“Down with White Leadership!!”: Racial Capitalism, “Race Men,” and the Wages of Political Blackness

In late 1913, several well-heeled African Americans, mostly businessmen, in New York City founded the United Civic League (UCL) to promote the “interest and welfare of the Negro voter by organizing and solidifying said voters into a body without party designation.”[1]

Civic leaders, like Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church, deemed it a “good time” for elected black leadership.[2] Dr. W. R. Lawton, pastor of St. James Presbyterian Church, shared, “The candidacy of a colored man for alderman in New York City at this time when the race is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its emancipation is a most fitting aspiration.” “This movement,” he added, “comes after fifty years of citizenship as a test of our ability to get together and cooperate for our common good in civic and political affairs.” That year, the group’s president, John M. Royall, a black realtor, ran for Alderman from Harlem’s 21st Assembly District (AD). Royall lost, but, for the next two decades, Harlem’s “race men” continued to demand, “down with white leadership!”[3]

The concept of “race men” has been a frequent trope in African American history. In their classic tome Black Metropolis, St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton sketched the traditional understanding of “race men:” “The masses leave ‘the burden of The Race’ to those individuals who are oriented around ‘service.’ “‘Solving the race problem,’” they explain, “is left in the hands of Race Leaders,” who “are expected to put up some sort of aggressive fight against the exclusion and subordination of Negroes.” When asked to describe the attributes of “race leaders,” respondents in their survey mentioned the following: “knows the difficulties of the race and fights without selfish reason;” “is a sincere person;” “has a constant, sincere interest in the race;” “has the interest and well-being of the Negro race uppermost in his life.”[4]

The view that black progress has been carried on the shoulders of a series of selfless, industrious, community-minded, male leaders is as common as it is problematic. It silences the voices of many anti-racist activists. Fortunately, social scientists and historians have recovered black women from the periphery of this history.[5] Others have probed the ideological foundations and the social and political repercussions of this erasure.[6] Literary scholar Hazel Carby penned a searing critique of “race men” trope, particularly its operation in black political thought and culture. From her trenchant study of W.E.B. Du Bois and close reading of his classic Souls of Black Folk, she uncovers a “conceptual framework that is gender-specific” and that fails “to imagine black women as intellectuals and race leaders.” Carby writes, “Du Bois described and challenged the hegemony of …racial formations in the United States at the dawn of a new century, but he did so in ways that both assumed and privileged a discourse of black masculinity.”[7]

Persuaded by Carby’s gendered critique, I hope to expose the effects of capitalism and class on the discursive strategies and political projects of “race men” and reevaluate normative defenses of this leadership. While the leaders of the UCL claimed to act on behalf of the “interests and welfare of the negro voter,” one cannot help but wonder whether their own class position shaped how they imagined the voter’s “welfare.” It is plausible that the values and financial concerns of business owners and educated clergy swayed their rendering of the “common good,” both the “good” and the boundaries of the community it served. Consequently, this essay asks: What are the theoretical, normative, and political implications of situating “race leadership” within a broader political economy? What conceptual frameworks animate this activism? What is gained by middle-class leadership? What is lost? I am certainly not alone in this endeavor.  Adolph Reed,[8] Cedric Johnson,[9] Cathy Cohen,[10] and Lester Spence[11] have laid bare the democratic limits of black politics—the conservative or capitalist impulses of African American elites. I attempt to build on these significant contributions by excavating the political economy uniting them. I derive from Cedric Robinson’s concept of racial capitalism a theory of black class stratification and use it decipher middle-class African American leadership.

Popular and scholarly treatments of black politics tend to obscure salient cleavages and depict a progressive consensus in African American political culture.[12]  According to some historians, persistent racial segregation, urban disinvestment, and police violence and mass incarceration have compelled broad swaths of the African American community to endorse “black power” and militant antiracism.[13] Social scientists have supplied their own version of the consensus. National analyses have shown a substantial degree of homogeneity in African American political behavior.[14] Large-N surveys have exposed considerable racial differences in policy preferences.[15] Given the postwar party realignment around race, especially the Republican party’s increasingly reactionary stance on civil rights, race-based attitudes and behavior at the national level are not particularly surprising.[16] They are also not the whole story.

At the local level, black politics assumes different complexions. Minority groups battle it out for recognition and influence.[17] Contrasting claims of culture and conflicting class-based considerations tear at the fabric of African American communities in cities throughout the United States.[18] My own work on the Rockefeller drug laws reveals how middle-class African Americans in Harlem—caught in the throes of drug trafficking, addiction, and violent crime—began to view the urban black poor as the source of their ills, turned to police and prison for remedies, and drew upon religious values to justify this punishment.[19] None of this, of course, absolves the astonishing devastation of white supremacy or its persistent grasp on American life. But that’s not the whole story. As Lester Spence avers, “Even as racism still shapes the lives of blacks in [Detroit, St. Louis, and Baltimore],” “racism cannot explain why some blacks in these areas have a lot of resources and some have a few.” He continues, “Racism cannot explain why there are some black populations we as black men and women are all too willing to fight for, while there are other black populations we are will to let die. And racism cannot fully explain how black people choose to fight, nor can it fully explain the solutions black people generate for the problems they face.”[20] Spence fleshes out the rest of the story by unveiling the neoliberal components of black political thought and urban African American politics. Following his lead, I adopt a local lens to observe the effects of racial capitalism on black politics. I return to Harlem and trace the political appeals of “race men” from the end of Reconstruction until the New Deal.

Although a century ago, this period represents a formative moment in the historical development of African American politics. Michael Dawson’s “black utility heuristic,” holds that “as long as race remains dominant in determining the lives of individual blacks, it is ‘rational’ for African Americans to follow group cues in interpreting and acting in the political world.”[21] In this canonical account, the organization of civil society is determinative: “The tendency of African Americans to follow racial cues has been reinforced historically by institutions developed during the forced separation of blacks from whites during the post-Reconstruction era.”[22] Accordingly, segregated social institutions fostered intra-group solidarity, including middle-class attachment to poor and working-class African Americans. Testing this hypothesis, I summon on a diverse array of sources to survey the structural and ideological dimensions of Harlem’s post-Reconstruction public sphere, ascertain how they shaped the formation, meanings, and purposes of race-based frames, and assess their representativeness.

Finally, I borrow the concept “political blackness” to chasten the interpretive work. As Carby’s reflections make clear, even the shrewdest analysts can inadvertently construct their own version of “blackness” as they assay racism. Writing about racial discourses in the United Kingdom, Tariq Modood criticizes scholarly and activist attempts to impose “blackness” on Asians in order to build pan-ethnic anti-racist movements in the United Kingdom.[23] According to Modood, this “political blackness,” “falsely equates racial discrimination with colour-discrimination” and “obscures the cultural antipathy to Asians.”[24] For him, it suggests a “false essentialism,” the idea “that all non-white groups have something in common other than how others treat them.”[25] With this in mind, I, instead of taking the statements and programs of “race men” at face value, hope to denaturalize African American politics, interrogating how the “race”—its interests, goals, and boundaries—is conceptualized and deployed.

Racial Capitalism and Political Blackness

Extant theories of race are bedeviled by excessive reductionism and false dichotomies. Marxist approaches to race reduce racism to the imperatives of economic structures.   Writing about the United Kingdom, Robert Miles argues that “‘black people in Britain’ cannot be adequately [analyzed] as a ‘race’ outside or in opposition to class relations.”[26] Likewise, theories that conceive of race as an independent and autonomous social system reduce class and capitalism to dictates of that ascriptive hierarchy. Refuting class-conflict theories of race, Michael Omi and Howard Winant write, “Racial dynamics must be understood as determinants of class relationships and indeed of class identities, not as mere consequences of these relationships.”[27] While these useful correctives might tell us what capitalism and class not explain, they do not clarify for what they can account. Surely, both racism and capitalism matter.

Cedric Robinson formulates a useful synthesis: racial capitalism. In his critique of western Marxism, Robinson reconstructs the racial aspects of European feudalism and its subsequent impact on the development of capitalism.[28] “In the intensely racial social order of England’s industrializing era,” he writes, “the phenomenology of the relations of production bred no objective basis for the extrication of the universality of class from the particularism of race.”[29] Robinson indicates that “persistence and creation” of ethnic, racial, and national divisions “within the working classes were a critical aspect of the triumph of capitalism in the nineteenth century.”[30] Inspired by Robinson, my theory of black class stratification draws attention to the historically and spatially contingent interaction of ascriptive hierarchies and capitalist technologies of production and exchange within polities.[31] The value and agency of individuals entangled in “free markets” are defined by the unequal distribution of material and cultural worth across social groups operative before the emergence of those economies.   As Robinson illustrates, these hierarchies smoothed the advance of capitalist systems by validating their concomitant dislocations and disparities.

