      was the War on Poverty with its Community Action Programs (CAP). The CAP
      contributed to the development of the neighborhood movement that gave
      recognition to identity based on place, contributing to the politics of
      place. Birmingham developed one of most comprehensive neighborhood-based
      citizen participation programs in America. Identity was based not only on
      race but also on place or neighborhood. It was the politics of place that
      help to politically empower blacks in Birmingham. Richard Arrington would
      utilize the structure of the neighborhood-based program to organized a
      powerful political coalition and become the first black elected mayor of
      the city of Birmingham in 1978.

      The postmodern turn in capitalist development empowered identities other
      than that of class, but the age of global capitalism with its flexible and
      mobile capital has created uneven social development on a much larger
      geographical scale than ever. Social movements must now move beyond the
      postmodern politics of identity and differences based on race, ethnicity,
      gender, place, etc. to that of a larger class movement. But unlike Marx's
      concept of class, we propose a class movement that recognizes and
      appreciates the many different identities that are necessary for such a
      class movement in the age of global capitalism. It is this recognition and
      appreciation of these identities within a large class movement that
      distinguish postmodernity as a "turn" and not a "radical break" with

      I would hope that any course on the history of the civil rights movement
      would not only cover who did what, when, and where, but would also want
      students to understand critically how larger structural and institutional
      forces produced or changed the nature of the civil rights movement. Only
      by understanding these larger forces can we understand how race and place
      was transformed in Birmingham.

      Bobby M. Wilson
      Professor of Geography and Public Service
      Dept. of Government and Public Service
      University of Alabama at Birmingham
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