“A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland” by Kusmer

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In ‘A Ghetto Takes Shape,’ the author identifies that back in the 1860s, the value of life for all races was almost similar as equality was rife. However, he identifies that there was a breakdown of societal structures over time, such that by the end of the 1930s, the black population was mostly living in the dilapidated ghettos. He identifies the particular case of the city of Cleveland, where he goes ahead to compare the differences in the lives of the blacks and the poor as they developed from 1870 to 1930. This book review seeks to explore the book’s relevance and the different remedies to the inequalities that can be suggested from the analysis of how these inequalities came to be in the first place.

The book starts by describing the period around and before the 1870s when, as he suggested by the author, the black people in Cleveland enjoyed the same quality of life as the whites. He quotes one of the white legislators who proclaimed that Cleveland had achieved civilization as the colored persons attended the same schools as the white; attended the same public lectures that the whites attended were the fashion and culture of the city congregated and shared in the public affairs of the city.

He goes ahead to explore how the black community degenerated as a society and how the first signs of the ghetto that was to be were evidenced. He identifies that the urban change came disguised in political, economic, cultural, and social differences that went on to divide the Cleveland society into the predominantly whites and the predominantly blacks society. He further notes that though at first, it was not openly evident, racism crept its way into the society hence serving to divide the people not only racially but also economically. This was more so in the occupational differences of the different races as the white enjoyed more superior occupations that were denied to the blacks.

The class and the culture of the black community in Cleveland, as well as the leadership in Cleveland that allowed the deterioration of the living standards of the black community to take place, have also been explored by the author. The author goes ahead to explore the structure of the institutions in Cleveland between 1870 and 1915, as well as the then prevailing political temperatures.

The author explores how the ghetto took shape and the factors that precipitated the fast growth of the ghetto between 1915 and 1930. He identifies the great migration as one of the factors that facilitated the consolidation of the ghetto. He identifies that the institutions and the politicians in Cleveland went ahead to marginalize the black community and more so those who had migrated into the city. This, he says, was prompted by the growing racist tendencies that were directed towards the blacks in Cleveland.

In his study on the occupation influx that followed the migrations and the industrial breakthrough in Cleveland at the time, the author writes that the black community enjoyed fairly good wages, and in some cases, they held supervisory positions at their work stations. He notes that those who migrated from the south were earning two or three times their previous wages. This led to the development of black businesses as the black community became more entrepreneurial.

However, the author says that these black businesses were underfunded, and they eventually found it hard to compete with the products being produced by the whites since the latter were cheaper. There was also an increase in black professionals as the population grew further, and the author goes ahead to identify the progress that was made by the black community amid all the poverty.

Kusmer (6) gives an insight into the lives of the black community in the city of Cleveland by comparatively exploring the living conditions of the black people between the years 1870 and 1930. He highlights that the development of the ghetto was a gradual phenomenon that took place over a period of sixty years. Hence, the comparative framework of the author is of great importance in giving readers an idea of the social position of the blacks as compared to the social position of the native whites or the white immigrant community. The author does this through his extensive collection and evaluation of manuscripts written by a variety of black and white locals who lived during the period and also those written by local governmental and private organizations.

His works are especially important in our evaluation of urban culture by giving an in-depth analysis of the exact prevailing conditions at the time. This is even more helpful as his work is more accurate and unbiased as compared to the works of other authors who describe the period between 1870 and 1930 as a dark period for the black community. The author identifies that there was a time when life was great and even went ahead to point out that during the First World War, black women were economically empowered as they held respectable jobs in the Cleveland factories. This is in sharp contrast to what many authors depict of African Americans.

The author identifies that although by the period after World War II, the black community was probably at its slowest economically and socially, ironically this was the source of their self-empowerment as the sense of unique goals as well as needs and the isolation helped initiate and also fostered the sense of unity among the black community in their quest and caused to fight racism and marginalization.

The book gives the readers an idea of the formation of ghettos by providing a blend of urban black history and Afro-American history. Through its comparison of the lives of the black community and that of the whites, it gives a chronological description of the emerging changes that later developed into the disparity of the social standards of the different races in Cleveland. He identifies the conditions that caused and catalyzed the emergence of racism and also explains how it became rife as well as the resultant consequences.

The author identifies that, although at one time the different races in Cleveland enjoyed an almost similar social standing in the city, the end of World War I and the population influx that was as a result of the migrations from the south led the white legislators and business owners to favor their fellow whites over the blacks hence, the massive job losses and the economic challenges that forced the black community into ghettos. He also identifies that there were some black entrepreneurs who had broken into the economic barriers imposed by the whites though they struggled through unfair business practices and lack of funding or rather sources of credit.

The author draws a lot of his information from a variety of literal and statistical primary sources that make his book accurate and realistic. This makes his work rich documentation of the urban and black cultures; hence all readers and researchers into black culture can obtain an unbiased and realistic chronological record of the period between 1870 and 1930 as well as insights into the social status of the different races that lived in Cleveland in the years preceding that period. Though he concentrates on the emergence and development of only one black ghetto, his comprehensive and lucid work is especially insightful for historians and other people who would like to explore the histories of the black communities and the ghettos that came to be in the United States in general.

The book is of paramount importance important since the author, an assistant professor of history who specializes in urban and social history, exhibits great intelligence and knowledge into the history of urban America and the black community in America through the sophistication and breadth of his conceptualization of the studies made on black history. This is especially exhibited in his book where instead of concentrating on the plight of the black community in the ghetto, especially on the white discrimination and marginalization of the blacks, he explores the decision making and the leadership of the black community that empowers them to fight for their recognition and to the end of racism, which culminates itself in the black struggle for freedom that came thereafter.

Works Cited

Kusmer, L. Kenneth. A ghetto takes shape: Black Cleveland, 1870-1930.Blacks in the New World. University of Illinois Press: Chicago. 1978. Print.

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