Technologies of production and exchange can also solidify or rearrange ascriptive logics across groups while modifying the dispersion of material and cultural worth within groups.      Although recent applications of racial capitalism have explored how the menacing mix have exacerbated disadvantage for the urban black poor,[32] the interaction can produce opportunities for others.[33] While discrimination within capital markets restricted black access to financial resources, segregation within service sectors created incentives for “ethnic entrepreneurs” to meet needs unfilled by white firms, and segregation established social networks and racial ties from which “ethnic entrepreneurs” could marshal capital and cultivate customers.[34] As Drake and Cayton and others have revealed, white supremacy and capitalism in the post-Reconstruction era generated a social stratum of professionals, including lawyers, doctors, undertakers, real estate agents, saloon keepers, and barbershop and beauty parlor owners, and deepened and legitimized internal material disparities and cultural cleavages that had originated in the antebellum racial order.[35]

The sinister nexus of economic exploitation and racial domination can place this black petite bourgeoisie at odds with working-class and poor African Americans. N. D. B. Connolly uncovers the role “nonwhite property owners” played in the evolution of segregation and emergence of concentrated poverty in southern Florida. He acknowledges that “black business and property interests often provided the organizational resources and personal connections that proved critical to race reform.”[36] Even so, the ventures of this class were not always progressive or benign. In a jaw-dropping conclusion, he writes, “In the preceding chapters, one finds civil rights and civic leaders who, as landlords, strong-armed their poor black tenants or willfully allowed their properties to collapse on top of black children. One finds middle-class black suburbanites who sought to isolate an emerging underclass.”[37] Connolly’s rich history does not demonstrate that racism and capitalism placed nonwhite property owners in the same structural situation as their white counterparts. White supremacy granted white businesses access to financial and political capital unavailable to minority firms. Nevertheless, African American property owners existed in a structural location of their own: apart from white society and, at once, near and removed from poor and working-class blacks.

These theoretical insights inform this exploratory analysis of African American leadership in early twentieth-century New York City. I argue that the race-based claims of “race men” should not be taken at face value. They should be interpreted with an analytical sensitivity to the structural location from which those ideas and proposals emerges. As Dawson rightly suggests, post-Reconstruction black civil society played a critical role in the evolution of race-based political frames. Yet, as Connolly’s uncompromising history insists, the “race men” who led those civic institutions and managed those organizational resources bore their own unique motivations. Thus, while “political blackness” can be molded and mobilized on behalf of working-class and poor African Americans, it can also be devised for the benefit of the black middle-class.

Race, Class, and the Evolution of Political Blackness           

From the end of Reconstruction until the beginning of WWI, a nation seemingly washed of its original sin of slavery was damned once more by Jim Crow, the violence of white supremacist terrorists, and a federal government at times ambivalent and at times hostile to the fate of newly-freed slaves.[38] Southern trees bore strange fruit.[39] Escaping the carnage of the Redeemer’s south, many African Americans sought refuge in cities in the South and North. According to the Historian Marci Sacks, the “individual testimony” of “race men,” like Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. and James Weldon Johnson, and “race women,” like Ida B. Wells, “confirmed that the fear of falling victim to lynching propelled black people away from their native homes” to New York City.[40] Demographic data are consistent with this narrative. The black population of New York City climbed from 33,888 in 1880 to 60,666 in 1900. It hit 91,709 in 1910 and climbed to 152,207 in 1920.[41]

These migratory patterns, however, were products of both the politics and economy of the South. Between the early 1890 and early 1922, the boll weevil, floods, and other events undermined the Southern cotton economy.[42] In response to these shifts, black laborers moved to cities and the North in search of work and higher wages.[43] The available attitudinal evidence affirm the causal force of the economic incentives and personal desires. In 1907, Helen Augusta Tucker’s survey of 385 black wage laborers revealed that “many who come from the South have relatives or acquaintances here who picture the wages and conditions in too glowing colors and forget to speak of the disadvantages.” One man told her, “They go back South to visit with two or three different styles or clothes and two or three rings and shake them people up something wonderful.”[44] Fielding Ogburn’s 1909 study of fifty black migrants from Richmond, Virginia found that seventeen relocated for financial reasons, fourteen migrated because of relatives, nine migrated for the “Glamour of New York city.” In Benjamin H. Locke’s 1913 survey of thirty-five African Americans in Harlem, nineteen migrated for work, eight came with family, six came for “adventure,” and only two moved because of “race friction.”[45] A larger 1912 survey of 365 black wage-earners corroborate these Locke’s findings: 47.1% gave “economic” reasons for their move to New York City, including to “find work” and get “more money.” Another 32% listed “family” reasons, including “Brought here by parents,” “Came with husband” and “Had a sister here.” In addition to being dawn because of labor and love, number of wage-earners shared personal reasons, like “Wanted to make a change” or “Got tired of Baltimore; thought I’d see some of New York.” Still some just wanted to see New York: “Heard talk of enjoyable life here” and “Thought I’d like New York.”[46]

Racism and capitalism limited the economic opportunities of all African Americans while stratifying black society. After the turn of the twentieth century, more and more African American businesses came into being to service the expanding consumer base. Based upon his canvass of 567 businesses listed in a 1909 directory of black businesses, George Edmund Hayes, executive director of the Urban League, counted 475 enterprises. Of the 309 firm for which he was able to secure records, 50 were barbershops, 36 were groceries, 26 were restaurants or lunch rooms, 24 were tailors or related shops, 19 were coal, wood, or ice vendors, 17 were hotels or lodging houses, 14 were employment agencies, 12 were express and moving vans, and 11 were undertakers. The rest included pool rooms, saloons and cafes, hairdressers, and printers. Haynes observed two key patterns: “The largest number of the enterprises are the outgrowth of the domestic and personal service occupations and they are mainly enterprises that call for small amounts of capital.”[47] Another trend is evident: most enterprises provided goods or services the city’s black population could not or would not get from white-owned firms.

Encouraged by civic leaders, these entrepreneurs used their racial identity to expand their consumer base and amass wealth. In 1914, Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. argued that since the “white man” had forced African Americans into “separate lodges, Christian associations, churches, and …communities,” “we” should force “him” out of businesses “among us” and “build up strong race enterprises and strong race men.”[48] In 1916, the New York Age led a campaign to support “race men” operating businesses in Harlem.   Declaring the effort a success, the paper claimed that a “mass of people” had not only awakened to the need for “race solidarity” in the market place , but they had also made themselves “missionaries” for the “doctrine” of “buying from race merchants.”[49] Over a decade later, the Harlem Life Insurance Company branded itself as the “first life insurance company to by organized by Race men [in the State of New York].[50] These “race men” also claimed their ownership of commercial enterprises could only benefit the race.   In 1912, the father of Harlem argued that “colored tenement properties” should be managed by “Negro agents” because the agents would have more “interest, sympathy and respect for tenants.”[51]

At the same time, black laborers faced formidable roadblocks in the labor market. In 1900, over sixty percent of black males were in domestic or personal service, including janitors and sextons and servants and waiters. Although black men increasingly found industrial work, the racism of employers and labor unions severely curtailed their options.[52] In Tucker’s study, several carpenters noted these challenges when explaining why they did not work in their trade. Two said, “I didn’t try because I knew I couldn’t get it.” Two reported, “Told I had no chance.” Others shared similar views: “Owing to Union” and “Didn’t try to join Union, having learned they were against colored.” One painter said he couldn’t find regular work because he was “barred on account of color.” Another worked “off and on” due to “too much discrimination.” One blacksmith applied for jobs at several horse-shoeing shops but was told that it “wasn’t costmary to employ colored men, the white men won’t work with you.”[53]   The consensus view among respondents in Forrester B. Washington’s 1916 survey was that “the colored man hasn’t a chance in New York in the trades.”[54]

As the membership of the UCL suggests, members of Harlem’s political class came primarily from its petit bourgeois, which had specific ideological consequences for “race leadership.” Many of the professionals that dominated African American electoral politics from the 1900s until the 1930s had followed Booker T. Washington and espoused conservative economic principles. In 1910, Washington’s Negro Business League held its tenth anniversary meeting in New York City.[55] The convention’s stenographer recorded “chunks of practical wisdom,” including, “We are not seeking rank, but opportunity;” “The more we advertise discrimination, the more discrimination we have;” “It is not a good thing to advertise your non-employment;” and “The bad men in both races are not far apart.”[56]

