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Buildings 2014, 4(2), 155-194; doi:10.3390/buildings4020155

Fourth World Theory: The Evolution of . . .
Olon F. Dotson
Department of Architecture, College of Architecture and Planning, Ball State University, Muncie, IN 47306, USA; Tel.: +1-765-285-1900; Fax: +1-765-285-1765
Received: 21 January 2014; in revised form: 13 March 2014 / Accepted: 22 April 2014 / Published: 21 May 2014


: Fourth World theory is a methodology for examining and developing greater understanding of the extent of the distress and abandonment commonly found in the cores of American cities resulting from de-industrialization, historic segregation and discrimination patterns, suburban sprawl, erosion of a viable tax base, racism, inability to embrace the concept of desegregation and civil rights legislation, fear, despair, crumbling infrastructure systems, disinvestment in urban school systems, and environmental justice issues. This article uses the analytical lens of Fourth World theory to examine how such structural and cultural forces contributed to the severely distressed conditions now found in the city of Gary, Indiana. Tracking its one-hundred-year history, from its founding as an industrial town through its post-industrial decline occurring during the city’s first African-American mayor’s five terms in office, the methodology clearly demonstrates how the social construction of race has systematically undermined every aspect of Gary’s overall quality of life. To illustrate that this city is not an anomaly but rather reflects a typical pattern of disparity and uneven development arising from racist practices, Gary is compared to other cities of similar size and also to the much larger Detroit. The article triangulates academic literature, news media archives, and an oral history provided by the mayor to show how Gary evolved from being a model industrial city to a cauldron of racial disparity. The paper concludes by arguing that continued absence of reflection on the nation’s historical racialization of place threatens not just impoverished communities of color, but also the sustainability of the entire nation.
social justice; segregation; place-based inequality; socially conscious design; community assets

1. Introduction

Arguably, the United States continues to be the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth; yet, little attention is paid to the scale and magnitude of its poverty and degradation. The term “sustainability” is currently at the forefront of academic and popular discourse as part of a larger global imperative to reduce the effect of development on the natural environment. However, this is inconsequential when historic discrimination and segregation patterns and chronic societal ills dictate continued sprawling development practices, which I argue is the case in the city of Gary, Indiana. In this article, I will use Fourth World theory to examine and develop greater understanding of the current state of affairs. It will explore and apply research from sociological publications, African-American studies and urban studies sources, writings containing discourse on the brief history of the city, and oral histories of Gary residents, including an interview with five-term Gary former mayor, Richard Gordon Hatcher.

Gary, Indiana is located on the southern tip of Lake Michigan in the northwest corner of Indiana, approximately thirty-five miles from the central business district of Chicago. Named in honor of its Chairman of the Board, the city was founded in 1906 by the United States Steel Corporation and was established to house workers and families for its massive factory. Initially, Gary was populated primarily by the skilled and unskilled construction workers hired to build the plant and the community. Many of the workers were transient in nature and the population had a relatively high turnover rate. However, a significant percentage of the construction workforce remained in Gary to work for U.S. Steel in the mill. On 1 June 1906, the population was 334; by 1 January 1907, it was 5550; by 1 January 1908, it was about 8000; and by 23 November 1908, it was 10,246 [1]. Throughout the twentieth century, this single-industry town’s growth paralleled the expansion and contraction of U.S. Steel’s operations. The population of Gary peaked at nearly 200,000 during the 1960s; however, two simultaneous developments occurred in the city that led to its devolution into what can be classified as a Fourth World city. Massive and unprecedented race- and class-based flight combined with the national out-migration of steel production resulted in a rapid population decline and institutional abandonment. The decline and disappearance of work also undermined the overall social organization of the city. Currently, Gary, Indiana is a struggling post-industrial community with a population of less than 80,000. The city was recently designated by the Obama administration as one of seven severely distressed cities that will take part in the federally sponsored “Strong Cities, Strong Communities” initiative designed to reverse the course of socioeconomic decline.

Previous scholarship has explored the establishment and development of Gary particularly with respect to capital, labor, and industry. Also discussed has been the political environment at the time of Hatcher’s election in 1967, as well as his tenure as mayor during a period of rapid and unprecedented decline and abandonment. Nevertheless, with the exception of recent publications, including citations herein, these issues have been discussed in relative isolation and within the limited scope of specific disciplines or modes of scholarship. Fourth World theory attempts to synthesize these issues, placing the social construction of race at its core and drawing upon the field of critical geography, which is concerned with understanding place-based inequality and injustice.

Critical geographer Bobby M. Wilson discusses W.E.B. Du Bois’s position on the danger of applying class politics without “modification of thought” [2] to the unique American circumstance. He states that:

“We must situate race, not only in a historical context, but also in a historical geographical context. We must expose the skeletons of places and plant the flesh of black experiences on those bones as well. Social practices are not only historically specific but geographically or place-specific, even in the age of globalization” [3].

In the United States, the general reluctance to confront the social construction of race undermines productive dialog with respect to systemic patterns of sprawl, abandonment, the disappearance of work, and the resulting devastating socioeconomic and ecological consequences. As a nation founded under a legacy of genocidal, racist, and sexist ordering systems, the United States still exhibits overwhelming evidence of multitudinous oppressive practices manifested through blatant disparity and uneven development patterns, both domestically and internationally, which are solely responsible for the abovementioned positions of power and wealth. Fourth World theory argues that the absence of critical reflection by policymakers and the general populous places the nation in serious jeopardy of self-induced, ultimate, and imminent collapse under the weight of its own history.

In this account, my investigation will engage in “triangulating” sociological, geographical, and historical literature with archival sources and oral history as a means to minimize my intrinsic biases and strengthen my arguments. The cited works support my analysis of the principal forces leading to the institutional abandonment of Gary in the context of its one-hundred-year history as well as how, from the beginning, the aforementioned social construction of race has been at the heart of a particularly acute physical, political, socioeconomical and institutional upheaval (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Gary Methodist Church Sanctuary in Gary, Indiana (Photo courtesy of Ball State University undergraduate architecture student Shannon Buchanan).
Figure 1. Gary Methodist Church Sanctuary in Gary, Indiana (Photo courtesy of Ball State University undergraduate architecture student Shannon Buchanan).
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2. Scholarship on Race and Urban Decline

The late Manning Marable’s prophetic 2000 book, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America: Problems in Race, Political Economy, and Society, forecasted continued erosion of the non-skilled labor force, the expansion of the prison industrial complex or what Michelle Alexander identifies as The New Jim Crow. Marable explores the development of a permanent underclass or sub-proletariat in American inner cities and the prevalence of crime, violence, and physical deterioration within a 1980s, pre-crack epidemic, Fourth World environment.

How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America begins by historicizing the factors that have led to what he referred to as “the crisis of the black working class.” Relying heavily on the positions of W.E.B. Du Bois to lend credibility to his central argument, Marable discusses agricultural labor and capital during the institution of slavery and the transition to and exclusion from industrial labor and capital after emancipation, during the twentieth century. He notes that the “only period when black employment approached 100% was during slavery; since the end of World War II, the numbers of black unemployed have soared” [4].

Marable discusses the history and benefits in addition to the ills of black involvement in organized labor and how, despite blatant wage discrimination patterns and limited access to capital through wages for some (black proletarians) capitalism has been advanced and subsequently contributed to increased class stratification within the black community. He cites numerous examples of how, at all levels, access to capital creates an individualistic social structure as the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. Some use the metaphor of “crabs in a bucket” to describe this phenomenon in certain sectors of African-American society. With respect to Gary, Marable’s theories may shed light on how black flight, which promptly and, under such a capitalist structure, naturally followed white flight, has only reinforced uneven development patterns coupled with the social, economic, and institutional abandonment described herein. This historical discourse is essential to Fourth World theory, for it provides a late twentieth-century framework to the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century work of Du Bois, the historical explorations of Stephen Paul O’Hara, as well as the writings of urban sociologist William Julius Wilson and urban historian Thomas Sugrue.

The permanent reserve army of black workers, sub-proletarians or the “underclass,” is the latest social culmination of the process of black ghettoization, economic exploitation and urban decay. In one sense, this army represents the highest stage of black underdevelopment, because it eliminates the possibility for millions of blacks to belong to working class organizations. The social institutions created by working class blacks to preserve a sense of collective humanity, culture and decency within the narrow confines of the inner city are eroded and eventually overturned. Sub-proletarianization and the extension of permanent penury to broad segments of the black majority provoke the disruption of black families, increase the number of black-on-black murders, rapes, suicides and assaults, and make terror a way of life for all blacks of every class background who live in or near the inner city.

In the chapter, The Black Poor: Highest Stage of Underdevelopment, Marable describes in part, what I have eventually come to refer to as Fourth World conditions, but in a late 1970s early 1980s context. The text begins and ends by describing severe physical, social, and economic distress, supported by disturbing statistics and facts, germane to inner-city communities within and in sharp contrast to the unprecedentedly high and remarkable standard of living conditions of the United States. Passages describing some of the “worst urban slums in the world: dilapidated shanties that are mirror images of eighteenth and nineteenth century slave quarters” or “rat-infested, crime-filled squalor,” are written in a manner which may suggest that Fourth World theory research and writings will merely serve as an update to Marable’s book. The principal challenge of Fourth World theory, however, will be to develop an argument which suggests that the scale and magnitude of the institutional abandonment of inner-city communities in the United States is costly, not only to African Americans and other disadvantaged residents of institutionally abandoned inner city communities, but also to all Americans.

Fourth World theory references the works of Du Bois, Drake, Marable, Sugrue, Wilson (Bobby and William Julius), O’Hara, Harvey, Sutton and Kemp, and others in order to support the fact that any meaningful discourse relative to the social, economic, and ecological crises cannot be conducted without formally recognizing and collectively addressing the ever-expanding challenges associated with what Marable identifies as the sub-proletariat.

A social class that is neither self-conscious nor acts collectively according to its material interests is not worthy of the name. This general philosophy of the typical ghetto hustler is not collective, but profoundly individualistic. The goal of illegal work is to “make it for oneself,” not for others. The means that “making it” comes at the expense of elderly blacks, young black women with children, youths and lower-income families who live at the bottom of the working-class hierarchy. The consciousness of the sub-proletariat is not so much that of a social class, but the sum total of destructive experiences that are conditioned by structural unemployment, the lack of meaningful participation within political or civil society, the dependency fostered by welfare agencies over two or three generations, functional illiteracy and the lack of marketable skills.

Marable cites Stephen Birmingham’s publication, Certain People: America’s Black Elite as he recounts the acute embarrassment of one black upper-class matron from Washington, D.C. at the sight of a young black man donning Super Fly pimp-type attire. “‘Disgusting’, she whispered. ‘There is the cause of all of our problems’. Her friend, more perceptive, said, ‘No, that is the result of all our problems’”

A central focus of sub-proletarian life is fear. Black elderly and handicapped persons are afraid to walk or visit friends in their own neighborhood at night or travel on public transportation because they are convinced (with good reason) that they will be assaulted. Parents who live in inner cities are reluctant to send their children several blocks over to attend school or play outside after dark because they are afraid they might be harmed. Such fear instills a subconscious apathy toward the political and economic hierarchy, and fosters the nihilistic conviction that nothing can ever be changed in the interests of the black masses.

Initially, Fourth World theory relied heavily on the writings, publications, and lectures of urban sociologist William Julius Wilson including More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner-City, and Chicago-focused publications such as There Goes the Neighborhood: Racial, Ethnic, and Class Tensions in Four Chicago Neighborhoods and Their Meaning for America and his seminal When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor. These publications differentiate and place ever-evolving emphasis on structural and cultural factors as a means to gain understanding of the dynamic societal forces that contribute to racial inequality and severely distressed conditions commonly found in American inner cities.

