A Covenant with Color: Race and Social Power in Brooklyn 1636-1990

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Columbia University Press, Jul 5, 2000 - History - 320 pages

Spanning three centuries of Brooklyn history from the colonial period to the present, A Covenant with Color exposes the intricate relations of dominance and subordination that have long characterized the relative social positions of white and black Brooklynites. Craig Steven Wilder -- examining both quantitative and qualitative evidence and utilizing cutting-edge literature on race theory -- demonstrates how ideas of race were born, how they evolved, and how they were carried forth into contemporary society.

In charting the social history of one of the nation's oldest urban locales, Wilder contends that power relations -- in all their complexity -- are the starting point for understanding Brooklyn's turbulent racial dynamics. He spells out the workings of power -- its manipulation of resources, whether in the form of unfree labor, privileges of citizenship, better jobs, housing, government aid, or access to skilled trades. Wilder deploys an extraordinary spectrum of evidence to illustrate the mechanics of power that have kept African American Brooklynites in subordinate positions: from letters and diaries to family papers of Kings County's slaveholders, from tax records to the public archives of the Home Owners Loan Corporation.

Wilder illustrates his points through a variety of cases, including banking interests, the rise of Kings County's colonial elite, industrialization and slavery, race-based distribution of federal money in jobs, and mortgage loans during and after the Depression. He delves into the evolution of the Brooklyn ghetto, tracing how housing segregation corralled African Americans in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The book explores colonial enslavement, the rise of Jim Crow, labor discrimination and union exclusion, and educational inequality. Throughout, Wilder uses Brooklyn as a lens through which to view larger issues of race and power on a national level.

One of the few recent attempts to provide a comprehensive history of race relations in an American city, A Covenant with Color is a major contribution to urban history and the history of race and class in America.

 

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Contents

The Trial of Race
1
RACE AND SOCIAL POWER Slavery and the Evolution of an Idea 16361827
5
LITTLE MASTERS Slavery and the Evolution of a City 16361827
21
RUGGED INDUSTRIES The Commercial Revolution in Kings County 17971876
43
IRISH OVER BLACK The Advent of Bourgeois Democracy in Kings County 18001865
59
HOPE HATE AND THE CLASS STRUGGLE The End of Slaverys Dominion in the City of Churches 18271865
81
THE LEGACY OF MASTERY The Rise and Prestige of Jim Crow in Brooklyn 18651930
107
FRUIT OF THE CLASS STRUGGLE Labor Segmentation and Exclusion in Brooklyn 18651950
135
THE COVENANT OF COLOR Race Gender and Defense Work in Brooklyn 19301945
159
VULNERABLE PEOPLE UNDESIRABLE PLACES The New Deal and the Making of the Brooklyn Ghetto 19201990
175
A SOCIETY SUCH AS OUR OWN Education and Labor in the Brooklyn Ghetto 19501990
219
A Fair Interpretation
235
Notes
243
Bibliography
291
Index
315
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About the author (2000)

Craig Steven Wilder is assistant professor of history and chair of African American Studies at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He was born and raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he continues to reside during part of the year.

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