Although the conference featured speakers from across the country, representatives from New York City proudly expounded on the precepts of free enterprise.[57] John Royall, who would later lead the UCL, praised African American brokers and agents for creating “for his people better conditions, better houses, in better locations; which culminated in the colonization of Harlem, a section now representing nine-tenths of the business thrift among Negroes in New York.” In his welcome address, Charles Anderson, leader of black Republicans in the city, told attendees that they were “gaining respect for the race and making easier the progress of its future.” To laughter and applause, he remarked, “You men represent the aristocrats of our race, for you know that there is nothing in the world so aristocratic as the ‘almighty dollar,’—except it be ‘two dollars.’” Anderson praised their accomplishments, which they achieved despite “poverty and dire difficulties,” with a “resolute determined spirit,” and without “whining or complaining.”[58]

While members of Harlem’s political class continued to espouse the tenets of laissez-faire capitalism, they eventually embraced the “militant” civil rights approach of the NAACP. Although Fred Moore, editor of the New York Age, welcomed the NAACP and its civil rights agenda in the 1920s, he had not always felt this way. In 1911, Washington admonished Moore for his attacks on the organization and instructed him to “stop fighting” and “pursue a course of reconciliation.”[59] To ingratiate himself with the “militants” and secure their political support, Royall began distancing himself from the Tuskegee machine. Charles Anderson remembered that before Washington had died Royall had “[criticized] and abused the Doctor almost nightly” and grumbled that “now he is weeping over his death because it is popular to do so.”[60]

This ideological consensus among elites was not provoked by the desires of poor and working-class African Americans. By the 1920s, the NAACP, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. remembered, “had not captured the indignation of the working class.”[61] It no surprise why. When the New York branch of the association opened in 1916, its officers included James Weldon Johnson; John E. Nail, real estate impresario and Johnson’s brother in law; John Royall, leader of the UCL; Mrs. Reverdy C. Ransom, wife of Rev. Ransom, whose run for Congress the UCL would soon sponsor; and E. A. Johnson, a lawyer whose candidacy to the state Assembly was also sponsored by the UCL.[62] The first forum held by the new branch was on “The Predicament of Colored Medical Students under the new Interne Requirements,” a “very serious problem confronting colored medical students desiring to practice in New York State.” Not surprisingly the Manhattan branch struggled building a membership. In 1918, its roster numbered 1,477.[63] The congregations of over a dozen black churches exceeded that total. The Abyssinian Baptist Church alone boasted a congregation of 8,000. In 1923, the Amsterdam News even begged its readers to join the organization, stressing that “the national office and the various branches have done enough to compel us to see the great need of their work.”[64]

The organization’s middle-class sensibilities alienated many black New Yorkers. According to E. Franklin Frazier, Du Bois was “too intellectual to satisfy the mob.”[65] Garvey’s Negro World portrayed the Harvard-educated scholar as the “idol of the drawing room aristocrats,” someone who “lingers around universities and attends pink tea parties.” The paper charged that the “author of the ‘Souls of Black Folk,’” had not “become the popular leader of the masses of his own race.” It explained, “Du Bois appeals to the ‘Talented Tenth”… The N.A.A.C.P. appeals to the Beau Brummell, Lord Chesterfield, kid gloved, silk stocking, creased trousers, patent leather shoe, Bird of Paradise hat and Hudson seal coat with beaver of skunk collar element.[66]

While the some of this criticism might be chalked up to interpersonal rivalries among leaders, Du Bois’s own words betray the class biases of many race “militants.” Du Bois and segments of Harlem’s elite did not always include Afro-Caribbean immigrants within the boundaries of blackness. For Du Bois, Garveyites represented “the lowest type of negroes, mostly from the West Indies.”[67] This anti-immigrant was not simply a reaction to the extravagances of Marcus Garvey. In 1934, years after the collapse of the Jamaica’s movement, lawyer and founding UCL member Louis Lavelle wrote President Franklin Roosevelt protesting the appointment of the Dr. Godfrey Nurse, who had immigrated from British Guiana in 1918, a Presidential Elector on the Democratic ticket. For Lavelle, “That honor…should have been place upon the worthy shoulder of a native born American colored man.”   He then commenced a diatribe against Afro-Caribbean immigrants: “These [foreign-born] colored persons, naturalized citizens in the main, like a certain type of lodger in one’s home who does not stay for long, has been handing out…inherited estate of native born American colored people.” For him, plum patronage posts represented the “political estate of [native-born] colored people—citizens of the soil.”[68]

Du Bois’s “theory of Harlem” is also telling. In his review of white author’s Carl Van Vechten’s Nigger Heaven, a novel about Harlem’s boisterous night life, Du Bois called the novel a “blow in the face” and an “affront to the hospitality of black folks.” In addition to inveighing against the controversial title, Du Bois objected to the book’s focus on Harlem’s nightlife: “To him the black cabaret is Harlem; around it all his characters gravitate.” The NAACP leader called this “theory of Harlem” “nonsense.” He explains, “The average colored man in Harlem is an everyday laborer, attending church, lodge and movie and as conservative and conventional as ordinary working folk everywhere.”[69] In his review of Rudolph Fisher’s novel The Walls of Jericho, a study of life of Harlem society in the 1920s, Du Bois lamented that Fisher had not “depicted Negroes like his mother, his sister, his wife, his real Harlem friends.” “The glimpses of better class Negroes are ineffective make-believes,” he added.

Setting aside Du Bois’s Victorian sensibilities, the available evidence does not fully support his theory of Harlem.   As Roi Ottley and William J. Weatherby observed, social activities in Harlem ranged from “noisy ‘chitterlin’ suppers’ and ‘barrel house’ parties to stilted soirees, symposiums, and musicals.”[70] Seymour’s 1912 survey a group of Virginia migrants discovered “a half-dozen churches or missions,” a “five-cent-theater,” “plenty of saloons,” “a relatively large number of pool rooms,” and “a sort of ‘red light café’ and dancing rooms.” One barber enjoyed “walking about, dancing, baseball, and pool playing.’ He spent “his money free” and took great interest in his image: “his clothes…are extreme in cut and color and supplemented by pins and rings” and “[b]y much oiling, rubbing and plastering down he has made his hair almost straight.”[71] In 1913, Locke stumbled across similar patterns. Twenty-six of thirty-five individuals worshiped at a Baptist church. While more respondents reported participating in religious services and related activities more in the South than in New York, they enjoyed other amusements more in the city than back home: ten individuals listed pool, nine listed boxing, eight listed none, six listed tennis, and four listed baseball. Twenty-five individuals “expressed fondness for dancing.” Fifteen individuals enjoyed cards, including whist, poker, pinochle, and black jack. While none attended movies in the South, thirty-two had seen films in New York.[72]

Not all working people fancied Harlem’s nightlife. In one survey, a twenty-eight-year-old man, husband and father of two had “little time for frivolities.” A middle-aged woman who worked “off and on” as a cook and laundress considered the theatre and the like “foolishness.” Instead, she involved herself in the church, Rosebud Society, and the True Reformers.[73] Unlike her, some workers could not afford lodge dues. Others could not always pay the price of admission at movie and vaudeville theaters. Even so, money-strapped residents brought Harlem’s nightlife into their homes. Less inhibited than their church-going neighbors, many working-class residents threw rent parties, filling their apartments with and charging guests for boogie woogie, blues, and home cooking to keep up with housing expenses.[74] While some working-class Harlemites lived up to Du Bois’s expectations, his theory of Harlem not only underestimated the pleasure most everyday black folk derived from the vices of the community’s nightlife, but it also belied an insensitivity to the vicissitudes of urban life. Given his incomparable sociological tools,[75] Du Bois’s theory of Harlem was clearly sculpting a “political blackness” that did not adequate capture how everyday folk lived and reveled in their own blackness.

Racial capitalism not only cultivated contrasting cultural sensibilities, but it also generated divergent interests. Although Royall and other African American property owners congratulated themselves for building for “[their] people” “better conditions, better houses, in better locations,” quality housing remained major concern of many black Harlemites. In a 1927 survey of twenty-four hundred black families in Harlem, just twenty-two percent of respondents described their apartments as “good,” eighteen percent labeled them “fair,” and forty-eight percent said “poor,” “bad,” or “needed cleaning.” Among this group, the list of grievances included, “Rats, rat holes, and roaches;” “Ceilings in two rooms have fallen, and third is about to fall;” “We have hot water twice a week;” “Unsanitary and dirty;” and “Very damp and cold all of the time.” [76]

Early in Harlem’s storied history, the logic of the local housing market placed African American property owners and renters on a collision course. Because of a city-wide housing shortage, rents spiked as housing quality declined. In 1916, Harlem residents enraged about rising rents convened a series of meetings to voice their grievances. Attendees blamed “colored real estate agents” for the “abnormal increase” in rents after apartments have been “opened for colored tenants.”[77] One hundred nine tenants signed a petition denouncing “the so-called Negro real estate ‘brokers’ who are taking advantage of the present demand for more houses by making Negroes pay such unequal rents when we have such unequal opportunities to earn a living.” The petition stated that the “vast majority of Negro” could not afford present rents “without ‘commercializing’ their apartments.” This commerce necessitated “many lodgers,” “socials,” “loud and offensive language,” and “prostitution.”[78]