In his 2010 book, More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner-City, Wilson frames structural factors by identifying two types of forces contributing to what is referred to herein as Fourth World conditions resulting from race-based and uneven development patterns, social acts, and social processes. Social acts refer to the behavior of individuals within society. He defines such acts as an individual or group exercising power over others. Examples of such social acts might include stigmatization, stereotyping, and deliberate exclusion from professional or social organizations. Wilson defines social processes as the “‘machinery’ of society that exists to promote ongoing relations among members of the larger group” [5]. He cites racial profiling, redlining, school tracking, the disappearance of work and deliberate suburbanization of jobs, political actions and historical as well as current voting irregularities at the institutional level, arguing that these processes collectively contribute to a continuum of racial inequality and social stratification. Gary, Indiana is a living and breathing manifestation of these structural systems and conditions.

As with structural factors, Wilson discusses two types of cultural factors that contribute to or reinforce inequality. Prevailing national views and beliefs on race contribute to racism and racist ideologies. Cultural traits that emerge from intergroup interactions, often within restricted spaces resulting in part from historical discrimination and segregation, inevitably influence “shared outlooks, modes of behavior, traditions, belief systems, world view, values, skills, preferences, styles of self-presentation, etiquette, and linguistic patterns . . .” resulting in shared constructions of reality.

Wilson’s collective body of work has endured harsh criticisms from many African-American studies scholars, particularly in response to his controversial work, The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions. In his 1997 publication, YoMamas DisFUNKtional: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America, Robin Kelley places Wilson in company with ultraconservative Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, anti-affirmative action activist Wardell “Ward” Connerly, Dinesh D’Souza, and the late social scientist and senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan whom Kelley implies has been playing the dozens and talking about his mama since 1965.

Kelley challenges Wilson’s position that culture mediates structure or the premise that culture develops in response to structural conditions. In his attempt to give voice to urban populations under siege, Kelley argues that culture and community are more than a product of structure in defense of black people’s humanity and condemnation of scholars and policymakers for their inability to see the complexity. Kelley suggests that the perspectives of social scientists such as Wilson and perhaps Marable in this regard, and their respective and collective interpretations of culture, have severely impoverished contemporary discourse over the plight of African Americans for decades. He detests the approach of such social scientists for attempting to rationalize culture (a trait that is inherently non-rational), though he recognizes the obligation to measure culture, which compels rigid, conservative, nonthreatening African American social scientists to apply quantitative research methodologies that render simplistic conclusions. Kelley argues that once culture is seen as a static, measurable “thing,” it becomes less difficult to, for example, cast African Americans as pathological products of broken families, broken economies, and/or broken communities [6].

Jacob Slifer, one of my Fourth World theory architecture students, discusses Kelley’s positions by noting that even the most well-meaning, liberal, and progressive social scientists, seeking to recast impoverished inner-city African Americans as active agents rather than passive victims, reinforce the idea of culture as a monolithic entity. This conception of culture as a monolith fails to promote understanding of the complexity of a people, and it arises from the reliance of social scientists like Wilson, in Kelley’s opinion, on narrowly conceived definitions of culture. In fact, conceptualizing of black urban culture in the singular opens the door for the invention and manipulation of the “underclass” debate. Culture in this regard, is often depicted in spatial terms, having developed as a response to white flight and the relocation of manufacturing jobs to the suburbs.

Few scholars acknowledge that what might also be at stake here are aesthetics, style, and pleasure. Nor do they recognize black urban culture’s hybridity and internal differences. Given the common belief that inner-city communities are more isolated than ever before and have completely alien values, the notion that there is one discrete, identifiable black urban culture carries a great deal of weight. By conceiving black urban culture in the singular, interpreters unwittingly reduce their subjects to cardboard topologies who fit neatly into their own definition of the “underclass” and render invisible a wide array of complex cultural forms and practices.

Kelley’s analysis has contributed greatly to enabling an interdisciplinary research effort to evolve Fourth World theory from being merely a rudimentary and descriptive notion of a particular, often severely distressed condition of place, to being a more critical investigation of space. Fourth World theory formally acknowledges this space as a unique circumstance: an ever-evolving dimension that is engaged in a perpetual metamorphosis in direct response to the various cultural and structural forces shaping cities throughout the United States of America (Figure 2). In a manner similar to critical race theory, Fourth World theory is a critical investigation of society and culture through an analytical lens and an examination of the historical disparities that have been, and will continue to be, replicated. The structural and cultural forces that have contributed to the severely distressed conditions commonly found in Gary and similar inner-city communities are not the sole ingredient for placing America in serious jeopardy of collapse. On the contrary, it is the ever-increasing disparity and unevenness—the steadily expanding empty space, or what King eloquently described as the “lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity” [7] that this nation must endeavor to confront.

Figure 2. The Palace Theater Lobby, Gary, Indiana (Photo courtesy of Ball State University undergraduate architecture student Shannon Buchanan).
Figure 2. The Palace Theater Lobby, Gary, Indiana (Photo courtesy of Ball State University undergraduate architecture student Shannon Buchanan).
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Norwegian social anthropologist Fredrik Barth’s introduction to his 1970 publication Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference contextualizes what I refer to as Fourth World space. He discusses not only the persistence of ethnic groups within society, but the space between such groups and the variations of circumstances that occur when said units interact. His title thus includes the term “culture difference” in lieu of the conventional notion of cultural differences. Barth begins the introduction by being highly critical of the absence of discourse within social anthropology regarding the “constitution of ethnic groups and the nature of boundaries between them”. He suggests that this space has been largely avoided by social scientists as some sort of neutral zone within society in which ethnic groups can be compared or analyzed. Barth urges that social anthropology break away from the old world, simplistic and often exotic space—a Gulliver’s Travels space, separated by mountains and oceans (what Barth later refers to as “pelagic islands”), a notion of cultures as static, bounded entities, and ethnicity as biologically self-perpetuating. He argues for replacing such analysis with a focus on the interconnectedness and interdependence of ethnic identities. Barth’s argument is grounded in two basic principles:

First, it is clear that boundaries persist despite a flow of personnel across them. In other words, categorical ethnic distinctions do not depend on an absence of mobility, contact, and information, but do entail social processes of exclusion and incorporation whereby discrete boundaries are maintained despite changing participation and membership in the course of individual life histories. Secondly, one finds that stable, persisting, and often vitally important social relations are maintained across such boundaries, and are frequently based precisely on the dichotomized ethnic statuses. In other words, ethnic distinctions do not depend on an absence of social interactions and acceptance, but are quite to the contrary often the very foundations on which embracing social systems are built [8].

In a chapter entitled Places as Commodities of a 1987 publication Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place, John Logan and Harvey Motloch explore the manner in which the value of place, which is precious and indispensable to its users, is undermined, and becomes no more than a commodity in a capitalist economy. They suggest that place is essential to human beings and that:

“Individuals cannot do without place by substituting another product. This is clearly evident in the current shrinking debacle in Youngstown, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan with respect to the displacement and relocation of residents as a means to re-densify the city. They can, of course, do with less place and less desirable place, but they cannot do without place altogether” [9].

One’s relationship to place is both physical and emotional, often with “long-term and multifaceted social and material attachments” [10]. As with most mammals, homo sapiens become protective and even violent when their sense of place is disrupted or threatened. Sense of place becomes a collectivistic endeavor when it encompasses one’s neighborhood or community.

People who have “bought” into the same neighborhood share a quality of public services (garbage pick-up, police behavior); through these forms of collective stake in the area’s future, individuals are not only mutually dependent on what goes on inside a neighborhood (including “compositional effects”), but they are affected by what goes on outside it as well. The standing of a neighborhood vis-á-vis other neighborhoods create conditions that its residents experience in common. Each place has a particular political or economic standing vis-á-vis other places that affects the quality of life and opportunities available to those who live within its boundaries.

Spatial segregation based on race, ethnicity and/or class has had tremendous impact on place, particularly in the United States. Wilson discusses this phenomenon extensively in the abovementioned publication, There Goes the Neighborhood, as exercised through “voice”. Wilson cites economist Albert Hirshman’s theory of exit, voice, and loyalty to aid in understanding changes in neighborhoods.

Hirshman argues that when people become dissatisfied with changes in their surroundings, they can exit—move or withdraw from further participation—or they can exercise voice. Hirshman defines voice as any attempt to “change, rather than to escape from” an undesirable situation. The more willing people are to try to exercise voice—that is, to change, correct, or prevent a particular situation—the less likely they are to exit. In situations where both exit and voice options are available, past experience will largely determine whether people overcome their biases in favor of exit, the easier option. The view that a neighborhood is on a path of inexorable change, even when these changes have yet to occur, can trigger an exodus. Indeed, Americans maintain a strong bias toward the exit alternative when confronting ethnic and racial changes [11].

When the economics of capitalism is injected into the formula of race and class stratification of place, as Logan and Motloch’s title “Places as Commodities” suggests, the dynamics are exasperated. This is nowhere more apparent than in severely distressed cities such as Gary, Detroit, East St. Louis, Camden, and Flint and in specific neighborhoods within cities throughout the United States including, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Los Angles, Oakland, Miami, Baltimore, Houston, and the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Recent articles regarding Detroit’s bankruptcy, its ambitious plan for shrinkage, and the emotional debate of whether to demolish or revitalize blighted neighborhoods are living examples of the critical importance of this discourse.

With respect to the “commodification” of real property, whether commercial or residential, Logan and Motloch outline three general observations about capitalists’ attachment to place, the first being that capitalists’ primary interest is driven by profitability and how real estate functions in this capacity, often at the expense of residents. Secondly, capitalists have the capacity to promptly abandon property while residents are burdened by emotional, physical, and financial attachment to place. Finally, residents are impacted to greater degree by place than capitalists, particularly with respect to adverse environmental conditions. Inner cities are inundated with environmentally hazardous sites that capitalists have abandoned, while disadvantaged residents remain to suffer the consequences of capitalist values.

In Spaces of Capital: Toward a Critical Geography, David Harvey summarizes his “militant particularism” thesis; its premise is that all politics, whether local, urban, regional, national, or global in focus, have their origins in the collective development of a particular political vision on the part of particular persons in particular places at particular times. The interests of these grassroots politics often become constrained and unremarkable with respect to social change due individual interests, thus undermining the cause. He paints a rather bleak picture by demonstrating the ineffectiveness of activism and collectivism within a culture of individualism. Harvey states the following which, in my opinion, parallels the Fourth World position:

“Such collective movements preclude rather than promote the search for alternatives (no matter how ecologically wise or socially just). They tend to preserve the existing system, even as they deepen its internal contradictions, ecologically, politically, and economically. For example, suburban separatism in the U.S.—based upon class and racial antagonism—increases car dependency, generates greenhouse gases, diminishes air quality and encourages the profligate use of land, fossil fuels and other agricultural and mineral resources” [12].

Harvey further discusses the uneven geographical development of capitalism be arguing that for the wealthy, “community” often means securing and enhancing privileges already gained. For the marginalized, it all too often means “controlling their own slum”. Inequalities multiply rather than diminish. What appears to be a just procedure, produces unjust consequences (a manifestation of the old adage that there is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals).

This statement validates my position that America’s inability to confront class and race matters in a meaningful social, physical, political, and economic manner will ultimately result in the collapse of the union (Figure 3). There are not enough resources on earth to accommodate America’s propensity, as President Obama [13] stated in a somewhat different context, during his first State of the Union address of his first term, “to run for the hills”.

