A Sense of Place: Birmingham's Black Middle-Class Community, 1890-1930

Overview

This portrait of a thriving middle-class African American community showcases the way its citizens overcame racial hostility and developed a sense of place and collective identity.

In the early 20th century, city boosters in Birmingham, Alabama, annexed the town of Smithfield as part of a larger effort to enlarge the city and broaden its tax base. Although the area attracted both whites and blacks seeking to escape the city's cramped living conditions, African Americans, ...

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Overview

This portrait of a thriving middle-class African American community showcases the way its citizens overcame racial hostility and developed a sense of place and collective identity.

In the early 20th century, city boosters in Birmingham, Alabama, annexed the town of Smithfield as part of a larger effort to enlarge the city and broaden its tax base. Although the area attracted both whites and blacks seeking to escape the city's cramped living conditions, African Americans, especially, found Smithfield enticing. Here, separated from the city where Jim Crow laws restricted their day-to-day activities, middle-class blacks found they were able to assert considerable influence over their home environments.

Lynne Feldman draws from a wealth of primary sources, including personal interviews, to demonstrate how such a community developed and thrived. She finds that middle-class blacks, guided by a philosophy of self-improvement, racial solidarity, and economic independence, actively shaped the world around them.

Although their lives unfolded against the backdrop of prejudice and discrimination, middle-class African Americans worked to improve an environment over which they had significantly more control. Feldman concludes that a strategy of self-segregation worked for the community as gains were realized in a variety of arenas including business, education, and civic reform.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Feldman portrays a thriving community and showcases how its members overcame racial hostility and developed a sense of place and collective identity. She describes how, early in the 20th century, the city annexed the town of Smithfield, and there middle-class African Americans found relief from daily restrictions of the Jim Crow laws. She draws from a range of primary sources, including personal interviews. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817309695
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1999
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 326
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
1 The Birth of a Community 6
2 Smithfield: The Suburb 24
3 Steps toward Building the Home Sphere 41
4 Leadership, the Black Elite, and the Business Community 78
5 Institution Building: The Creation of Schools and Their Significance in the Community 112
6 Men Seeking an Identity: Involvement in Churches, Clubs, and Civic Associations 137
7 Women Seeking an Identity: Improving the Social and Political Environment 164
Conclusion 188
Notes 195
Bibliography 281
Index 313
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