Despite the assumed properties of “race men,” African American property owners and brokers did not react with much selflessness or solidarity. Many, like their white counterparts, blamed the rents hikes and squalid conditions on the cost of materials and high taxes. John Royall, UCL leader and officer in the New York Branch of the NAACP, took umbrage at the tenant meetings, remarking that he had “never heard of such a thing as bettering the condition of the renting class by providing lower rents.” He called the effort “foolish” and advised attendees to target the “the high cost of living” instead of rents. He even objected to this activism: “I want to know the object of these meetings? Who suggested the movement?” He also dismissed the motives of organizers, calling the “movement” a “socialistic idea” or “grafting scheme.”[79]

Though less aggressive than Royall, many other African American owners and brokers were not particularly empathetic. Philip A. Payton, Jr., real estate entrepreneur known as the “Father of Harlem,” said “electing to office men who will give an economical government of the city” was the remedy. He explained that “self-preservation gives the owner and agent no alternative but to raise rents when cost of upkeep increases so sharply. [80]   C. A. Knowles, another black agent, denied his firm had raised rents, but defended agents and owners saying, “the fault is not always theirs.” He argued that “[i]f the colored man, knowing his paying capacity is over anxious to move into a house the moment he hears it is going [to be vacated by white tenants] and [often] takes such places under the most unfavorable sanitary conditions, the fault is theirs.”[81] During this controversy, John E. Nail, another local NAACP official, did not say much, except that he could not “adequately or justly” explain the rent crisis. Back in 1914, however, he was a bit more vocal about his opinions on race and real estate: “Negroes should live according to their economic condition and not according to their inclination.”[82] For the purposes of this analysis, whether these sentiments represented honest of assessments of their constraints or evidence of predation is beside the point: “race men” in real estate had systematically different interests than black renters.

African American electoral politics initially papered over class-based divisions focusing instead on recognition. Royall and others mobilized for “race representation” at all levels of government[83] and urged “race loyalty” without offer a policy agenda that addressed the needs of the entire community.[84] Instead, they characterized the individual election of lawyers, doctors, and other professionals as inherent goods. In 1918, after UCL-backed attorney Edward A. Johnson and Royall protégé John Clifford Hawkins defeated their opponents in Republican primaries, the New York Age declared, “race men are victorious.”[85] A similar headline appeared after each win.[86]   Before each election, calls for “race loyalty” also repeated themselves. In 1924, the New York Age asked black votes to “show their loyalty” by voting for dentist Dr. Charles Roberts for Congress.[87] Keeping with these themes, Roberts wrote James Weldon Johnson “that the election of one of our race to the Congress of the United States…would certainly set to speed the progress of our people.” [88]

Although these “race men” were vehement advocates for civil rights, their economic program was not as progressive or inclusive.[89] The UCL tackled discrimination within the labor market but prioritized professionals: “Our Doctors should be Internes in the City Hospitals;” “We should have our Nurses in the City Hospitals and Milk Stations;” “Our Lawyers should be Magistrates in City Courts.” The league also endorsed the diversification of public agencies but said nothing about racism within unions or the struggles of domestic workers.[90] After Johnson entered the assembly in 1918, he introduced a civil rights bill targeting discrimination in public accommodation, which made denying services to or employment of African Americans in public accommodations, including theaters, restaurants, and hotels, a misdemeanor that carried a $50 to $500 fine. The legislature passed, and the Republican governor signed the bill.[91] Johnson introduced legislation curtailing child labor laws.[92] George A. Hall, secretary of the New York Child Labor Committee, condemned the measures, which effectively removed age and other restrictions, for enacting a “a ruthless regime of child exploitation.”[93] African American socialist activist A. Philip Randolph took Johnson to task, assailing the Assemblyman for being “ignorant of the fundamental recreational and educational needs of children,” and “part of the Republican machine, which represents factory and canneries interests which makes millions out of child labor.” “Here… is a clear case of a Negro being the father of a measure from which Negro children will be the chief [sufferers],” Randolph added.[94] While it is certainly plausible that partisan imperatives influenced Johnson’s actions, the statements of his UCL-supporters at the annual convention of the Negro Business League and during the rent crisis a preexisting and sincere belief in laissez-faire capitalism.[95]

As Harlem’s elites forged a political blackness devoted to civil rights and reflective of their class sensibilities and interests, individual pursuit of power and prestige frequently complicated the project. When Royall ran for the board of alderman, Anderson, the leader of black Republicans, opposed the real estate entrepreneur because Royall had “no more chance than I have to be made president of Argentina.”[96] For Anderson and other Republican “race men,” personal power and position more than racial matters guided their strategy in local contests.   Cold, hard calculations undercut the UCL-sponsored Reverend Reverdy Ransom’s run for Congress.[97] After losing the Republican primary, he launched an independent bid,[98] claiming that he wanted to break “the stranglehold of the Republican organization” and serve “notice that the day of the civic and political exploitation of the black people of Harlem is ended.”[99] Although the Crisis labeled Ransom “the candidate of the colored people,”[100] black Republicans and Moore’s New York Age threw their support to the party’s nominee. Forty of them met at headquarters of the white Republican candidate[101] and declared that it had become “the duty of all colored voters to support the candidate of the Republican Party.”[102]

Harlem’s ballooning black population increased the viability of “race men” in Republican primaries, so its elite increasingly coalesced around their “political blackness” and aggressively deployed it against white party leaders. [103] But their shared quest for recognition eventually got caught in the headwinds of Democratic counter mobilization and progressive policies. Figure 1 tells a familiar story: black voters in Harlem shifted their allegiances from the party of Lincoln to the party of FDR after 1932. [104]   Figure 2, however, showcases a broader pattern. Tracing party registration in one of Harlem’s main aldermanic districts over time shows that the Democratic party had become competitive by the early 1920s, before election of Franklin Roosevelt. All of this raises a critical question: What explains the increasing success of Democrats during black Republicans’ aggressive, pre-New Deal push for “negro leadership”?


Figure 1: Party Proportion of the Presidential Vote in Harlem, 1920 to 1940

Source: New York City Board of Elections, Annual Reports, tabulated in John Albert Morsell, The Political Behavior of Negroes in New York City (PhD Dissertation, Columbia University, 1951, 66). 

Figure 2: Party Registration in Harlem’s 21st Aldermanic District, 1917 to 1930

Source: New York City Board of Elections, Annual Reports, tabulated in George Martin Furniss, The Political Assimilation of Negroes in New York City (PhD Dissertation, Columbia University, 1969, 297).

Democrats cut into the Harlem vote by appealing to residents marginalized by African American political elites. Despite an elite education, Ferdinand Q. Morton, leader of Tammany Hall’s black auxiliary the United Colored Democracy (UCD), reached out to Caribbean immigrants, working-class residents, and “underworld” figures.[105] Critics even accused the Mississippi native of being too cozy with “criminals,” “gamblers,” and “bootleggers.”[106] As local Democratic leaders attempted to disentangle themselves from the retrograde racial tendencies of the national party,[107] they, with Morton’s guidance, emphasized “material assistance” in Harlem.[108] During Democratic Mayor John Hylan’s 1921 reelection bid, he ran as a “friend of the poor man,”[109] and the UCD circulated a leaflet “to Colored Republicans” stating that the incumbent’s policies “are calculated to promote the interests of wage earning classes, to which we belong.”[110] Even the Republican New York Age conceded that “as a group” black New Yorkers were not unmindful of “the good things [affecting their interests] that have been accomplished under the Hylan administration.”[111] He won 70.5% of Harlem’s 19th District and 74% of its 21st District.