Figure 3. Single-Family Home designed by architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gary, Indiana House has been demolished (Photo courtesy of Ball State University Graduate architecture student Mickel Darmawan).
Figure 3. Single-Family Home designed by architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gary, Indiana House has been demolished (Photo courtesy of Ball State University Graduate architecture student Mickel Darmawan).
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3. Fourth World: The Term

As discussed in my 2010 article entitled Introduction to the Fourth World [14], I initially presumed that I had coined the term “Fourth World” to analyze and describe the conditions of severe physical and social distress commonly found in inner cities throughout the United States. My research revealed that the term had already been used by social scientists, hip hop artists, and activists to describe the conditions of various nation-less states within larger nations, underdeveloped nations, and/or oppressed or underprivileged victims of a state, as well as the lack of informational capital, poverty, and social exclusion resulting in part from rapid technological advances and the digital divide. The album, New Amerikahn Part One (4th World War), by Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, hip hop and neo soul artist, actress, and activist Erykah Abi Wright explores inner-city struggles and subjects including institutional discrimination and abandonment, drugs and senseless violence, the abuse of power, apathy, and nihilism. Wright, better known by her stage name Erykah Badu, but also known as Lowdown Loretta Brown, Analog Girl in a Digital Word, or Medulla Oblongata, produced an esoteric sociopolitical album focusing on urban decay, disenfranchisement, and the unfulfilled promises of the American Dream. The cynically constructed opening track, Amerikahn Promise, questions the tenants of American Exceptionalism through overt political satire with themes of disfranchisement overlaid with a circus barker-style voice presenting and promising unlimited and unrestricted material access. As with Sun Ra, Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Gil Scott-Heron, Tracy Chapman, Public Enemy, Arrested Development, Meshell Ndegeocello, and comparable artists, Badu’s collective body of work serves as a form of activism from a Fourth World theory perspective.

Urban planning, urban sociology, and communications scholar Manuel Castells, credited independently of George Manuel and Joseph Wresinski for coining the term “Fourth World,” has written extensively on the rise of inequality, polarization, poverty, misery, and social exclusion throughout the world and their respective relationships to production and relative quality of life. His discourse has generally been geared toward examining uneven development patterns between advanced, developing, and underdeveloped countries. However, in more recent publications, Castells has, to a greater degree, directed his focus toward the United States and its increasing tendency toward social, geographic, and material exclusion of certain segments of the population from formal labor markets and network society. In The Global Transformations Reader: An Introduction to the Globalization Debate, Castells explores the “considerable disparity in the evolution of intra-country inequality in different areas of the world” and how this disparity has increased, particularly in the United States. He argues that the “acceleration of uneven development, and the simultaneous inclusion and exclusion of people in the growth process, which he considers to be a feature of informational capitalism, translates into polarization, and the spread of misery among a growing number of people” [15].

It is critically important at this juncture to analyze Castells’s definition of the term “misery” in the context of accumulation of wealth (income and assets) by different individuals and social groups within a particular geographic domain which creates “inequality”.

Polarization is a specific process of inequality that occurs when both the top and bottom of the scale of wealth distribution grow faster than the middle, thus shrinking the middle, and sharpening the social differences between two extreme segments of the population. Poverty is an institutionally defined norm concerning a level of resources below which is not possible to reach the living standards considered to be the minimum norm in a given society at a given time (usually, a level of income per a given number of members of household, as defined by governments or authoritative institutions). Misery, a term I propose, refers to what social statisticians call “extreme poverty,” that is, the bottom of the distribution of income., or what some experts conceptualize as “deprivation”, introducing a wider range of social/economic disadvantages [16].

Castells qualifies these terms as statistically relative, culturally defined, and politically manipulated; however, regardless of where the “poverty line” is drawn in the United States, a measurable index of misery is undeniably identifiable in Fourth World cities such as Gary, Detroit, Flint, Camden, and East. St. Louis.

In The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture: Volume III—End of Millennium, Castells is more deliberate in his expression of concern about the United States. Prior to confronting directly social exclusion issues of the inner city, he argues that despite the fact that the United States is the largest and most technologically advanced economy in the world, it has displayed a substantial increase in social inequality, polarization, poverty, and misery over the past two decades (1980s and 1990s). He cites America as a “highly specific society, with a historical pattern of racial discrimination, with a peculiar urban form—the inner city—and with a deep-rooted, ideological and political reluctance to government regulation, and to the welfare state”. He warns that the patterns of inequality so blatantly present in the United States, with increased polarization between the upper and lower levels of society, are likely to continue to expand throughout the world, based on the American model and American ideologies. In attempting to identify the root causes for increasing inequality, polarization, poverty, and misery in the United States, Castells argues that traditional interpretations, from orthodox neoclassical or Marxist perspectives, do not seem to account for the scale, degree, and magnitude of the rapid expansion of Fourth World conditions. He challenges the orthodox view of capitalist exploitation by questioning “why capitalism in the 1990s generates more inequality than in the 1950s or the 1960s, and why the lowest producers of value, the unskilled workers, are those that have experienced the steepest decline in their real wages” [17]. Ultimately, Castells attributes the growth of inequality and poverty in the United States to four interrelated processes, including (a) deindustrialization, arising from globalization of industrial production, labor, and markets; (b) individualization and networking of the labor process, induced by the explosion of information; (c) incorporation of women into the information economy, under conditions of patriarchal discrimination, and (d) the crisis of the patriarchal family.

To these processes, Castells adds that the sociopolitical factors ensuring domination of unrestricted market forces accentuate the logic of inequality. The growth of the disparity has been generally unaffected by the severe recession of 2008 to 2012. Thus, the phenomenon resulting from these processes has continued to expand through the first decades of the new millennium and is consistent with the tenants of Fourth World theory.

The late, Shuswap chief George Manuel is often credited for first introducing the term “Fourth World” in his 1974 publication, The Fourth World: An Indian Reality. Prior to writing the book, Manuel developed the position that there is no place on earth that people can live without either asserting their own political independence against the European nations or attaching themselves to a European nation (or nation deriving its government from that tradition) [18]. Upon contemplating the systemic political and socioeconomic disparities existing among indigenous peoples, Manuels Fourth World, was in essence, a call to action, independence, and nationalism particularly for First Nations peoples of Canada in response to immeasurable injustices experienced through European expansionism, domination, colonialism, imperialism, and genocidal actions. This discourse continues interdependently through the Fourth World Rising movement with various forms of activism and a series of publications including, Grave Injustice: The American Indian Reparation Movement and NAFPRA, Alejandro Tsakimp: A Shuar Healer in the Margins of History, and The Problem of Justice: Tradition and Law in the Coast Salish World.

Over time, prejudices and misconceptions regarding the terms “aboriginal” and “indigenous” abound, including an exclusive association with Native Americans. Under forms of subjugation, many indigenous nations in Europe, the nation states of the former Soviet Union, the Middle and Far East, Africa, and Australia, “such as Whales, Catalonia, Brittany, Flanders, Bavaria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Armenia, Georgia, Palestine, Kurdistan, Baluchistan, Tibet, and hundreds more are forgotten or discarded” [19]. Thus, as exposure to the historic and ongoing struggles facing Native American peoples has benefitted by broadening the geopolitical discourse through organizations such as the Center for World Indigenous Studies (CWIS) to encompass indigenous concerns throughout the world, the Fourth World definition has been expanded to be defined as “nations forcefully incorporated into states which maintain a distinct political culture but are not internationally recognized” [10].

The CWIS is an independent, nonprofit, research and education organization dedicated to wider understanding and appreciation of the ideas and knowledge of indigenous peoples and the socioeconomic and political realities of Fourth World nations. Within the CWIS dialog, there appears to be a resistance to further expansion of the Fourth World definition. A primary concern may be that encompassing the great challenges confronting ethnic, linguistic, gender, religious, cultural, environmental, and economic matters may undermine its potency and focus, which was originally directed toward the historical expansion of states and the state-nation conflict generated from imperialist exploits. On the other hand, the term has been embraced to designate the poorest, and most underdeveloped states of the world, or to describe any oppressed or underprivileged victim of a state.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) such as ATD Fourth World have evolved from the expanded definition. ATD Fourth World, founded in France by the late Joseph Wresinski (also credited by some for first introducing the term “Fourth World”), was inspired by his experience as a child of chronic poverty and social exclusion. This NGO, with no religious or political affiliation, engages with individuals and institutions to find solutions to eradicate extreme poverty. Working in partnership with people in poverty, the organization’s human rights approach focuses on supporting families and individuals through its grassroots presence and involvement in disadvantaged communities, both urban and rural, creating public awareness of extreme poverty and influencing policies to address it. [20] Wresinski cited poverty as a human rights matter by declaring that: “Whenever men and women are condemned to live in poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that those rights be respected is our solemn duty” [21].

It is my intention to expand the discourse on the severe physical and socioeconomic distress and abandonment, which is prevalent in cities throughout the United States, to the Fourth World discourse. By acknowledging the prior existence and continued use of the term, the applicability of these urban conditions should be deemed congruent to the original premises established by George Manuel, Manuel Castells, and Joseph Wresinski and the subsequent expansion of the sociopolitical discussion regarding disenfranchised states that maintain a distinct political culture, as well as the designation of the poorest and most underdeveloped states of the world, and the description of any oppressed or underprivileged victim of a state. The degree of isolation of severely distressed communities within larger U.S. metropolitan statistical areas or entire U.S. Fourth World cities such as Gary, Indiana, Detroit and Flint, Michigan, East St. Louis and Cairo, Illinois, and Camden, New Jersey are consistent with the aforementioned nation state designation summarized herein.

4. Gary and Fourth World Cities

The primary objectives of establishing the Fourth World position are to: (a) explore the institutional abandonment of inner cities throughout the United States; (b) investigate the causes which have led to this massive disinvestment; and (c) attempt to develop a sense of empathy for the citizens who choose or are forced to remain in these environments. Although many urban centers contain districts, sections, or neighborhoods in which such conditions are prevalent, the city of Gary, Indiana, like Detroit, Camden, East St. Louis and Flint, represents a case in which the entire community is in a virtual state of severe distress and is thus classified as a Fourth World city. Gary’s historic structural inequalities demonstrate that the city, which was founded on such principles, is apparently incapable of reconciling social stratification based primarily on the construction of race as a vehicle for physical separation and institutional abandonment. A portrait of the city is that of a struggling post-industrial manufacturing and production center overwhelmed with corruption and exceptionally high and violent crime. Therefore, what remains is a uniquely profound form of physical distress and institutional abandonment that is present throughout the entire city proper. A consequence of a renewed fascination with the dilapidated landscape of the city has expanded de-industrialization discourse; however, the conversations are primarily focused on labor, capital, the disappearance of work, and globalization. Comparative research regarding the shrinking cities phenomenon has been institutionalized as evidenced by such newly formed organizations as SCiRN™ (Shrinking Cities International Research Network) [22]; nevertheless, much of the query remains focused on the physical and the economic.

In the spirit of shrinking cities discourse, I conducted a multivariate time series statistical analysis of selected Fourth World cities, examining the scope and magnitude, by percentage, of population gains and losses over the past one hundred years, of severely distressed, post-industrial, institutionally abandoned, racially stratified, shrinking Fourth World cities in the United States. The cities were selected as a result of their general dependence on industry, the disappearance of work resulting from the loss of industry, erosion of social organization and physical infrastructure, and legacy of hyper-segregation with respect to race and class. It was my hypothesis that regardless of population and size of the city, the population gains and losses by percentage would be virtually identical over the past century. The statistical analysis demonstrates that population gains and losses by percentage over the past century among severely distressed, post-industrial Fourth World Cities possess variations that are statistically significant. The results were astonishingly similar and illustrate parallels that coincide with the rise and fall of the industrial sector and globalization combined with ethnic and racial strife (Table 1).

