Black Urbanism and Power vs. Change

Mayor Carl Stokes of Cleveland
Richard Hatcher on the mayoral campaign trail in Gary, 1967
First let me say that it was certainly not my intention to take an entire month off from writing on this blog.  I guess many things conspired to keep me away from this.  For those who were looking for insightful, cutting-edge writing on urban planning and missed it – you were looking in the wrong place.  But I promise to write more frequently once again.
I wanted to follow up on the matter of black urbanism that I brought up on threedifferent occasions over the last couple of months.  I first posed rather provocative question of why there were no black urbanists, at least as I defined an urbanist.  My second post tried to answer that question, and my third entry attempted to find common ground where black urbanism and black urbanists might be able to fill a void in the national discussion on our built environment.
Since then I’ve had a chance to revisit the reasons why few (if any) African Americans have emerged on the national stage as an urbanist.  Simply put, I believe no prominent, national-level black urbanist has emerged in the United States because for the last half-century, black urban dwellers put the pursuit of power ahead of the pursuit for change.  This is not completely a bad thing – in fact, I think it fits with the pattern of other ethnic group’s experiences in our nation’s history, and bodes well for urban blacks in upcoming decades.
Anyone who has studied the Civil Rights Movement knows that in its latter stages (post 1965 or so) the movement was getting strong challenges from Black Power activists who wanted to mobilize for political – and sometimes forceful – control of their environments.  The actors are familiar to many: Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers, among others. 
While the nonviolent protesters of the early Civil Rights Movement won the early battles, one could argue that the activists of the Black Power movement won the war.  They were able to articulate a vision of political power for blacks in America, not simply a vision of political inclusion.  Soon after its emergence, the Black Power movement spawned black political activism in cities across the country, and before long blacks were being elected to mayoral posts in major cities – Cleveland, Newark, Gary, Detroit, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Washington, DC being among the first (through the mid-1970s).
Here’s where I bring this back to planning and urbanism.  The movement toward political activism by blacks in the late 1960s and early 1970s is no different than that of immigrant ethnic groups in America after the Civil War.  Planning as a discipline only began to emerge at the beginning of the 20thCentury – at a point when it could be argued that people realized that the pursuit of power wasn’t enough to create the change communities desired.
A couple of months ago I would’ve said that the lack of a “prominent black urbanist” was a reflection of exclusion.  Now, I think it’s simply a notion that had to travel its particular course. 

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