Many in Harlem’s elite looked askance at these Democratic inroads and interpreted them through class-based lens. In 1923, the Amsterdam News complained that newly-elected governor Alfred Smith “was swept into office” with the “assistance of thousands of Negro voters in Harlem.” Acknowledging that many African American voters might have found themselves “at odds” with the program of the state Republican party, the paper was yet confident that the “majority of race-loving, law-abiding colored citizens will still be found outside the ‘Tiger’s’ fold.” And, as it emphasized, “that hyphenated word, ‘law-abiding’ gives the key to the whole situation.” According to the paper, black Democratic politicians, “race traitors,” recruited “vice-mongers, the gamblers, the bootleggers, and the underworld poolroom proprietors” after unsuccessfully appealing to the “thinking element of the colored vote.”[112] Months later, the Amsterdam News accused Democrats of dividing the “Negro vote” by “[grinning] in the faces of a few Negroes, [patting] a few others on the back, [keeping] a few criminals out of jail, and [buying] a round or two of bootleg whiskey.”[113] The position of the Amsterdam News was clear: “We fail to see what permanent service to the race can be rendered by a Negro elected on a Democratic ticket anywhere. We still contend that it is possible and much more honorable to elect race men to the Board of Alderman, the Assembly and Congress on the Republican ticket, if possible, and on an independent ticket if necessary.”[114]

Democrats utilized economic themes in subsequent elections. In his 1925 reelection effort, Hylan advocated retaining a 5-cent subway fare, which enthralled Harlemites.[115] It prompted a group of black activists to form the Hylan Five-Cent Fare Club.[116] The Pocahontas Negro Democratic Club took out an ad in the New York Age asserting, “The colored people of Harlem number upward 200,000, one-half of which travel out of the district each day to business, and with increase of [carfare] of $18.00 per capita [for] this district alone.” “[T]his is enough,” it continued, “to cause the voters to rally to the support of Mayor Hylan.”[117] That same year, the Colored Women’s Democratic League, an affiliate of the UCD, donated five hundred baskets to needy children.[118] The mayor lost the primary to Jimmy Walker but won Harlem.

Black democratic activists continued to stress “material assistance” into the Walker administration. The Colored Citizens’ Non-Partisan Committee for the Re-Election of Mayor Walker praised the incumbent’s stand on the five-cent fare, his advocacy of a local rent law which prevented “unscrupulous landlords from exploiting the occupants of low-rental apartments” and “mostly affected Harlem housing.”   The committee told black voters that because of the mayor’s opposition to a 40% fare hike “you saved at least $5.00 a year” and claimed that the rental law “saved…Negro tenants hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.” It lauded the administration for public improvements in Harlem, including swimming pools, a public bath, new traffic lights, and “repaving, widening, and resurfacing streets and avenues in Harlem.”[119]

This increased competition prompted African American elites to sharpen both their racial appeals and expand the electorate (and blackness). In 1928, Edward Johnson, whose election to the Assembly in 1917 had been engineered by the UCL and who had submitted legislation curbing child labor protections, ran for Congress on the Republican ticket.[120] The Amsterdam News proclaimed that it was the duty of “every Negro voter, Republican or Democrat” to “send Edward A. Johnson to Congress.” It added, “Remember that you are voting for him, not as the member of a party, but as the representative of a race which has long been denied political recognition.”[121] At a registration rally, Johnson argued that “foreign-born Negroes living in Harlem take out citizenship papers so that they might enjoy the political benefits of this country.”[122] When he lost, the Amsterdam News chastised black residents for shirking their duty: “[Johnson] made a good run and received enough white support to have won if the Negroes had only done in their full part.”[123]

Elite-driven racial cues abounded during the next electoral cycle. In 1929, Harvard Law School graduate Lamar Perkins entered the Republican primary for the Assembly as an independent candidate, [124] Managed by Samuel F. Holman, who had led Johnson’s failed Congressional bid,[125] the insurgent campaign decried white domination of the district. Perkins declared, “We are tired of the white despots who hand us hand-picked representatives…and then speak of racial cooperation.”[126] During that same cycle, Republicans nominated Hubert T. Delaney, an African American assistant United States attorney and son of a prominent North Carolina Bishop, as its congressional candidate.[127] Harlem’s political class enthusiastically backed his candidacy. William M. Kelly, editor of the Amsterdam News, even managed his campaign. Clarifying his strategy, Delany hoped that “race pride” would “break down party lines.”[128] According to his calculations, he needed ten thousand votes, and he intended “to ask the women of Harlem to give me those votes.”[129] When the Democrat defeated him, Delany groused about Tammany racial mischief and poor black voter registration and turnout.[130] The Chicago Defender concurred with the latter, asserting that the chances of electing a “Race congressman” declined when “our people” did not demonstrate enough interest in registering and voting. The paper also castigated some black leaders for abandoning the Republican party: “Like…white men, he too, has become [a] political opportunist, and the party of Abraham Lincoln [and the freeing of the slaves] …no longer appeals to him.”[131]

The Defender was not entirely wrong. Some “race men,” former Republican stalwarts, had started to cozy up to the Tammany tiger.   In a 1931 editorial, the Amsterdam News urged Harlemites to “defeat Fred R. Moore,” the Age publisher who had been elected to Board of Alderman. Among several calumnies, the paper criticized Moore for voting with Tammany and working with Democratic Mayor Jimmy Walker. After endorsing his previous two runs, the paper now called him a “good old Uncle Tom” and a “Negro has risen to power by hoodwinking his own race.”[132] Although instigated by a “bitter newspaper [feud],”[133] this condemnation hinted at something salacious and entirely conceivable: Democratic monopoly of city government inured some rapacious “race men” to Tammany.

This theory, however, disregarded the popular origins of Democratic victories and their effects on Harlem’s political elites. Nothing illustrates this more than the evolving politics of housing. Toward the end of the 1910s, Democrats, locally and statewide, began to embrace housing reforms as a key part of their agenda. Mayor Hylan and then Governor Al Smith introduced measures to aid tenants with rising rents, give renters more bargaining power against landlords, and compel property owners to provide quality housing.[134] None of this was out of the goodness of their hearts. Propertied interests were as powerful in Tammany Hall as they were in the Republican party or among “race leaders,” but socialist organizing around these issues and the mobilization of tenant associations threatened the Tiger’s hold on power.[135]

In Harlem, Democratic credit-claiming and the mobilization of cross-racial tenant associations pushed black and white Republicans to left on housing issues.[136] In 1925, Jewish Republican Assemblyman for Harlem Abraham Grenthal introduced a bill mandating that landlords make needed repairs and main sanitary conditions.[137] The New York Age praised his “championing of the interests of the tenants in New York.”[138] After winning a seat in the Assembly from Harlem’s 21st Assembly District in 1929, Republican Lamar Perkins vowed to assist the rent payers of Harlem, take on the exuberant rates pawn brokers, and aid taxi owners and drivers.[139]   In 1930, newly-elected Republican from Harlem’s 19th Assembly District Eugene Rivers, who had been educated at Yale and Columbia Law School,[140] introduced legislation that permitted a tenant to withhold rent if the landlord was found to be in violation of health and housing codes, forcing property owners to complete needed repairs.[141] Praising the legislative efforts of Perkins and Rivers, the Urban League’s Opportunity noted that “[n]either the proposed legislation nor its opposition is based wholly on race”: “Class interests alone have determined the complexion of the opposing groups.”[142] That is, two African American politicos who had been mentored and supported by UCL members stood up against propertied interests they would have otherwise supported a decade before.

Eventually, white leadership in Harlem came to an end. In 1944, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. became, in his own words, “the first bad nigger in Congress.”[143] With Powell, we get a “political blackness” that not only is inclusive of poor and working-class African Americans but one that exists for it.[144] Years before, Powell, the son of an UCL supporter and one of Harlem’s great “race men,” waged a “Jobs for Negroes” campaign and became the leader of the Greater New York Coordinating Committee for Employment. This more democratic blackness was not unique to Powell. [145] “The ‘struggle for Negro rights’ in postwar New York,” historian Martha Biondi tells us, “began as a fight to keep jobs.” In fact, she finds the “support of Harlem’s middle-class leadership for social democratic, pro-union politics created a deeply enabling environment and a broad push for social change.”[146]

This progressive middle-class leadership, however, should not be viewed as a logical consequence of the racial order or a natural result of the New Deal era. Although the UCL promised in 1913 to promote the “interest and welfare of the Negro voter,” its program and that of most Harlem’s “race men” prioritized the welfare of New York’s black elite, especially those in real estate. Even as this coterie abandoned Booker T. Washington, its “militant” approach to civil rights did not fully attend to the desires and aspirations of working-class African Americans. It was not until the mid-to-late 1920s that Harlem’s elite began to enlarge blackness and target the compounded disadvantages of racial capitalism. Only after local Democrats began to siphon votes and threaten black Republican pursuit of power by promoting affordable transportation, public improvements, and better housing, did this petite bourgeoisie fully attend to the wishes and worldviews of the multitude.


This brief study of the evolution of “race leadership” in Harlem from the turn of the twentieth century to the New Deal raises serious methodological questions about the historiography of black politics as well as normative defenses of race-based activism. Recovering African American history is a tortuous endeavor, at times a profoundly politicized project.[147] Racial capitalism complicates the craft. Indigenous sources, such as organizational records, letters, and periodicals, generated by social elites do not offer a black history from below.[148] Based on these types of documents, histories of Harlem at this moment described it as a period of rising racial consciousness.[149]  Yet black elites and periodicals were not unbiased arbiters of sentiment or the racial order. Tracing the racial claims of members of Harlem’s political class, specifically those associated with the UCL and the Republican machine, reveals their instrumental origins. At some moments, they bellowed, “Down with white leadership!” At others, they pleaded for interracial cooperation. At some moments, they called for “race pride.” At others, they demanded party loyalty. These shifts did not follow inflections in the racial order. African American political elites consistently defined and redefined blackness and assessed and reassessed racism to achieve their own goals.