Table 1. Census data for fourth world cities: 1900–2010.
Table 1. Census data for fourth world cities: 1900–2010.
YearBraddockCairoCamdenDetroitEast St. LouisFlintGaryYoungstown
Pop%Pop%City Pop%City Pop%City Pop.%City Pop% City Pop%City Pop%
190015,65482.912,56621.775,93530.2285,70438.927,73496.013,10333.7334 *n/a *44,88535.1

* Gary, Indiana was founded in 1906 Primary Source: U.S. Decennial Census, U.S. Census Bureau of the US Department of Commerce.

Although the statistical data among Fourth World cities reveals striking similarities with respect to substantial population gain and loss, it should be noted that quantitative data should not be applied in isolation of qualitative analysis. For example, as a struggling, post-industrial steel town that has lost nearly 70% of its population and has been identified to have the lowest median income by far of any U.S. city with more than 65,000 residents (CNNMoney), Youngstown, Ohio could be considered a statistical outlier with respect to demographics in comparison to the other Fourth World cities identified in the study. It should be noted, however, that each city possesses its own development patterns and historical narratives. Similarities between Youngstown, Gary, and other Fourth World cities can also be observed through a qualitative lens with respect to ethnic strife, resistance and violence, de-industrialization, historic segregation and discrimination patterns, suburban sprawl, erosion of a viable tax base, racism, inability to embrace the concept of desegregation and civil rights legislation, fear, despair, crumbling infrastructure systems, disinvestment in urban school systems, environmental justice issues, and ultimately, institutional abandonment.

Within these cities, and relative to their respective regions, inequalities exist which undermine the expectations of civil society resulting in what Yale sociologist Jeffrey Alexander refers to as “material asymmetry” [23] and obtuse disadvantages among certain individuals of groups. Thus, through a delicate balance of quantitative and qualitative analyses, Fourth World theory should be utilized as a vehicle to conduct inquiry that may better qualify interested parties to visualize a city such as Gary as a microcosm for structural and systemic conditions that undermine productivity, sustainability, and overall quality of life, not only for the city proper, but for their regions, for the United States, and ultimately, for the world.

5. A Tale of Two Fourth World Cities: Gary and Detroit

Regardless of its massive size and scale in comparison to Gary, in some respects, Detroit may possess a greater degree of qualitative and quantitative similarity to Gary than, for example, Youngstown. Nevertheless, Gary remains unique in terms of its founding at the beginning of the twentieth century as a capitalist experiment established by a single company. Like Detroit, however, Gary’s development of acute institutionalized ethnic, class, and race-based stratification, and the causes that have led to unprecedented and massive disinvestment, serves as a demonstration of the legacy and continued liability of race to the rise and fall, not only of Fourth World cities, but potentially of the entire nation.

In one of my previous writings, Gary, Indiana: A Critical Geography of a Fourth World City, I discussed factors leading to the founding of the city including the industrial climate at the turn of the twentieth century, as well as land acquisition by U.S. Steel Corporation and its subsidiary, Gary Land Company. In addition, I examined, in a turn-of-the-century context, the recent memory and fear of labor uprisings in reaction by wage earners to the paternalistic model city program established by the Pullman company in which the houses, infrastructure, and retail establishments were owned by the corporation, and how the fear of similar problems generated corporate reluctance to move forward with the capitalist experiment that ultimately became Gary. Yet, U.S. Steel forged ahead, learned from the rebellion by workers against Pullman, and established a corporate town developed entirely upon capital. Citing David Harvey, I argued that accumulation of capital requires “the creation of a physical landscape conducive to the organization of production in all of its aspects (including the specialized functions of exchange, banking, administration, planning and coordination, and the like, which typically possess a hierarchical structure and a particular form of spatial rationality)”. I provided examples to demonstrate that stratification and hierarchical structures based on race and class were incorporated into the master plan, or perhaps the master’s plan, of Gary from its conception, and how said stratification resulted in uneven development patterns and violence. I also discussed how the massive influx of African Americans into the city during The Great Migration and the racially stratified configuration, which had been inherently designed into the city, presented particular challenges to the social order of Gary. Such discriminatory practices woven into the fabric of the city became increasingly threatened by the massive presence of skilled and unskilled African-American industrial workers and their families. Finally, I summarized how it all came tumbling down primarily due to two simultaneous developments: the national out-migration of steel production at U.S. Steel, which ultimately relegated the “Steel City” to what Saskia Sassen refers to as being “peripheralized,” and the historic structural inequalities upon which Gary was founded. These developments clearly exhibit that the city undoubtedly has been incapable of reconciling social stratification based primarily on the construction of race as a vehicle for physical separation and institutional abandonment.

My research has drawn heavily from the 2011 publication Gary, the Most American of All American Cities by historian and American Studies scholar Stephen Paul O’Hara of Xavier University, a substantive and essential source to this research effort. The publication parallels my preliminary research and writings with respect to the motivations behind the unique establishment and development of the industrial city, and to the impressions of the city from its industrialist founding, its rise and expansion, through its rapid economic, physical, social, and spiritual decline under the simultaneous weight of deindustrialization and flight—which is evidenced by its title.

In discussing the establishment and early history of Gary, O’Hara’s analysis is reminiscent of, and often parallels, classic American studies writings of such scholars as Leo Marx and Richard Slotkin with respect to how the frontier myth remained as an essential component of the American social-political landscape and psyche. Upon the 1906 founding of Gary as a capitalist experiment, rapid westward expansion, which had been rationalized by the concept of “Manifest Destiny,” had brought closure to the mystique of the frontier and the unknown. The continent had been explored, conquered, and exploited. All battles and wars, both domestically and internationally, had been “won.” The founding of U.S. Steel Corporation was, as O’Hara cites, not simply integration or consolidation of functions and capital relocation, but also an opportunity for vast expansion and efficient production resulting in an industrial “order” with no intention of benevolence or social responsibility. O’Hara references Slotkin as he discusses the rhetoric of industrial utopianism and the contradictions of frontier romance, masculinity, savagery, and triumph.

Yet Gary promised much of the same in the first two decades of the twentieth century because it was new and largely unsettled. Young single men streamed in for the economic and entertainment possibilities. Its streets were active, violent, and even bloody. The “Patch”, the working-class district south of the Wabash Railroad tracks, was marked by over 200 saloons with names such as the “First and Last Chance”, “Jack Johnson’s Gambling Joint”, and the “Bucket of Blood”. This frontier mythology with its focus on youth, opportunity, and violence offered, as Richard Slotkin has argued, a chance for regeneration and renewal. Far from the rest of modernizing America, Gary seemed lawless, violent, exciting, chaotic, and romantic, all within the shadow of the most modern steel-producing center in the world. But above all, the frontier image of Gary was profoundly male [24].

Thus, Gary serves as a microcosmic exemplar for a capitalist, industrialist and post-industrialist America. Throughout his study, O’Hara engages in meaning making by focusing on the narrative of Gary. In introducing the subject, he suggests that the story of Gary has challenged perceptions and perspectives about capitalism, community, regionalism, and nationalism, as well as the social construction of race in America.

The cultural grid of Gary existed locally in terms of separation of mill and town, regionally in terms of the industrial metropolis of Chicago and its periphery, and nationally in terms of the persistent question of whether Gary represented Americanism or some sort of perversion of Americanism.

Admittedly and perhaps deliberately, O’Hara’s study constructs his narrative by privileging the “voices of privilege” perhaps at the expense of the residents who remain committed to and vested in the city. Yet, the privileged voices are carefully and effectively scrutinized throughout the work by critically juxtaposing said perceptions against realities. Written in chronological order, Gary, the Most American of All American Cities, progresses toward the mid-to-late twentieth century, with O’Hara’s discourse initially centered on industrial manipulation of capital and labor, immigration and ethnic strife, and what I refer to as a Wonka-esque [25] space with inherently designed physical and social separation between the factory and the city. Gary then transitions to becoming increasingly and almost solely centered on the city’s virtual hopelessness and inability to reconcile physical, social, and economic spatial mismatches manifested through the social construction or race, resulting in the physical, social, and economic devastation and abandonment that is clearly evident throughout the entire city today. O’Hara explores in his closing chapter “Epitaph for a Model City”, the turbulent times of the mid-to-late 1960s and the election of Hatcher.

Race not only became the meta-language of Gary, but also reduced possible declensions of Gary into a single storyline—the moment Gary became a black city. The story of capitalism in Gary had shifted from one of space to one of race. Gary had moved from a model city of industrialism to a cauldron of racial politics.

O’Hara’s writings parallel my explorations to the degree that upon initial discovery of the book, I became discouraged; I questioned whether continued research on the subject would or could generate or develop new knowledge and add to the discourse. I was also disheartened to the point of revisiting the term “Fourth World” in light of the aforementioned multiple uses of the term by Manuel, Wresinski, Castells, and Wright (Badu). Nevertheless, and upon meeting with Stephen Paul O’Hara, who offered comforting words of encouragement, I elected to continue this journey through utilization of expanded research methodologies to examine Gary’s one-hundred-year history, its ambitious rise to a major industrial center, and its unprecedented decline and institutional abandonment. As Fourth World theory clearly demonstrates, racism layered over de-industrialization is a perfect storm for disaster.

Beyond relative size and scale, profound quantitative and qualitative similarities exist between Gary and Detroit. As evidenced by the statistical data provided, both cities have experienced comparable and substantial population gains and losses (55% and 61%, respectively) over the past century. As George Clinton declared in “We’ve Got Gary” on the title track to Parliament’s 1975 Chocolate City album, it is commonly understood that Detroit, with a “Chocolate City” factor of 82.7% (Gary at 84.8%) [26] could have, and should have been, included in the lyrics [27].

Rapid population gains as well as moments of stagnation in Gary have been linked directly to industrial expansion and contraction, corporate capitalism and the labor demands of the U.S. Steel Corporation. Simultaneously, Detroit has embodied the melding of human labor, technology, and capitalism as automobile factories, shops, and other forms of manufacturing rendered an industrial geography unsurpassed in scope (Figure 4). In both instances, demand for European immigrant as well as domestic migrant labor from the American South, primarily African American, created enclaves and ethnic and racial tension tinged with perpetual forms of resistance and periodic episodes of violence.

Figure 4. Michigan Central Depot in Detroit, Michigan (Photo courtesy of Ball State University undergraduate architecture student Jordan Stocklin).
Figure 4. Michigan Central Depot in Detroit, Michigan (Photo courtesy of Ball State University undergraduate architecture student Jordan Stocklin).
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As Gary’s industrialists carefully manipulated the balance between capital and labor by instituting “order” through various forms of physical and ethnic-based social separation, Americanization, and institutional segregation, labor began to organize and demand formal recognition. Upon the initiation of a strike in 1919, U.S. Steel continued to function and produce through the use of African-American strike breakers. As a result, in the late afternoon of 4 October 1919 [28], black strike breakers were snatched from a street car, attacked and beaten by an angry mob of white strikers. Although the forces leading to the violence were primarily grounded in industrial manipulation and consequential strife, the ethnic and racial dynamics generated a narrative that framed the incident as a “race riot”.

The steel strike exposed inequitable mill conditions and the extent to which Gary was a company town. Gary had always been fragmented, but during the winter of 1919, wrote Isaac J. Quillen, “the gap at the Wabash tracks became a canyon”, dividing churches and families, fostering contempt for law and government, and breeding cynicism and disillusionment. Thus, at the dawn of the 1920s, Gary had lost its innocence and some of its illusions of grandeur [29].

