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A New Kind of Old Black Suburb

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Abstract:

With a critical mass of people living and working in suburbs, the United States has become a largely suburban nation, and tensions surrounding race and identity have figured prominently in suburban landscapes. Scholars have given significant attention to the role of race in shaping the suburban sites that rapidly developed in the post-World War II period, especially with regard to narratives of white flight and discriminatory housing practices. However, suburbanization in the United States has a much longer history that reaches back to the 19th century; an emphasis on suburbs first developed after World War II overlooks the trajectories of older suburbs and the unique ways that race has figured in these settings. This project takes up these questions of race and suburbanization and examines them through the life experiences and neighborhood contexts of black residents in railroad suburbs, which are among the oldest examples of suburbs in the United States. I ground the project in a case study located in one of the best-known group of railroad suburbs, those that grew up along Philadelphia's Main Line.

Like other railroad suburbs, 19th-century developers first promoted the Main Line as a stylish retreat from the crowded city for white elites, and contemporary scholars and popular culture largely have reproduced this image. Yet, interwoven between large single-family homes on expansive tracts of land, one also finds heterogeneity in more modest homes and communities whose residents historically have been African Americans. These areas emerged in the late 19th century as neighborhoods for service workers who, given the limited transportation available to them, could not easily commute from Philadelphia and lived on the Main Line to be closer to their places of work, both private and institutional. Over a century, these individuals and families have established continuities of place, economic relationships and institutions while adapting to changing circumstances of integration and shifts within the context of the Main Line. Drawing on in-depth interviews with contemporary black Main Line residents, I ask what the suburban identities and geographies of railroad suburbs look like when viewed through the neighborhoods and lives of black residents. In particular, I examine how black residents define their communities in opposition to a predominantly white Main Line and the threats they perceive to the cohesion of their communities as they grapple with discrimination, gentrification, and an out migration of younger residents.

This alternative narrative of suburbia will show how black Main Line residents have negotiated and shaped racial identities in space. While situated on the Main Line, this work will serve as a medium to reexamine wider existing views of suburban development and contribute to the study of race and identity in suburbs--understudied, yet significant facets of American society.
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Association:
Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245230_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Pottinger, Trecia. "A New Kind of Old Black Suburb" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Oct 16, 2008 <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245230_index.html>

APA Citation:

Pottinger, T. , 2008-10-16 "A New Kind of Old Black Suburb" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245230_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: With a critical mass of people living and working in suburbs, the United States has become a largely suburban nation, and tensions surrounding race and identity have figured prominently in suburban landscapes. Scholars have given significant attention to the role of race in shaping the suburban sites that rapidly developed in the post-World War II period, especially with regard to narratives of white flight and discriminatory housing practices. However, suburbanization in the United States has a much longer history that reaches back to the 19th century; an emphasis on suburbs first developed after World War II overlooks the trajectories of older suburbs and the unique ways that race has figured in these settings. This project takes up these questions of race and suburbanization and examines them through the life experiences and neighborhood contexts of black residents in railroad suburbs, which are among the oldest examples of suburbs in the United States. I ground the project in a case study located in one of the best-known group of railroad suburbs, those that grew up along Philadelphia's Main Line.

Like other railroad suburbs, 19th-century developers first promoted the Main Line as a stylish retreat from the crowded city for white elites, and contemporary scholars and popular culture largely have reproduced this image. Yet, interwoven between large single-family homes on expansive tracts of land, one also finds heterogeneity in more modest homes and communities whose residents historically have been African Americans. These areas emerged in the late 19th century as neighborhoods for service workers who, given the limited transportation available to them, could not easily commute from Philadelphia and lived on the Main Line to be closer to their places of work, both private and institutional. Over a century, these individuals and families have established continuities of place, economic relationships and institutions while adapting to changing circumstances of integration and shifts within the context of the Main Line. Drawing on in-depth interviews with contemporary black Main Line residents, I ask what the suburban identities and geographies of railroad suburbs look like when viewed through the neighborhoods and lives of black residents. In particular, I examine how black residents define their communities in opposition to a predominantly white Main Line and the threats they perceive to the cohesion of their communities as they grapple with discrimination, gentrification, and an out migration of younger residents.

This alternative narrative of suburbia will show how black Main Line residents have negotiated and shaped racial identities in space. While situated on the Main Line, this work will serve as a medium to reexamine wider existing views of suburban development and contribute to the study of race and identity in suburbs--understudied, yet significant facets of American society.


Similar Titles:
The Multiple Identities of High Achieving Black Students: Initial findings from a Black Suburb in the U.S. South

Influencing black achievement in the suburbs: Portraits of black educators in predominantly white suburban schools

Diversity of a Different Kind: Gentrification and Its Impact on Social Capital and Political Engagement in Black Communities


 
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