Again, telling African American history from below is challenging. I have attempted to overcome formidable obstacles by triangulating different sources, including rare surveys, organizational data, and voting trends. Instead of confirming a natural solidarity, they tell a more complicated story. Middle-class and working-class African Americans migrated to New York for different reasons. While Jim Crow looms large in the migration narratives of “race men” and “race women,” available surveys suggest that working-class African Americans moved to cities for work and love. Once in New York City, racial capitalism constrained elite access to capital. For black laborers, racial capitalism limited access to collective bargaining and quality work. These contrasting structural locations beget conflicting material interests and cultural sensibilities. Harlem’s civic life frequently exacerbated these differences while its political life frequently ignored them. But not for long. Registration and voting data suggest that as “race men” ramped up their campaign for “negro representation,” Democrats mobilized around “material assistance” and began to undercut Republican strength and the political influence of black elites. “Race men” responded to these new incentives by freeing themselves of conservative economics, inviting more African Americans into the electoral process, and devising a “political blackness” that joined “negro representation” and “material assistance.”

“Race men” figure prominently in descriptive studies of black political thought normative evaluations of African American politics.[150] Specifically, scholars have plumbed the statements and writings of race to explain the nature of the American racial order and defend demands for recognition, separation, and solidarity.[151] While many of these leaders do not bear the same specific and intense economic motivations as property owners in early 20th Century Harlem, they were nonetheless impacted by their class position. Few have unmasked the dizzying malevolence of white supremacy than W. E. B. DuBois, but, if one would have drafted a political agenda based on his theory of Harlem, it would have been inadequate. A program for the “conventional” and “conservative” “average colored man” would have excluded the perspectives of many women, immigrants, and all the folks that enjoyed pool rooms more than pews and pulpits.

All of this also indicates the pitfalls of the scholarly fixation on national black leadership and African American politics. Just looking at national measures from the turn of the twentieth century to the New Deal, one could tell a simple racial story about the movement from Lincoln to FDR. But those accounts would miss definitive episodes in the historical development of African American politics and the conjunctural and contingent nature of racial politics. In cities, “race men” were deeply embedded within social orders generated by racial capitalism. They were also actors within complex local polities. The confluence meant that, at some moments, middle-class “race men” could depend on “race pride” and “race loyalty” to gain influence and maintain their own personal position. The confluence also meant that, at other moments, “race pride” and “race loyalty” would not be enough: they would be vulnerable to competition from those willing to appeal to elements and concerns at odds with their own class-based interests and sensibilities. The response to the latter was a bigger blackness, fuller in scope and intention.

The local lens helps us observe and understand those moments when “political blackness” is not just exclusive but also dangerous. While endorsing civil rights for all, many “race men” in Harlem endorsed an economic philosophy that harmed most. To be clear, none of this is a defense of white leadership. Given the logic of racial capitalism, it is reasonable to believe that the interests and desires of everyday black folk would not be well served by white middle- or working-class leadership. Indeed, despite their failings, Harlem’s “race men” were seminal figures in the development of equal rights in New York State, which certainly served poor and working-class African Americans well. Instead, this analysis complicates our theoretical and normative understanding of “black power” and its pursuit by African American leaders. Even as calls for “black power” justly responds to the shared constraints and indignities of white supremacy, advocates are also engaging in their own race-making work. “Black power” exists simultaneously as an articulated descriptive and normative claim about the distribution of influence within the broader society and an unarticulated normative claim about the distribution of influence within black communities. Harlem’s early history demonstrates that African Americans must always interrogate both sets of claims. The moral of this story is that without competition and contestation “political blackness” can fail most black people even as it strives to aid all.


[1] “3000 Negroes Demand State and City Rights,” New York Tribune, July 30, 1917, 9. “Royal Endorsed for Alderman,” New York Age, September 25, 1913, 1-2. “Harlem’s Negro Club,” New York Times, February 17, 1918, 48.

[2] “Negroes Rally around Royall,” New York Age, October 2, 1913, 1-2.

[3] “Machine Politics in Harlem,” New York Amsterdam News Amsterdam News, April 8, 1925, 12.

[4] Clair St. Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Black metropolis: a study of negro life in a northern city (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1945), 392-393.

[5] Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (New York: W. Morrow, 1984). Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement A Radical Democratic Vision (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003). Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993). Belinda Robnett, “African-American Women in the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965: Gender, Leadership, and Micromobilization,” American Journal of Sociology vol. 101, no. 6 (1996): 1661-1693.

[6] Toni Morrison, Race-Ing Justice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas and the Construction of Social Reality (London: Chatto, 1993). Bell Hooks, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1981).

[7] Hazel V. Carby, Race Men (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), 10.

[8] Adolph L. Reed, Stirrings in the Jug: Black Politics in the Post-Segregation Era (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).

[9] Cedric Johnson, Revolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007).

[10] Cathy J. Cohen, Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

[11] Lester K. Spence, Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics. (Brooklyn, NY: Punctum Books, 2016). Lester K. Spence, Stare in the Darkness: The Limits of Hip-hop and Black Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011).

[12] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010). Wesley Lowery, They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement (New York: Little Brown and Company, 2016). Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015)

[13] Donna Murch, Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). Thomas J. Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty: the Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North (New York: Random House, 2009).

[14] Katherine Tate, From Protest to Politics: The New Black Voters in American Elections. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1994. Michael Dawson, Behind the Mule: Race and Class in African-American Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).

[15] Michael Tesler, Post-Racial or Most-Racial?: Race and Politics in the Obama Era (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016). Donald R. Kinder and Lynn M. Sanders, Divided by color: racial politics and democratic Ideals (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996)

[16] Leah Wright Rigueur, The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017). Edward G. Carmines and James A. Stimson, Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989). Thomas Byrne Edsall and Mary D. Edsall Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics (New York: W.W. Norton, 1991).

[17] Reuel R. Rogers, Afro-Caribbean Immigrants and the Politics of Incorporation: Ethnicity, Exception, or Exit (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). Paula D. McClain, et al, “Black Americans and Latino immigrants in a southern city: Friendly neighbors or economic competitors?.” Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 4, no. 1(2007): 97-117. Claire J. Kim, Bitter Fruit: The Politics of Black-Korean conflict in New York City (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

[18] Candis Watts Smith and Christina M. Greer, Black Politics in Transition: Immigration, Suburbanization, and Gentrification (London: Routledge, 2018). Michael B. Katz, Why Don’t American Cities Burn? (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).

[19] Michael Javen Fortner, Black Silent Majority: the Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015). Michael Javen Fortner, “‘Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?’ Reverend Oberia Dempsey and His Citizens War on Drugs,” Journal of Policy History 27.1 (2015): 118-156.

[20] Spence, Knocking the Hustle, xxiii.

[21] Dawson, Behind the Mule, 57.

[22] Ibid., 58.

[23] Tariq Modood, “Political Blackness and British Asians,” Sociology 28, no. 4 (1994): 859-876.

[24] Ibid., 864, 865.

[25] Ibid., 866.

[26] Robert Miles, “Marxism versus the Sociology of ‘Race Relations’?.” Ethnic and Racial Studies vol. 7, no. 2(1984): 217-237, 222.

[27] Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s (New York: Routledge, 1994), 34.

[28] Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

[29] Ibid., 3.

[30] Ibid., 42.

[31] Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Race and Globalization,” in Geographies of Global Change: Remapping the World, ed. R. J. Johnston et al (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002).

[32] Jordanna Matlon, “Racial Capitalism and the crisis of Black Masculinity,” American Sociological Review 8, no. 15 (2016): 1014-1038. Jodi Melamed, “Racial Capitalism,” Critical Ethnic Studies 1.1 (2015): 76-85. Laura Pulido, “Geographies of race and ethnicity II: Environmental racism, racial capitalism and state-sanctioned violence,” Progress in Human Geography 41, no. 4 (2017): 524-533.

[33] Nancy Leong, “Racial Capitalism,” Harvard Law Review, vol. 126, no. 8(2012): 2151-2226

[34] Roger Waldinger, Howard Aldrich, and Robin Ward. Ethnic Entrepreneurs: Immigrant Business in Industrial Societies (Newbury Park, Calif: Sage Publications).

[35] John S. Butler, Entrepreneurship and Self-Help Among Black Americans: A Reconsideration of Race and Economics (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991)

[36] N. D. B. Connolly, A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

[37] Ibid., 281.

[38] Rayford W. Logan, The Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir, 1877-1901 (New York: Dial Press, 1954). James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006). Desmond S. King, Separate and Unequal: African Americans and the Us Federal Government (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, Chapter 1. Desmond S. King, Still a House Divided: Race and Politics in Obama’s America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), Chapter 3.