So prominent was the social construction of race that a distinctively different Gary emerged. Since its conception, the geographical language of Gary was drenched in racial antagonism and hatred, which had insurmountable influence on corresponding allocations of resources and access as well as irrational geographical development patterns in the city. Creative writer and novelist David Wright, in his introduction to the reprint of Richard Wright’s 12 Million Black Voices, recounts that “water does not respond to that which is absolute, but rather to that which is relative”, and despite the systemic spatial mismatch, the harsh realities faced by the southern migrants seeking refuge and opportunity in the industrial north paled in comparison to the atrocities of the South.

The jobs they found were low-paying, menial, and exhausting by northern industrial standards, but lucrative, high-status, and relatively easy by southern agricultural ones—ten hours sweeping a factory were nothing compared to twelve hours behind a mule. The oppressions they found were relatively mild—who would complain about police brutality and biased justice when in the South any group of white men could be a cop, judge, jury, and executioner? Who would carp about a stinking toilet down the hall when in the South the toilet was in the yard, and smelled worse? Few bad reports returned to the South, and so the river flowed and pooled in sections of northern cities the immigrants abandoned. It was better there. It truly was [30].

The scholars, architect Sharon E. Sutton and social scientist Susan P. Kemp, jointly communicate in the introductory chapter to their publication, The Paradox of Urban Space: Inequality and Transformation in Marginalized Communities, that hegemonic conceptions of space and time have historically been imposed on disadvantaged and oppressed populations:

“Throughout America, spatial policies and practices standardize the landscape to benefit dominant groups—guaranteeing profits for developers and individual property owners—while normalizing dominant values and lifestyles. The downside of this standardization occurs in racially and economically segregated neighborhoods, in which a high percentage of minority residents and concentrated poverty go hand-in-hand with a slew of inequities, including substandard housing, inadequate schools and social services, higher rates of unemployment, lower incomes with a higher proportion of income paid in rent, more unwanted land uses, and lack of access to healthy foods” [31].

In wartime “Rosie the Riveter” Detroit, the war effort drew women into industry as replacement workers; however, prospects for employment of black women was met with harsh resistance. Many Detroit firms only hired white women but relented to hiring black women in response to protest and pressure. At Hudson Motor Car Company, “350 white women walked off their clerical jobs after their bosses hired a handful of black women to join them” [17]. At the Ford Willow Run plant, which had been converted to a war production facility, busloads of protestors picketed in response to a documented unwillingness to hire black women.

But even after they were hired in defense industries, black women faced an uphill battle. White male workers often harassed their women co-workers and reacted even more vehemently to the double affront to their racial and gender privileges when firms hired black women to work beside them. At Packard (Figure 5), whites walked out on a hate strike in 1943 when three black women were placed as drill operators [32].

Figure 5. Packard Automotive Plant, Detroit, Michigan (Photo courtesy of Ball State University graduate architecture student Sandra Steinau-Weber).
Figure 5. Packard Automotive Plant, Detroit, Michigan (Photo courtesy of Ball State University graduate architecture student Sandra Steinau-Weber).
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As in Gary, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and scores of other northern American cities and towns, racial tensions in Detroit workplaces and neighborhoods during the mid-1940s had gradually increased from a simmer to a boil. In The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, Thomas A. Sugrue cites a climate of racial animosity and mistrust bred by the disruptions of World War II, and how a major brawl which started on Belle Isle on a hot June afternoon in 1943 was symptomatic of deeper tensions. Journalist and scholar Isabel Wilkerson chronicles the recollections of over a thousand African-American migrants in her publication, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of Americas Great Migration. From her interviews and conversations with George Swanson Starling between June 1995 to June 1998, she was able to assemble a narrative describing the circumstances of the riot, from the perspective of an African-American laborer who had to migrated to Detroit from Eustis, Florida:

“And every minute, George was scared the whole place would blow up from all the chemicals and paranoia. Then on the humid night of 20 June 1943, a fight broke out between several hundred white and colored men on Belle Isle, a park extending into the Detroit River on the east side of town. The fighting spread north, south, and west as rumors circulated among blacks that white men had killed a colored woman and thrown her body into the Detroit River and, among whites, that colored men had raped and killed a white woman in the park. Neither rumor turned out to be true, but it was all that was needed to set off one of the worse riots ever seen in the United States, an outbreak that would mark a turning point in American race relations” [33].

Sugrue summarizes the tragedy and aftermath by indicating that on the following day, more than ten thousand hostile whites, supported by Detroit police officers, swept through the segregated and overcrowded district in which most Negroes were restricted to reside, known as “Paradise Valley”. Seventeen African Americans and zero whites were killed by police. Ultimately, “over the course of three days, 34 people were killed, 25 of them blacks. 675 suffered severe injuries, and 1893 were arrested before federal troops subdued the disaster”.

In Gary, meanwhile, tension in the workplace and in institutionally segregated communities became most visible through school strikes designed in staunch opposition to the prospect of integration. From the founding of the city, the racially stratified configuration was constantly challenged by significant increases in population of an ostracized group of African-American migrants from the South. For example, when the first schools opened in Gary in 1908 the “thirty or so black children, except for two in high school . . . by year’s end were to be transferred to rented facilities in a Baptist Church” [34]. Therefore, the die had been cast for “separate but equal” education in the new city. As evidenced by “Negro subdivision” designations, Gary had also developed its residential neighborhoods in a context of “separate but equal.” What was clearly apparent by physical example was the fact that in Gary, as in the balance to the United States, “separate but equal” was not equal.

In 1927, Time magazine chronicled an incident involving white students of Emerson High School, rebelling against the admittance of 24 black students. “The next day the ‘nice’ residential part of Gary, was littered and scrawled with placards and signs: ‘WE WON’Y GO BACK UNTIL EMERSON IS WHITE...NO NIGGERS FOR EMERSON...EMERSON IS A WHITE MAN’S SCHOOOL’ etc. By the second day student protestors numbered 1357” [35]. The protestors demanded that the black students be segregated in the corners of classrooms and in the cafeteria until they could be transferred to another school. School administrators acquiesced to their demands and endeavored to transfer the students to a segregated facility. The Emerson student body continued to resist the concept of desegregation for decades and, in 1947, a similar strike was held with white student protesters being accompanied and supported by their parents. Two years earlier, two well-publicized and lengthy anti-integration boycotts had occurred at Froebel High School in Gary, prompting a visit from Frank Sinatra sponsored in part by the Anselm Forum [36]. On 1 November 1945, Sinatra performed to more than 5,800 young people crowded at the Gary Public Schools Memorial Auditorium to hear him sing Ole Man River, The House I Live In,and most importantly, deliver an impassioned condemnation of bigotry (Figure 6). He labeled the strike, “the most shameful incident in the history of American education”, and suggested that the adults who fomented the trouble be run out of town [37].

Figure 6. Remains of Gary Public Schools Memorial Auditorium, Gary, Indiana (Photos courtesy of Ball State University undergraduate architecture student Shannon Buchanan).
Figure 6. Remains of Gary Public Schools Memorial Auditorium, Gary, Indiana (Photos courtesy of Ball State University undergraduate architecture student Shannon Buchanan).
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What is America to me?

A name, a map, the flag I see,

a certain word,“Democracy”!

What is America to me?

The house I live in, a plot of earth, a street,

The grocer and the butcher,

and the people that I meet

The children in the playground,

the faces that I see;

All races, all religions,

that’s America to me

The place I work in,

the worker at my side,

The little town or city,

where my people lived and died,

The“howdy” and the handshake,

the air of feeling free,

The right to speak my mind out,

that’s America to me.

The things I see about me,

the big things and the small,

The little corner newsstand,

and the house a mile tall;

The wedding and the churchyard,

the laughter and the tears,

The dream that’s been a growin’,

for a hundred-fifty years. The town I live in, the street, the house,

the room,

The pavement of the city,

or a garden all in bloom,

The church, the school, the club house,

the million lights I see,

But especially the people,

that’s America to me.

The house I live in,

my neighbors, white and black,

The people who just came here,

or from generations back,

The Town Hall and the soap box,

the torch of Liberty,

A home for all God’s children,

that’s America to me.

The words of Old Abe Lincoln,

of Jefferson and Paine,

of Washington and Jackson,

and the tasks that still remain,

The little bridge at Concord,

where Freedom’s fight began,

Our Gettysburg and Midway,

and the story of Bataan.

The house I live in,

the goodness everywhere,

A land of wealth and beauty.

with enough for all to share,

A house that we call Freedom,

the home of Liberty,

And it belongs to fighting people,

that’s America to me.

Sinatra’s personal appearance may have charmed, but in no way influenced, the opinion of the boycotting students; however, two weeks later, the strike finally ended. The strikers claimed victory merely on the basis that their racist grievances had been heard and had garnered national attention. As for Frank Sinatra, this episode of progressive activism was observed, documented, and filed under the watchful, anti-communist eyes of J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

O’Hara writes that even years after Brown v. Board of Education, Gary schools remained racially segregated: “In a 1964 lower court ruling that the Supreme Court refused to review, Gary was not obliged to desegregate its schools. Calling the phenomenon ‘de facto segregation’, the Gary school board argued that it was not responsible for integrating unintentional segregation caused by racial separation in neighborhoods”. As Abel Meeropol protested, the deletion of a specific verse from his The House I Live In (referring to “my neighbors white and black”) from Sinatra’s performance in the popular short film by the same name [20], the Gary school commissioners conveniently deleted references to the city’s history and ongoing intentional practice of blatant and restrictive physical segregation of its neighborhoods by arguing segregation as an “unintentional” consequence.

During the same time frame, the African-American population of Detroit was subjected to more heinous and ambitious forms of blatant and intentional segregation, including redlining, restrictive covenants, and the construction of physical walls designed to separate blacks from whites.

As in the decrepit “Patch” district in Gary, African Americans arriving in Detroit from the Jim Crow South generally found themselves restricted to decaying, overcrowded areas known as “Paradise Valley” and the “Black Bottom”, in which they were jammed into inadequate, substandard, dilapidated housing. As with The Patch in Gary, the shoddy, densely packed frame structures had once housed eastern and southern European immigrants decades earlier (Figure 7). Sugrue describes the restricted districts of Detroit in detail.

Figure 7. Artist/Activist Tyree Guyton installation on East Side vacant lots, Detroit, Michigan.
Figure 7. Artist/Activist Tyree Guyton installation on East Side vacant lots, Detroit, Michigan.
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As the district’s population expanded during the 1940s, living conditions worsened. Federal housing officials classified over two-thirds of Paradise Valley residences as substandard (a category that included dwelling units without a toilet or bath, running water, heating, and lighting; buildings that needed major repairs; and low-rent apartments that were overcrowded). Rents were among the lowest in the city, but they were disproportionately high given the quality of housing in the area. Fire was an ever-present hazard, especially in older wood-frame buildings with outdated electrical and heating systems [38].

After waving her handkerchief as a symbolic gesture to initiate demolition of the dilapidated shacks in the Black Bottom, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt indicated to the crowd of over 20,000 that “it is a lack of social consciousness which permits such conditions to develop, but we may thank the Depression for focusing attention on those sore spots in our social life” [39]. Yet the African-American population that occupied the Black Bottom was evicted with no provisions for relocation, and either left homeless by the slum clearance, or forced to take up residence in the nearby, already overcrowded and severely distressed Paradise Valley slum.

