Thomas J. Sugrue, PhD in History from Harvard University, is David Boies Professor of History and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. His expertise comprises American urban history, American political history, and the history of race relations. He has published on the history of liberalism and conservatism, poverty and public policy, civil rights, and the history of affirmative action.
Origins of the Urban Crisis is a multiple award-winner. Using postwar Detroit as the exemplar for telling the story of the demise of the industrial American city, Sugrue asserts the shape of postwar cities results from political and economic decisions. The story of Detroit brings to bear the two most “important, interrelated and unresolved problems of American history: that capitalism generates economic inequality and that African-Americans have disproportionately borne the impact of that inequality” (5).
“Racial ideology, culture, politics, labor market structures, and internal firm dynamics all interacted in shaping patterns of black employment” (93).
Sugrue tells the story of: the first housing riots against integrated housing in 1943; the community and political obstacles to public housing through the 1950s; the structures of employment discrimination (e.g. racial screening, provision of the least desirable jobs in municipal work, “seniority,” back-of-house retail jobs, total exclusion from skilled work such as construction and essential exclusion from unions) which eventually led to casual labor and the development of the underclass; the devastating effects of Detroit’s deindustrialization and losing battle against leaving jobs; blockbusting, redlining, and real estate segregation; and finally, the July 1967 riot, five days of violence, mostly by police enforcement against young black men.
Sugrue concludes that the War on Poverty has directed money and attention to behavior modification and jobless youth, but what was/is needed is a set policy agenda confronting deindustrialization and discrimination.
“..the rehabilitation of Detroit and other major American cities will require a more vigorous attempt to grapple with the enduring effects of the postwar transformation of the city, and teh creative responses, piece by piece, to the interconnected forces of race, residence, discrimination, and industrial decline, the consequences of a troubled and still unresolved past” (271).