[39] Daniel Kato, Liberalizing Lynching: Building a New Racialized State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

[40] Marcy S. Sacks, Before Harlem: The Black Experience in New York City Before World War I (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006).

[41] Seth M. Scheiner, Negro Mecca: A History of the Negro in New York City, 1865-1920 (New York: New York University Press, 1965), 221.

[42] James H. Dillard and R H. Leavell, Negro Migration in 1916-17 (Washington: Gov. Print. Off, 1919). Bloome D, Feigenbaum J, Muller C. Tenancy, Marriage, and the Boll Weevil Infestation, 1892-1930. Demography. 2017;54(3):1029–1049. Fabian Lange, Alan L. Olmstead, and Paul W. Rhode. “The impact of the boll weevil, 1892–1932,” Journal of Economic History 69, no. 3 (2009): 685-718.

[43] Doug McAdam, Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).

[44] Helen Augusta Tucker, Negro Craftsmen in New York (master’s thesis, Columbia University, 1907, 10), COA F07 v.15., Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York [hereinafter RBML].

[45] Benjamin Harrison Locke, The Community Life of a Harlem Group of Negroes (MA Thesis: Columbia University, New York, 1913), 8-9, RBML.

[46] George Edmund Haynes, The Negro at Work in New York City: A Study in Economic Progress (New York: Columbia University, Longmans, Green & Co., agents). See also: Clyde Vernon Kiser, Sea Island to City a Study of St. Helena Islanders in Harlem and Other Urban Centers (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932).

[47] Haynes, Negro at Work in New York City, 535.

[48] “Race is Dancing itself to Death,” New York Age, January 8, 1914, 1.

[49] “Results Secured by Business Campaign,” New York Age, November 30, 1916, 1. “Influential Trade Body,” New York Age, April 13, 1916, 1. “Race Business Men Need to Reform Their Methods of Conducting Business,” New York Age, June 23, 1923, 1

[50] New York Amsterdam News, May 9, 1928, 2.

[51] “Local Realty Men Doing Big Business,” New York Age, December 5, 1912, 1.

[52] Thomas L. Dabney, “Negro Workers at the Crossroads,” Labor Age, XVI (1927), 8- 10. Thomas L. Dabney, “Organized Labor’s Attitude towards Negro Workers,” Southern Workman, LVII (1928): 323-30.

[53] Tucker, Negro Craftsmen

[54] Forrester B. Washington, A Study of Negro Employees of Apartment Houses in New York City (New York: National Urban League for Social Service Among Negroes, 1916).

[55] W.E.B. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk (New York: Tribeca Books, 2011). “Dr. B. T. Washington, Negro Leader, Dead,” New York Times, November 15, 1915, 1.

[56] Report of the Eleventh Annual Convention of the National Negro Business League held in New York City, August 17-19, 1910 (Records of the National Negro Business League, Part 1. Annual Conference Proceedings and Organizational Records, Reel 2).

[57] For excellent discussions of “uplift” and its historical origins and effects, see: Kevin Kelly Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995). Touré F. Reed, Not Alms but Opportunity: The Urban League & the Politics of Racial Uplift, 1910 – 1950 (Chapel Hill, NC: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2008).

[58] Report of the Eleventh Annual Convention of the National Negro Business League.

[59] Letter from Booker T. Washington to Oswald Garrison Villard, April 19, 1911, Letter from Booker T. Washington to Charles William Anderson, March 28, 1911, Booker T. Washington Papers, vol. 11, Louis R. Harlan, and Raymond Smock, eds. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 46, 109.

[60] Letter from Charles William Anderson to Emmett Jay Scott, New York City, December 4, 1915, Booker T. Washington Papers, vol. 13. Louis R. Harlan, and Raymond Smock, eds. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 475.

[61] Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Marching Blacks: An Interpretive History of the Rise of the Black Common Man (New York, NY: Dial Press, 1945), 49.

[62] “Report of the New York Branch,” January 2, 1917, (Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division, Washington, D.C., [hereinafter LOC], Records of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [hereinafter NAACP Records]. Part 1, Box I: G142, Folder 7).

[63] National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. NAACP Annual Report (New York: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1918), 83.

[64] “N. A. A. C. P. Drive,” Amsterdam News, May 23, 1923, 12.

[65] E. Franklin Frazier, “Garvey: A Mass Leader,” Nation, CXIII (1926), 147-48.

[66] “What Garvey Thinks of Du Bois,” Negro World, January 1, 1921.

[67] “Interview with W.E.B. Du Bois by Charles Mowbray White,” August 22, 1920, The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Vol. II. Robert A. Hill, ed. (Berkeley: University of Berkeley Press, 1986), 620.

[68] Ebenezer Ray, “As-We-See-It,” New York Age, July 21, 1934. Letter from H. S. Boulin, Circa 1934, (Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, New York Public Library, New York, NY. Library [hereinafter Schomburg Center], Herbert Bruce papers, Box 1, Folder 1).

[69] W.E.B. Du Bois, “Review of Nigger Heaven,” December 1926 (Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries [hereinafter UMASS Amherst Libraries], W. E. B. Du Bois Papers [hereinafter Du Bois Papers], MS 312).

[70] Roi Ottley and William J. Weatherby, The Negro in New York An Informal Social History, 1626-1940 (New York: Praeger, 1969), 241-242. See also Seth M. Scheiner, Negro Mecca: A History of the Negro in New York City, 1865-1920 (New York: New York University Press, 1965), Chapter 4.

[71] Seymour, A Group of Virginia Negroes in New York City.

[72] Locke, The Community Life of a Harlem Group of Negroes.

[73] Seymour, A Group of Virginia Negroes in New York City.

[74] James Hubert, “Harlem Landlords Double Rents on Negro Tenants,” Pittsburgh Courier, June 11, 1927, 3. Amiri Baraka, Blues People: Negro Music in White America (New York: Perennial, 2002).

[75] W. E. B. Du Bois, Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (Philadelphia: The University, 1899). Aldon D. Morris, The Scholar Denied: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015).

[76] New York Urban League, Twenty-Four Hundred Negro Families in Harlem: An Interpretation of the Living Conditions of Small Wage Earners Urban League (New York: New York Urban League, 1927).

[77] “Tenants hold Mass Meeting,” New York Age, October 12, 1916, 1.

[78] “Agents Raise Rent on Race,” New York Age, September 28, 1916, 2.

[79] “Tenants hold Mass Meeting,” New York Age, October 12, 1916, 1.

[80] “High Rentals Meeting Warm,” New York Age, December 28, 1916, 1.

[81] “Fight against Raised Rents,” New York Age, October 5, 1916, 7.

[82] “Now Plan New Harlem District,” New York Age, February 12, 1914, 1-2.

[83] Letter from John M. Royall to James W. Johnson, December 16, 1918, (LOC, NAACP Records, Part I, BOX I:C338, Folder 0819).

[84] New York Age, November 1, 1919, 4. United Civic League. United Civic League (Inc.) of New York, ca. 1915 (UMASS Amherst Libraries, Du Bois Papers, MS 312). Letter from John M. Royall to James W. Johnson, December 16, 1918, (LOC, NAACP Records, Part I, BOX I:C338, Folder 0819).

[85] “Whitman Wins Nomination,” New York Age, September 7, 1918, 1. Edgar M. Grey, “Political Leaders in Harlem,” Amsterdam News, November 17, 1926, 15. “Letter from Banquet Committee to James W. Johnson,” December 16, 1918, (LOC, NAACP Records, Part I, BOX I:C338, Folder 0819).

[86] “21st A. D. Political Activities Reveal Interesting Phases as Candidates for Designation at Primaries Selected,” New York Age, August 1, 1925, 1. “Negro Republicans in the 19th A. D. Will Have Opportunity in Coming Primary Express Selves on Race Leadership,” New York Age, July 1928, 1.

[87] “Elect Roberts to Congress,” New York Age, November 1, 1924, 1.

[88] Letter from Charles H. Roberts To James Weldon Johnsons, October 8, 1924, (LOC, NAACP Records), Part I, BOX I:C390, Folder 0370).

[89] Letter from Fred R. Moore to W. E. B. Du Bois, December 30, 1922 (UMASS Amherst Libraries, Du Bois Papers, MS 312).

[90] United Civic League. United Civic League (Inc.) of New York, ca. 1915

[91] “Legislature Passes New Civil Rights Law,” New York Age, April 6, 1918, 1. “Civil Rights,” Crisis, June 1918, 61. “Edward Johnson Surprises Officials of National Title Guarantee,” Amsterdam News, March 30, 1927, 17. “Governor Whitman Signs Civil Rights Bill,” New York Age, April 20, 1018, 1.