Sugrue graphically describes deplorable sanitary conditions in the densely packed, predominantly black Lower East Side of Detroit featuring rat-infested, vermin-filled, filthy dwelling environments inducing various forms of disease and in some instances, contributing to death. Albeit in small percentages, some African Americans managed to find refuge in other small restricted enclaves within the city limits of Detroit. Nevertheless, with the exception of the Conant Gardens neighborhood, most of the enclaves were severely distressed as a result of various structural barriers and limited access to financial resources [40]. With respect to Conant Gardens and similar enclaves, Richard Wright lays down his sentiments regarding “The Talented Tenth” and the so-called black elite in his forward to 12 Million Black Voices like never before—or since:

“This text assumes that those few Negroes who have lifted themselves, through personal strength, talent, or luck, above the lives of their fellow blacks—like single fishes that leap and flash for a split second above the surface of the sea—are but fleeting exceptions to that vast, tragic school that swims below in the depths, against the current, silently and heavily, struggling against the waves of the vicissitudes that spell a common fate” [41].

The Great Migration, coupled with returning GI populations, their baby boom families, in concert with the resulting post-World War rapid economic expansion, created unprecedented demand for housing in the Detroit area. However, discriminatory federal housing policies worked in concert with local bankers and real estate brokers to assure that, in general, neither the newly constructed communities, nor the eligibility for mortgages, would be available to African Americans. In addition, restrictive covenants were instituted and condoned to preserve ethnic and, more commonly, racial homogeneity. During the late 1940s, more than 80% of property in Detroit outside of the inner city fell under the scope of racial restrictions. Similar statistics were commonplace in cities throughout the United States from Boston, to Chicago, to Los Angeles: “Whereas no land developed before 1910 was restricted, deeds in every subdivision developed between 1910 and 1947 specified the exclusion of blacks” [42]. Although racial covenants were deemed unenforceable in 1948, race-based restrictive patterns continued through real estate practices such as “steering” and discriminatory behavior among lending institutions. Thus, the vast majority of African Americans in Detroit, Gary, East St. Louis, and other developing Fourth World cities, remained relegated to severely distressed, dilapidated districts which were soon to be subjected to demolition and displacement so as to “eradicate blight” and facilitate the construction of freeways to accommodate the newly established suburban enclaves which were unavailable to black folk.

Postwar highway and urban redevelopment projects further exacerbated the Detroit housing crisis, especially for blacks. Detroit’s city planners promised that the proposed system of cross-city expressways would dramatically improve the city’s residential areas, as well as bolster the city’s economy. For the thousands of blacks who lived in the path of Detroit’s first expressways, both promises were false. Detroit’s highway planners would only minimally disrupt middle-class residential areas, but they had little concern for black neighborhoods, especially those closest to downtown. Instead, they viewed inner-city highway construction in Detroit and other major American cities, north and south, as “a handy device for razing slums”.

The respective postwar political and economic environments in Detroit and Gary were virtually identical with respect to ongoing racial tension and hostility, the beginning and unforeseen undercurrents of economic decline as a direct result of gradual decentralization of industrial production coupled with an inconspicuous weakening of the organization and dignity of labor, and political mechanisms that were in direct response to the decline and hostilities. The social construction of race was a major and constant undercurrent in all political maneuvering as either politicians jockeyed to appease perceived interests of the ever-increasing black population or engaged in extremist positioning by supporting segregationist approaches (Figure 8).

Figure 8. Gary Methodist Church, Gary (a)—Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects, Detroit (b).
Figure 8. Gary Methodist Church, Gary (a)—Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects, Detroit (b).
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Behavior during the 1949 Detroit mayoral campaign and general election race between UAW activist George Edwards Jr. and conservative Republican Albert E. Cobo was scrutinized by the city’s black independent weekly newspaper, The Michigan Chronicle, which regarded Cobo’s ultimate victory as a counter-referendum on white acceptance of black citizenry. It described the election as “one of most vicious campaigns of race baiting and playing upon the prejudices of all segments of the Detroit population”. The newspaper documented Cobo’s appeal to the white neighborhoods of Detroit through the use of pamphlets linking Edwards to supporting integration policies. This issue of race trumped any relationship or endorsement Edwards may have maintained with organized labor—in a union town. In his 2012 Detroit: A Biography, Martelle finds the election of Albert Cobo in 1949 as a “watershed moment in the evolution of Detroit. The city effectively held a referendum on what its future would be, and white fears won the day, an electoral decision that still resonates more than sixty years later”. Sugrue suggests that the election process, which was a mere reflection of the postwar climate, not only contributed to the further erosion of race relations, it also undermined working-class solidarity and “dimmed future hopes for the triumph of labor liberalism on the local level in Detroit”.

Despite the Federal Public Housing Authority and the City Plan Commission’s pleas, Cobo went to work immediately with a neoliberal agenda, rescinding scattered-site federal public housing designed to help alleviate concentrations of race and poverty resulting from decades of discriminatory restrictive zoning practices. In addition, the Cobo Administration endeavored to dismantle Detroit’s public housing programs in general, focusing instead on slum clearance, displacement, and forced relocation of predominantly black communities into already overcrowded concentration-of-poverty camps to make way for large privatized redevelopment projects and expanded freeway construction initiatives designed to facilitate the mass exodus of whites from the central city.

Postwar Gary remained a Democratic machine within a heavily unionized environment, although the mechanisms were constantly threatened by “Red Scare” hysteria and accusations of radicalism within various factions. In addition, political corruption, nepotism, and permissive association with various criminal forces had been commonplace ever since the party had taken what appeared to be a permanent stronghold under industrial working-class, ethnic, and New Deal Democratic forces. However, as in Detroit, the social construction of race became an increasingly divisive element within the political environment.

Just as the New Deal coalition was redefined by issues of civil rights and race relations nationwide, so too would the politics of Gary become defined by race and backlash. For instance, in 1964, George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, carried Lake County in the Indiana Democratic primary. Clearly notions of race, segregation, and separations had changed in Gary between 1945 and 1964. So too would notions of race alter the way people thought and talked about the city. If Sinatra’s visit had represented the possibility for postwar optimism, then Wallace’s success made Gary into a crucible of racial conflict.

It was anticipated that the mayoral incumbent A. Martin Katz would benefit from the common tendency of black voters support of white Democratic candidates; however, in the 1967 campaign, the system was shocked by the emergence of African-American candidate Richard Gordon Hatcher. Black voters, who were more than 50% of the electorate, had grown weary of the political servitude and general lack of regard for their loyalty. Ebony Magazine editor Alex Poinsett in his publication, Black Power Gary Style, suggests that the African-American political community rebelled against the Democratic political machine “which had long controlled the ghetto through the usual precinct network of block-level politicians, patronage, payoffs, ‘ghost’ voting, and protection of Negro gambling operations”.

Hatcher was the first black man ever to win the mayoral nomination either on the Democratic or Republican ticket in Gary. Yet in his campaign speeches, Hatcher admitted that Katz had been “probably more fair” to blacks than any predecessor. He criticized the mayor’s failure to consider qualified blacks for top jobs in the police, fire, and health departments and charged that nothing had changed during the prior three and a half years under Katz. “I ask you”, he would question audiences, “are the slums any prettier? Are our schools and less crowded? Have they built one single public housing unit? Have they torn down one single building for urban renewal? Have they expanded the park system? Have they desegregated the schools?” [43].

Upon Hatcher’s defeat of Katz in the Democratic Primary, the white Democratic electorate immediately became splintered and fragmented, withdrawing Democratic Party financial and political support or abandoning the party altogether in support of Republican candidate Joseph B. Radigan, a “college-dropout son of an Irish immigrant and proprietor of a downtown furniture store inherited from his family”. During the general election campaign, “red, white, and blue Radigan billboards blossomed all over Gary proclaiming the Republican candidate “100 percent American” and thus inferring that Hatcher—whose ancestors arrived on these shores at least two centuries before Radigan’s Irish forebears—was un-American”. Regardless of the various and often unsophisticated forms of political resistance, Richard Gordon Hatcher “won the election, and he and Cleveland’s Carl Stokes became the first black mayors of major American cities”. The most rapid periods of population and economic decline occurred immediately after Richard Hatcher was inaugurated on 1 January 1968 and after the inauguration under similar circumstances of Detroit’s first African-American Mayor, Coleman Young, on 1 January 1974. In retrospect, one might inquire whether Hatcher, Stokes, and Young’s mayoral victories were tantamount to that of being promoted to captain of the Titanic moments after the iceberg incident.

6. Richard Gordon Hatcher: Captain of the Titanic—After the Iceberg Incident

My election to utilize sociological oral history as a primary source has generated tremendous energy and contributed to the evolution of Fourth World theory. The opportunity to conduct an introductory interview with former Gary mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher has been crucial to my evolution of the core principles of Fourth World theory and its applicability to the city of Gary. It is my intention that this interdisciplinary research will serve as a critical component of a larger research effort that will utilize expanded methodologies to examine Gary’s one-hundred-year history, its ambitious rise to a major industrial center, and its unprecedented decline and institutional abandonment as Fourth World theory clearly demonstrates that racism layered over de-industrialization is a disastrous formula.

As the first African-American mayor in Indiana as well as the first to administer what was, at the time, considered to be a major city in the United States, Hatcher is a pivotal character to this research effort. I first met with Richard Hatcher at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, Indiana on Monday, 31 January 2011. The interview primarily focused on his childhood, school years, early involvement in various forms of activism, practice in law, and his reluctant, yet effective, transition into political life.

The Indiana University Northwest Calumet Regional Archives, which houses the Richard Hatcher Collection, traces Hatcher’s tenure as mayor of the city of Gary and chronicles his triumphs and struggles. It is my ultimate intention to use a critical analysis of the twenty-year Hatcher administration to expand the discourse on how race- and class-based stratification was designed into the physical infrastructure of the city, and how the race-based actions and policies influenced the city Hatcher inherited and tried to manage during the early years of his tenure as mayor.

With the assistance of Dorothy Mockry of the Minority Studies Department in the Indiana University Northwest College of Arts and Sciences, I began my interview with Richard Hatcher following a brief, introductory conservation. Hatcher discussed events that led to his father, Carlton Hatcher, essentially being forced to leave Macon, Georgia.

In Macon, Carlton Hatcher had worked for a sawmill where he transported lumber in a mule-drawn wagon. One day, an incident occurred when the wagon hit a depression in a road causing the lumber to shift and some units to fall to the side of the road near where a small child was playing. Although the child was not harmed, his parents were alarmed and contacted the sheriff to apprehend Hatcher, allegedly for deliberately attempting to injure or kill the child. With the assistance of his in-laws, who disguised him as a woman, Hatcher fled Macon and traveled north by bus to Chicago where two of his sisters resided.

However, he ran out of money and found himself in Michigan City, Indiana, where Hatcher first found work in lawn care and later at the Pullman Standard factory where he worked for many years. Richard Hatcher recalled his father stating on many occasions, how a couple of days in Michigan City turned into 45 years. Initially, the Hatcher family was restricted to living in an area in the near-eastside of Michigan City known as “The Patch”. As with The Patch in Gary, the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley in Detroit, and similar restricted spaces throughout the industrial north, The Patch in Michigan City was characterized by deplorable conditions. Hatcher described a constant and incredible stench in the area being downwind from an animal hair processing factory where his mother labored, along with many women, under atrocious circumstances. He stated that his mother, Katherine Hatcher, died of cancer when he was thirteen years old. He is convinced that the working conditions at the factory contributed to her death. He also noted that there were no paved streets in the district and that the streets were covered in an unknown industrial waste substance that the community referred to as “pig iron”.

The Hatcher family lived in a large, poorly constructed, dilapidated house with extended family members, boarders, and others. He recalled two of his brothers, who had served in the U.S. Army (one had been stationed in Alaska), providing army-issued heavy coats which were used as blankets in the cold, un-insulated house. On occasion, Hatcher remembered, he would awake and find a light dusting of snow in his bed. The house featured two coal stoves, one in the rear and one in the center of the living room. The young Hatcher was assigned the responsibility of bringing coal from the basement and starting the fires each morning.

