The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women's Struggles Against Urban Inequality / Edition 1

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In this collective biography, Rhonda Y. Williams takes us behind, and beyond, politically expedient labels to provide an incisive and intimate portrait of poor black women in urban America. Drawing on dozens of interviews, Williams challenges the notion that low-income housing was a resounding failure that doomed three consecutive generations of postwar Americans to entrenched poverty. Instead, she recovers a history of grassroots activism, of political awakening, and of class mobility, all facilitated by the creation of affordable public housing. The stereotyping of black women, especially mothers, has obscured a complicated and nuanced reality too often warped by the political agendas of both the Left and the Right and has prevented an accurate understanding of the successes and failures of government antipoverty policy.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Baltimore native Williams (history, Case Western Reserve) here demonstrates how poor black women mobilized to address the evolving crisis in Baltimore's public housing. In the 1930s and 1940s, Baltimore's segregated public housing served mostly whites, but both black and white residents felt grateful for the new apartments. Before long, local corruption and obdurate racism along with income caps and white mobility left public housing only to the black poor. City officials ignored deteriorating buildings and rising crime rates, while urban renewal further displaced and isolated poor black families. The Civil Rights Movement, the War on Poverty, and the welfare rights movement found a ready constituency in the projects, and black women became "part of the vanguard of community activists." Williams relies on more than 50 interviews with tenant-activists and employs their words, observing that the activism of black women also fed pernicious myths about the so-called problem of the black matriarch. Recommended for college and urban public libraries.-Cynthia Harrison, George Washington University, Washington, DC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Well-researched, well-written.... Highly recommended."—Choice

"Her carefully researched volume chronicles the personal lives and political activism of the low-income women who voiced their claims for 'rights, respect, and representation' in public housing and beyond. Using personal histories culled from more than 50 interviews, Williams vividly demonstrates these women's setbacks and triumphs.... this is a valuable look at social welfare policy."—Publishers Weekly

"Williams has exquisitely and mercifully corrected the deeply etched image of public housing as an utter failure. Her carefully researched, well-written and critically balanced study of public housing forces housers, historians, political scientists, and sociologists alike to reconsider the pall of negativism that at least since 1957 has beclouded all conversation about public housing and about the enduring need for government support for decent, low-income housing."—The Journal of American History

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Rhonda Y. Williams is Associate Professor of Women's Studies and History at Case Western Reserve University.

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Table of Contents

Part I - Beginnings
1. Creating "A Little Heaven for Poor People": Decent Housing and Respectable Communities
2. "A Woman Can Understand": Dissidence in 1940s Public Housing
Part II - Shifting Landscapes
3. Shifting Landscapes in Postwar Baltimore
4. "When Then Came the Change": The Fight Against Disrepute
Part II - Respect, Rights, and Power
5. "An Awakening Giant": The Search for Poor People's Political Power
6. "Sunlight at Early Dawn": Economic Struggles, Public Housing, and Welfare Rights

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