[92] “War Council of National Y.M.C.A. Opposes Three Proposals,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 28, 1918, 23.

[93] “Opposes Changes in Child Labor Laws,” Poughkeepsie Eagle-News, February 6, 1918, 4.

[94] A. Philip Randolph, “The Negro in Politics,” The Messenger, July 19, 1919, 20.

[95] “Negro Assemblyman Will Speak in City,” Democrat and Chronicle, March 4, 1918, 14.

[96] Letter from Charles W. Anderson to Booker T. Washington, October 16, 1913, The Booker T. Washington Papers. Vol. 12, eds. Louis R. Harlan and Raymond W. Smock (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977), 314-315.

[97] “Negro Enters Race for Congress Here,” New York Herald, February 24, 1918, 6. “Seat in Congress Sought by Negro,” Christian Science Monitor, February 28, 1918, 11.

“Letter from John M. Royall to James W. Johnson,” December 15, 1919, (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., Part I: Administrative File, 1885-1949, BOX I:C338, Folder 0819).

[98] “Bolles Confident,” New York Herald, March 5, 1918, 3.

[99] “Democrat is Elected to Congress in Harlem,” New York Age, March 9, 1918.

[100] “Politics,” The Crisis, April 1918, 296.

[101] “Negroes Go Over to Bolles,” New York Tribune, March 4, 1918, 14.

[102] “Asks Negro Voters to Support Bolles,” Sun, March 4, 1918, 5.

[103] Louis A. Lavelle, The Political Butcher Knife, Now Again Threatens Colored Populated (Central) Harlem. The Political District Carving of Colored Populated (Central) Harlem into Minorities, One-Third or Less in Several Political Districts Is Threatened Now, Again Like Unto 1916 (New York: The Century Press, 1926). “Lawyer’s Body Is Interred with Honor,” Amsterdam News, September 9, 1944, 7A.

[104] Nancy J. Weiss, Farewell to the Party of Lincoln: Black Politics in the Age of FDR (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989). Eric Schickler, Racial Realignment: The Transformation of American Liberalism, 1932-1965 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016).

[105] Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, Volume 1 (New York: Routledge; 1 edition (December 31, 1996), 1328. Ralph J. Bunche and Dewey W. Grantham, The Political Status of the Negro in the Age of FDR (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976).

[106] W. E. B. Du Bois, “Ferdinand Q. Morton,” Crisis 30 (July 1925): 115-16. Letter from Ferdinand Q Morton to W. E. B. Du Bois, December 7, 1915 ([hereinafter UMASS Amherst Libraries], W. E. B. Du Bois Papers [hereinafter Du Bois Papers], MS 312).

[107] Democratic Party (N.Y.). The Republican Party and the New Freedom, 1916.

[108] Tammany Hall vs. Fusion, 1913 (Schomburg Center, Call Number: SC 329.3-T).

[109] Avalanche of Votes Swamp All Republican Candidate,” New York Age, November 15, 1921, 1.

[110] “Impressions from a Preliminary Study of Negroes of Harlem,” 1921, pg. 13 (Schomburg Center, George Edmund Haynes papers, Box 1, Folder: 1921 Report).

[111] “Campaign on in Earnest,” New York Age, October 22, 1921, 4.

[112] “There’s a Reason,” New York Amsterdam News, February 7, 1923, 12.

[113] “Our Business,” New York Amsterdam News, October 10, 1923, 12.

[114] “There’s a Reason,” New York Amsterdam News, February 7, 1923, 12.

[115] New York Age, September 12, 1925, 2.

[116] John C. Walter and J. Raymond Jones, The Harlem Fox: J. Raymond Jones and Tammany, 1920-1970 (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1989).


[117] New York Age, September 12, 1925, 2.

[118]Ralph J. Bunche and Dewey W. Grantham, The Political Status of the Negro in the Age of FDR (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 601.

[119] Colored Citizens’ Non-partisan Committee for the Re-election of Mayor Walker, “New York City and the Colored Citizen Colored Citizens’: New York City is the finest spot in America for the Negro,” 1929 (RBML, Call Number: KILROE 1929 C719).

[120] Tuskegee Institute, Negro Year Book (Tuskegee Institute, Ala: Negro Year Book Pub. Co, 1919). “People in the News,” Christian Science Monitor, November 10, 1917, 14. “Nominated for NY Assembly,” New Journal and Guide, September 29, 1917, 1.

[121] “Send Johnson to Congress,” New York Amsterdam News, October 17, 1928, 16.

[122] “Mrs. Hortense Warner Makes Attack on Harlem Ministers at St. James Forum’s Registration Rally,” New York Age, September 8, 1928,

[123] “Broken? Or Only Cracked?,” New York Amsterdam, News, November 14, 1928, 16.

[124] “Perkins to Battle for Assembly Post,” New York Amsterdam News, August 14, 1929, 2.

[125] “Perkins Campaign In 21st Under Way,” New York Amsterdam News, August 21, 1929, 3.

[126] “White ‘Despotism’ Hit as Candidates Flay Grenthal at Political,” New York Amsterdam News, September 4, 1929, 3.

[127] Crisis, vol. 36, (1929): 381.

[128] “White ‘Despotism’ Hit as Candidates Flay Grenthal at Political,” New York Amsterdam News, September 4, 1929, 3.

[129] “White ‘Despotism’ Hit as Candidates Flay Grenthal at Political,” New York Amsterdam News, September 4, 1929, 3.

[130] “Delaney Defeat Stirs Harlem to Continue Fight,” New Journal and Guide, November 30, 1929, 4.

[131] “Blame New York Voters for Delaney’s Defeat,” Chicago Defender, November 16, 1929, 1.

[132] “Defeat Fred R. Moore,” New York Amsterdam News, October 28, 1931, 1.

[133] Rienzi Lemus, “Bitter Newspaper Fight Helped to Defeat Veteran N.Y. Editor,” Afro-American, November 14, 1931, 7.

[134] Robert A. Slayton, Empire Statesman: the Rise and Redemption of Al Smith (New York: Free Press, 2001). Oscar Handlin, Al Smith and his America (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1958).

[135] Robert M. Fogelson, The Great Rent Wars: Rent Strikes and Rent Control in New York City, 1917-1929 (New Haven: Yale University, 2013).

[136] Shannon King, Whose Harlem Is This, Anyway?: Community Politics and Grassroots Activism During the New Negro Era (New York: New York University Press, 2015), 118.

[137] “Grenthal Bill is favored by Chair of Judiciary Com.,” New York Age, February 14, 1925, 1.

[138] “G.O.P. Nominees Making Splendid Fight in Harlem,” New York Age, October 31, 1925, 2.

[139] “Perkins Outlines for Service in Assembly,” New York Age, December 28, 1929.

[140] Farnsworth Fowle, “Francis E. Rivers Dies; Black City Judge Was 82,” New York Times, July 29, 1975, 27.

[141] “Rivers Would Force Repairs by Bill,” New York Amsterdam News, January 15, 1930, 1. “Harlem Republicans to Honor Samuel S. Koenig with Dinner on June 7,” New York Age, May 17, 1930, 2. King, Whose Harlem Is This, Anyway?, 118.

[142] Opportunity, vol. 8, no. 5(1930): 136.

[143] Adam Clayton Powell, Adam by Adam: The Autobiography of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (New York: Dial, 1971), 70.

[144] Charles V. Hamilton, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.: The Political Biography of an American Dilemma (New York: Atheneum, 1991).

[145] Wil Haygood, King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993), 94.s

[146] Martha Biondi, To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 17.

[147] Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past,” Journal of American History vol. 91, no. 4 (2005): 1233-1263. Michael Javen Fortner, “The “Silent Majority” in Black and White: Invisibility and Imprecision in the Historiography of Mass Incarceration,” Journal of Urban History 40.2 (2014): 252-282. Michael Javen Fortner, “Historical Method and the Noble Lie: A Reply to Donna Murch,” Boston Review, October 16, 2015.

[148] Robin D. G. Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (New York: The Free Press).

[149] King, Whose Harlem Is This, Anyway?. Edwin R.  Lewinson, Black Politics in New York City (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1974). Michael Louis Goldstein, Race Politics in New York City, 1890-1930: Independent Political Behavior (PhD Dissertation: Columbia University, 1973).

[150] Robert Gooding-Williams, In the Shadow of Du Bois Afro-Modern Political Thought in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009).  Melvin L. Rogers, “The People, Rhetoric, and Affect: On the Political Force of Du Bois’s the Souls of Black Folk,” American Political Science Review vol. 106, no. 1 (2012): 188-203.

[151] Tommie Shelby, We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009).  Andrew Valls, “A Liberal Defense of Black Nationalism,” American Political Science Review vol. 104, no. 3 (2010): 467-481.


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