Hatcher reflected on the collectivistic spirit of the community and how during difficult times, the community would cooperatively pool their resources as a means to survive. During periodic Pullman layoff episodes, the Hatcher family would receive monthly “relief” through the Trustee’s Office including potatoes, chicken, fruits, and vegetables. During these times, he would accompany his father to collect in a push cart leftovers from alleys behind white retail establishments and restaurants, including food that was consumed by the family or items that could be resold to a junkyard. Hatcher remembered being proud and honored to join his father on such missions for he felt responsible to his family as a young man. As a child, he had no conceptual understanding or recollection of being poor and/or living in poverty.

There were seven surviving children in the Hatcher family with Richard being the youngest boy. Several of the children (thirteen in total), born in the South, and without medical care, died as infants or toddlers. Also, a set of Hatcher twins, born in The Patch, died of exposure in the cold, poorly insulated house at thirteen or fourteen months of age. Due to institutional segregation and discrimination, the notion of medical care or hospitalization was so foreign to Patch residents that many did not know such care existed.

On Friday nights, many of the adult residents in The Patch, including Hatcher’s older brothers, would frequent a tavern/pool hall. Hatcher recollected reports and rumors that on some nights, there may have been a fight at the establishment, and someone may have been “cut”. But never did he hear of a shooting or killing. Nevertheless, his mother worried.

Hatcher recalled how he and his siblings would walk to Sheridan Beach from The Patch and shovel sand, paint, or perform other odd jobs for the residents to earn a few dollars during the summer months. They would also sift through the sand of Washington Park, under the playground equipment, for coins.

The Patch was approximately five square blocks and was patrolled by a single black policeman, Mr. Kemp (the only black policeman on the Michigan City Police force). Mr. Kemp knew everybody, and everybody knew Mr. Kemp. If you were out some place, doing something that you should not do, Mr. Kemp did not take you to jail, he called your mother or your father: “This boy’s over here into something that he doesn’t need to be into”. He kept order.

Hatcher mentioned how one of his brothers, who had been drafted by the army, was stationed at Great Lakes, and how he, on several occasions, would go AWOL and come home. Hatcher would ride with his father to return his brother to the military base, which was just north of Chicago. He jokingly declared that on more than one occasion, after checking him into the base and returning home to Michigan City, his brother would be back home when they arrived!

Years later, when blacks were allowed to live in the near-west side of the Michigan City (around Seventh Street and Willard Avenue in an area formerly occupied by Syrian immigrants), Carlton Hatcher moved his family from The Patch and purchased a house on Seventh Street. Although he had no formal education and could not read or write, Carlton Hatcher effectively managed his financial affairs. He also slowly acquired rental properties, often lent money to community members, and had a handshake relationship with the local bank through a gentleman known as Mr. Gerritsen. At age 72, he endeavored to learn to read so that he could read the Bible at family gatherings and at Mount Zion Baptist Church where he was fondly known as “Deacon Hatcher.” Richard Hatcher discussed the tradition of prayer in the black community and how his father was skilled in this regard. He reflected on the barber in The Patch, Moses Wilson. Barber “Mos” Wilson was the champion of prayers. He would always open with:

Father I stretch my hands to thee,

No other help I know;

If thou withdraw thyself from me,

Ah! wither shall I go?

On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,

And cast a wishful eye,

To Canaan’s fair and happy land,

Where my possessions lie.

Upon reciting Wilson’s prayer opening, Hatcher emotionally reflected on how people in the community, regardless of their circumstances, had the capacity to improvise, and use the art of extemporization as a means to confront difficult challenges in their lives. “If you think people, who never had an education, never read history, never read Shakespeare, nor read about the great writers and philosophers, and yet they were absolutely poetic . . . they could go on for thirty minutes . . .”. He regretted not recording the amazing prayers and other forms of engagement common in the small black community of his childhood. Carlton Hatcher, according to his proud son, was a very religious man who, upon becoming involved with the church, never drank or engaged in other forms of self-destructive behavior. He died at the age of 99.

Richard Hatcher attended integrated schools in Michigan City, including Michigan City Elston Junior and Senior High Schools. He recalled having friendly relationships with many of the white students but cited the clearly defined physical limitations of their friendship with respect to place and space. He only recalled one racial incident while growing up in Michigan City regarding a racial slur directed at a black man in a downtown drugstore. However, during his high school years, and as a popular athlete (track star), he had the opportunity to work as a dishwasher at an establishment known as Arnie’s, located at Michigan and Franklin Streets near the courthouse. After six or seven months of working at Arnie’s, he observed a black couple who had come into the restaurant, sat down, and waited to be served; but the waitresses refused to serve the couple. The restaurant manager informed the couple that the restaurant did not serve blacks. The couple promptly left the establishment. Hatcher confronted the manager who apologized by indicating that he was only doing his job and following the orders of the owner, Mr. Brown. Hatcher ripped off his apron, threw it on the floor, and stormed out of Arnie’s. Once he arrived home, Hatcher’s father was on the phone with Arnie’s. Afterward, father sat down with his son.

“You have a job up there because you hope that next year you are going to go to college. One of the things that you have to learn about life is that sometimes, when someone has something that you need, in order to get it, you sometimes have to take things that you ordinarily would not have to take. Mr. Brown has a job, and that job will help you and help me, so that you can go to school”.

Thus, Carlton Hatcher persuaded his son to go back to his job for the remainder of the summer. The young Hatcher then went to Bloomington, Indiana and began his college education at Indiana University (IU). Richard Hatcher enrolled at IU, shortly after University President Herman B. Wells oversaw the ending of the practice of segregation within the university. IU was officially desegregated, but roommates in dormitories were required to be of the same race. Hatcher discussed many challenges at IU including difficulties in getting a haircut in Bloomington and how black students would travel to the other end of town, and enter the rear door of the house of a black barber (who also cut hair for white patrons and was afraid that he would lose his white customers if he allowed his black customers to occupy the same space). He recalled a conversation with Vernon Jordan who was enrolled at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, and how Jordan had to travel a great distance to Bloomington to get his hair cut at the same establishment.

Hatcher became involved with the campus chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The organization was involved in picketing Nick’s Old English Hut, a dining establishment adjacent to the campus, that had been engaged in discriminatory activities. Finally, and due to the activism of the students, Nick’s ended its discriminatory practices. The university followed by issuing an edict to all businesses in Bloomington that if they could not serve ALL of the students, regardless of race, creed, or color, then they would not serve ANY of the students. Thus, institutional discrimination in Bloomington had all but ended. Upon graduating from IU, Hatcher returned to northwest Indiana where he attended law school at Valparaiso University.

Richard Hatcher had a sister Gladys, who, at the time, resided in Muskegon, Michigan. She had worked as a secretary for a black attorney in Michigan City for whom her younger brother Richard ran errands, etc., eventually inspiring him to pursue a career in law. Upon graduation from Valparaiso, and through networking, Gladys arranged interviews first with attorney Ben Wilson in Gary and then with attorney Henry Walker in East Chicago. Hatcher found Henry Walker particularly charming and chose to join his firm. Soon after, a major scandal was exposed in Gary resulting in the indictment of the entire Gary City Council (including its former president Ben Wilson) and the mayor, who was ultimately sent to prison. Thus, Hatcher was fortunate to have chosen to work with Walker and not be linked to the scandal, directly or indirectly, through Wilson’s office. While working with Walker, Hatcher met State Senator James Hunter, who owned a real estate business and shared office space with Walker. During his tenure with Walker’s firm, he was introduced to many leading and well-connected political officials. While working in East Chicago, Hatcher resided in Gary with his brother. Many approached Hatcher to encourage him to run for State Senator against James Hunter. Hatcher refused.

Richard Hatcher indicated that the late John Grigsby was the person most responsible for his determination to campaign to serve on the Gary City Council. He stated that he had no intention to run for any political office and that he was focused on his law practice; however, John Grigsby strongly encouraged and ultimately convinced him to run for City Council despite the fact that he was considered an “outsider” being from Michigan City, and one who had not attended the “Velt” (slang term for Theodore Roosevelt High School in Gary).

What ultimately convinced Richard Hatcher to run was John Grigsby’s arrival in his office, carrying a three-ring binder filled with pages upon pages of signatures indicating that “I will support Richard Hatcher for City Council.” Grigsby had personally gone door to door, unsolicited, to gain support by petition for Hatcher to campaign for City Council.

Perhaps due to the fact that his election and tenure as mayor of Gary is well documented or perhaps due to the limited time, Richard Hatcher did not engage in discussion about his five-term service as mayor, deindustrialization, institutional abandonment, or the general decline of the city during our first meeting. Instead, he chose to discuss other aspects of his legal and political activism.

For example, Hatcher discussed when he served as an attorney to help secure voting rights on behalf of African-American citizens in Mississippi. He described traveling from town to town and how, during his visits, the courthouse squares in each town were virtually identical as were the intimidating men in pickup trucks with rifles mounted in their rear windows as they slowly circled the town squares like buzzards. I asked if he was ever afraid (Figure 9). He responded by mentioning an incident where he had been photographing “white only” signs at a public facility and had turned to find that his two colleagues (both white) had left the scene. At that moment, Hatcher was approached by two large, armed sheriff deputies. His first instinct was to turn and run, but then he reminded himself of the importance of his dignity. Upon one of the sheriffs yelling, “Boy, what are you doing?” he slowly walked away and rejoined his colleagues, who were waiting in the car. Hatcher described how the word would spread about “troublemakers from up north coming to town” but they continued traveling to the towns, surveying and documenting conditions so that evidence could be compiled that would ultimately result in class action desegregation suits against illegal restriction of access to courthouses, school, libraries, and other public facilities and institutions. He marveled at the bravery of the many black residents of Mississippi, how they put their jobs, livelihoods, and personal safety on the line, and how some paid the ultimate price for “challenging the order of things”. He recalled periodically visiting Durant, Mississippi, home to his stepmother Georgia Hatcher, and how all of the white businesses were located on a main thoroughfare that ran through the city, and how the black businesses—often the businesses that whites did not want to be bothered with—were located on an alleyway, at the rear of the white businesses.

Figure 9. Olon Dotson in abandoned, vacant, vandalized Gary Methodist Church in Gary, Indiana (Photo courtesy of Ball State University Architecture Karen Keddy).
Figure 9. Olon Dotson in abandoned, vacant, vandalized Gary Methodist Church in Gary, Indiana (Photo courtesy of Ball State University Architecture Karen Keddy).
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Hatcher mentioned a recent gathering in Las Vegas at a “Richard Hatcher Day” event and his meeting with Charlie Evers [44]. Recalling his conversation with Charlie Evers about serving on the Evers campaign for Governor of Mississippi and how terrified he was to travel with Evers on the campaign trail, Hatcher recalled an incident when Evers publically and fearlessly taunted a white mayor of a small town in Mississippi proclaiming that if elected governor, he would endeavor to bring an end to all of the race-based intimidation and institutional hatred.

