A Haven and a Hell: The Ghetto in Black America

Columbia Univ. Apr. 2019. 328p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780231184601. $32; ebk. ISBN 9780231545570. SOC SCI
The black ghetto has become a symbol of urban decay and is often used as a representation for the social disarray that affects black America. But in the early years of the Great Migration, the ghetto represented a free community that provided a step up from the living conditions of Southern farms. In this investigation of the black ghetto, Freeman (urban planning, Columbia Univ.; There Goes the Hood) examines how this aspect of urban planning has always held a dual role in the United States. It represented opportunity for those moving from poor rural areas to the city while simultaneously reinforcing racism to families hoping to enter the middle class. Freeman follows sharecroppers as they escaped Jim Crow, and athletes such as Jackie Robinson as they faced limited housing choices. The narrative balances individual stories with statistical research to provide one of the first holistic views of how the planning and policy that happened around various black ghettos changed both history and the urban face of the country.
VERDICT A well-researched chronicle of urban black communities throughout American history, with a focus on the early 20th century. This pairs well with Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law

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