Questions for Class on 22 March 2007

Sugrue:  The Origins of the Urban Crisis

Study Questions by Linda Noble


A Site to visit:

Excerpts from Sugrue’s 1998 talk with the Free Press



Chapter 1: “Arsenal of Democracy”

1.1. What were the conditions of the manufacturing industry and employment opportunities for African Americans in Detroit during World War II?

1.2. By the 1940s, what were the bases for residential segregation?

1.3 In Sugrue’s argument, what were the main causes of racial inequality in Detroit?


Chapter 2: “Detroit's Time Bomb”: Race and Housing in the 1940s

 2.1 What role did Homeowners, Private Institutional Practices, Government Policies and Programs play in the residential segregation faced by black Americans migrating from the south?

2.2.What does the term “rat belt” refer to? (p. 37)

2.3 What was the self-perpetuating cycle of ghettoization? (p. 55)

2.4. What was the significance of the Sojourner Truth housing project?

2.5. How did the 1949 mayoral election between Edwards and Cobo reveal the conflict between the politics of home and the workplace?



Ch 3: "The Coffin of Peace": The Containment of Public Housing

3.1. New Deal liberalism set the framework for public housing. The passage of the Wagner-Steagall Housing Act provided for the construction of public housing under the United States Housing Authority and in 1949 Congress and the Truman administration reaffirmed the goal in the Taft-Ellender-Wagner Act. Were public housing advocates successful in the developing racially integrated public housing?


Ch 4: "The Meanest & Dirtiest Jobs": The Structures of Employment Discrimination

 4.1.  What factors shaped discrimination practices in the workplace?


Ch 5: "The Damning Mark of False Prosperities": The Deindustrialization of Detroit

 5.1. Detroit’s deindustrialization created massive unemployment and economic stress. Sugrue argues that African Americans faced the largest impact of this deindustrialization. He writes, “in the motor vehicle industry, the black-white gap was great with 19.7 percent of Blacks out of work and 5.8 percent of whites” (p. 144). What caused changes in the conditions of employment in the manufacturing industry by the early 1960s?

5.2 Was automation a grim reaper of jobs?

5.3 Why didn’t Detroit reduce its tax base to lure companies?


Ch 6: "Forget about Your Inalienable Right to Work": Responses to Industrial Decline and Discrimination

 6.1. Sugrue states, “There was a trend against a structural understanding of poverty and unemployment." (p. 156) Unemployment can be framed as a “structural” problem or the result of individuals' deficiencies. Compare these two perspectives.



Ch 7: Class, Status and Residency: The Changing Geography of Black Detroit

 7.1. What was the purpose of "restrictive covenants?"

7.2. What was the mixed reaction to of the Shelley v. Kramer (1948), Supreme Court's decision, declaring restrictive covenants unenforceable?

7.3. How and why did the real estate agents encourage white flight?


Ch 8: "Homeowners' Rights": White Resistance and the Rise of Antiliberalism

8.1. How did Homeowners' associations react to open housing?

8.2. Sugrue states, “The ghetto is not simply a physical construct, but also an ideological construct? Urban space became a metaphor for perceived racial differences?” (p. 229) How accurate is this description? What were conditions like in Paradise Valley?


Ch 9: "United Communities are Impregnable": Violence and the Color Line

9.1. What does Sugrue mean by "defended" versus "undefended" neighborhoods?

9.2. What is the function of the “cognitive map?” Sugrue describes? (p. 233)

9.3. What was the violence against black pioneers, whites who sold to blacks, real estate people who dealt with blacks?

9.4. Sugrue writes, "The desire and ability to move without the right to move is refined slavery (p. 258)." What actions did women and teens take to participate in this violence?



Sugrue’s case study of Detroit's postwar urban crisis describes the conditions of poverty and racial discrimination in urban communities. He argues that the urban crisis is the result of two problems, first, capitalism generates economic inequality and secondly, African Americans have disproportionately borne the impact of that inequality.

10.1. Given the social and economic changes in the postwar period, that made the context of Detroit’s 1967 riot differ from the 1943 riot, does Sugrue make a convincing argument that the urban crisis was not just the result of a post riot panic in 1967?

10.2. Were education, job training and youth programs an adequate response to deindustrialization and discrimination?

10.3. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Sugrue’s case study approach.

10.4. What are the implications of Sugrue’s work for public policy?