Regardless of the degree of successes and failures on the national political front, accolades, national political prominence, and well-documented personal and political integrity, Hatcher and his mayoral administration oversaw the most devastating decline of any city in modern history. During his five-term mayoral tenure, the aforementioned and unprecedented simultaneous industrial decline combined with immediate and massive white flight and institutional abandonment; his election expeditiously transitioned Gary into what I classify as a Fourth World city. No mayor, president, or prophet could have effectively managed a city that had lost 64,000 of 70,000 steel manufacturing jobs between 1970 and 1980, coupled with what is best articulated as Hirshman’s theory of exit over voice or in the hip hop group’s album Fear of a Black Planet. As in contemporary times with Barack Obama’s inherited executive authority over a nation in a downward economic spiral and a seemingly irreconcilable political divide, Hatcher had found himself, forty years earlier, captain of a former transnational distribution center that devolved into a struggling post-industrial, hyper-segregated murder capital. The persistence of Gary’s historic structural inequalities demonstrates intractability in overcoming social stratification based primarily on the construction of race as a vehicle for physical separation and institutional abandonment (Figure 10). The severe physical distress and abandonment present throughout the entire city proper, resulting from de-industrialization, historic segregation and discrimination patterns, suburban sprawl, erosion of a viable tax base, racism, inability to embrace the concept of desegregation and civil rights legislation, fear, despair, crumbling infrastructure systems, disinvestment in urban school systems, and environmental justice issues, qualify Gary, Indiana as a model Fourth World city.

Figure 10. Photo of the wall in Gary Methodist Church in Gary, Indiana, shown in Figure 10 taken on a subsequent visit (Photo courtesy of Ball State University undergraduate architecture student Victor Piňa).
Figure 10. Photo of the wall in Gary Methodist Church in Gary, Indiana, shown in Figure 10 taken on a subsequent visit (Photo courtesy of Ball State University undergraduate architecture student Victor Piňa).
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7. Conclusion

The citizens of the city of Gary, Indiana have spent nearly five decades and generations suffering from the lack of access to work, disappearance of work, and institutional abandonment; praying that somehow jobs would miraculously return; hoping that the presence of tax-supported sports franchises, or casinos and other destabilizing venues would save it; and wondering how the transition to a service sector economy could effectively replace the pride and security offered by manufacturing and the dignity of labor. Today, Gary has the opportunity to follow, by example, principles offered in Fourth World cities like Detroit, which are beginning to emerge from the depths of despair. Their healing, driven by the same communalistic and collectivistic spirit described by Richard Hatcher in Michigan City’s Patch, is beginning to re-emerge in a profoundly post-industrial space.

The 98-year-old visionary, philosopher, activist, and community organizer Grace Lee Boggs, in her 2012 publication, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, writes that it is time to reimagine work and reimagine life as a means to heal humanity—a humanity that has been subjected to the ills of hatred, greed, and power for centuries. Scores of grassroots organizations have emerged and are focused on transformation and survival including the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN), established to address food insecurity issues in the city’s black community. The organization, founded and led by an Afrocentric visionary, Malik Kenyatta Yakini, is organized around self-determination based on confronting the lack of access to affordable, healthy, locally grown food. Among its endeavors, DBCFSN operates D-Town Farms, which is currently the largest urban agricultural center in the Detroit area. The organization is currently engaged in establishing a cooperative grocery store in Detroit’s North End. DBCFSN is ordered under the Afrocentric principles of Ujamaa (cooperative economics), which rejects the idea of wealth for wealth’s sake and promotes self-reliance and strengthening of community.

Former Black Panther, Wayne Curtis, and his partner, Myrtle Thompson founded Feedom Freedom Growers on a series of vacant lots in the midst of severely distressed East Detroit. Their efforts to “grow a garden, grow a community” and their dedication to “make a way out of no way” demonstrate how Detroit’s vacant lots represent the possibilities of cultural revolution [45]. Feedom Freedom inspires youth to participate in this revolution by taking personal responsibility for themselves and their community and embracing the power they possess within. Fourth World theory supports the courage to accept the fact that Detroit, for instance, is not going to be resurrected as the industrial power that existed at the midpoint of the twentieth century (albeit racially and economically stratified). Once liberated from the bondage of practices based solely on the social construction of race, Fourth World cities and communities can truly and earnestly begin to progress toward a more sustainable, equitable means of inhabiting the earth.


This article would not be possible without the amazing support of my dear friend and colleague, Wes Janz, Professor of Architecture at the Ball State University, College of Architecture and Planning. In addition to encouraging me to continue to develop Fourth World theory, Wes introduced me to Sharon E. Sutton, guest editor for this special issue of Buildings. The article and my thoughts about the topic were enhanced significantly thanks to Sutton’s tireless input. Her edits and comments were tremendously thorough and helpful. I wish to thank Grace Lee Boggs for being on this earth—in Detroit, and (along with her comrades, Shea Howell and Richard Feldman) for being such a tremendous inspiration and supporter as I endeavor to organize my thoughts around these critical issues. I also offer shout-outs to Malik Kenyatta Yakini, Wayne Curtis, and Myrtle Thompson of Detroit, and brother Imhotep Adisa of Indianapolis for sharing their philosophies as they engage in sustainable activism in the trenches of their respective communities. Thank you, Dolly Millender, Theresa Grigsby, and Mayor Richard Hatcher for taking the time to share your personal journeys with me. I wish to express my sincere appreciation to my colleagues at Ball State University, in particular Nihal Perera, Karen Keddy, and Sheila Smith for their support. I must recognize Leonard Harris, Bill Mullen, Venetria Patton, and Cornelius Bynum of Purdue University, as well as Stephen Paul O’Hara of Xavier University for enlightening my path. Finally, I would like to acknowledge my daughter Chloe’, for her motivation to develop an understanding of the challenges facing our cities and our communities. She inspires me.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.

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  14. Dotson, O. Introduction to the Fourth World. In Design Altruism Project; Stairs, D., Ed.; Creative Commons: Boston, MA, USA, 2010. [Google Scholar]
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  17. Martelle, S. Detroit: A Biography; Chicago Review Press Incorporated: Chicago, IL, USA, 2012; pp. 134, 152. [Google Scholar]
  18. The Center for World Indigenous Studies maintains an online library dedicated to the memory of Shuswap Chief George Manuel and to the nations of the Fourth World through its Fourth World Documentation Program (FWDP). The library’s archives currently maintain more than 100,000 documents, reports, and publications from American Indian nations and indigenous nations from around the world.
  19. Manuel, G. The Fourth World: An Indian Reality; A Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.: New York, NY, USA, 1974. In the foreword to The Fourth World: An Indian Reality, Vine Deloria, Jr. describes the evolution of the Fourth World position as juxtaposed to Third World definitions. Deloria suggests that Manuel is calling the institutions of the world to re-examine their own origins, the beliefs which brought them into being and the basis for integrity that lies beneath their formal structure.
  20. Abel Meeropol was a Jewish American teacher, activist, writer and composer best known under his pen name, Lewis Allan. He was the writer of The House I Live as well as the anti-lynching lyrics and melody to Strange Fruit, performed and made famous by Billie Holiday. (Primary Source: The Strange Story of the Man behind ‘Strange Fruit’ by Elizabeth Blair on National Public Radio, 5 September 2012).
  21. International Movement ATD Fourth World. Available online: (accessed on 15 December 2013).
  22. The Shrinking Cities International Research Network™ was founded in 2004 as a research consortium of scholars with a mission to advance international understanding and promote scholarship about population decrease in urban regions and urban decline, causes, manifestations, spatial variations, and effectiveness of policies and planning interventions to stave off decline.
  23. Alexander, J.C. The Civil Sphere; Oxford University Press: New York, NY, USA, 2006; p. 207. [Google Scholar]
  24. O’Hara, S. Gary: The Most American of All American Cities; Indiana University Press: Bloomington, IN, USA, 2011; pp. 8, 13, 59, 136–137, 147. [Google Scholar]
  25. The term, Wonka-esque is my invented descriptor supporting O’Hara’s discourse on Gary’s separation of mill and town and as depicted in Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the dark, post-industrial romanticized 2005 film adaptation by director Tim Burton. The novel and film describe a once thriving factory towering over a severely distressed town filled with dilapidated shanties and housing poor, wretched, and miserable citizens. Behind its fortified wrought-iron steel gates, the factory somehow continues to produce massive amounts of high-quality chocolate despite the fact that no employees are hired from the community, and no workers are ever seen entering or leaving the facility.
  26. Census, U.S. Census Bureau of the US Department of Commerce.
  27. Parliament, Tear the Roof Off: 1974–1980. Chocolate City. Available online: (accessed on 13 November 2013).
  28. O’Hara references the Chicago Tribune, or per his notes, The Chicago Daily News, October 1–5, 1919 article which included a detailed description of the scene. He also discusses how the press engaged in framing the incident in a means to maximize readership by choosing to “concentrate on the language of race, the imagery of warfare, and the specter of radicalism” (O’Hara, 80).
  29. Lane, J.B. City of the Century: A History of Gary, Indiana; Indiana University Press: Bloomington, IN, USA, 1978; pp. 93, 236. [Google Scholar]
  30. Wright, R.; Rosskam, E. 12 Million Black Voices; Basic Books: Philadelphia, PA, USA, 2008. [Google Scholar]
  31. Sutton, S.E.; Kemp, S.P. The Paradox of Urban Space: Inequality and Transformation in Marginalized Communities; Palgrave McMillian: New York, NY, USA, 2011; p. 1. [Google Scholar]
  32. Sugrue, T.J. The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit; Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ, USA, 2005; pp. 28, 37, 44–47. [Google Scholar]
  33. The notes from The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson indicated that, “ . . . all references to George Starling are based on numerous interviews and conversations with him from June 1995 to June 1998, (Wilkerson, 562).
  34. Cohen, R.D. Children of the Mill: Schooling and Society in Gary, Indiana, 1906–1960; Indiana University Press: Bloomington, IN, USA, 1990; p. 8. [Google Scholar]
  35. Ronald, C. in the publication, Children of the Mill: Schooling and Society in Gary, Indiana, 1906–1960 writes that “Hereinafter, black and white would be separate in the Gary Schools, but hardly ‘friendly rivals.’ While legal under the ‘separate but equal’ laws then comment in Indiana (adopted in 1877) and other northern states, school segregation was not automatic. Northern cities experienced various degrees of racial separation at the time, although most were moving in the direction of explicit segregation. Gary, somewhat early in joining the movement, was hardly different”. Cohen cites numerous sources for this position including, but not limited to: The Separate Problem: Case Studies of Black Education in the North, 1900–1930 by Judy Jolley Mohraz.
  36. The Anselm Forum was organized in Gary in 1932. Its founders wanted “to create an atmosphere of harmony, a sense of belonging together, despite differences of creed, race or occupation”. The Forum’s belief in diversity was so strong that members were dismissed when they made objections to new members based on race, creed or ethnic background. In 1945, the Forum became directly involved in public school integration in Gary. As time progressed, membership in the Forum declined. In the 1960s, as the racial composition of Gary changed, the group became somewhat unpopular among many people in the white community. By 1971, the group could no longer gather enough members to hold a breakfast meeting, and the group was disbanded (Source: Indiana University Northwest Calumet Regional Archives).
  37. Sinatra, F. Unheard Frank Sinatra Vol. 2: The House I Live In. Available online: (accessed on 13 November 2013).
  38. The Patch (also formerly called the Southside) was the unplanned expansion of Gary in the early 1900s–1920s in which its poorer foreign workers were originally housed. It attracted more than 200 saloons and other disreputable establishments that had been banned from the more upscale north of the city. The houses were often makeshift dwellings built by speculators. Typically they housed a family, several boarders, and various farm animals raised for food. Most inhabitants came directly from their home countries—predominantly Serbia, Poland, and Croatia. U.S. Steel initially ignored the living conditions, saying “we are not in the summer resort business”. In the late 1920s the city’s population doubled and conditions deteriorated further. At last, in 1923, the city ordered all substandard housing to be evacuated, leaving 1,500 people temporality homeless. Nonetheless, The Patch persisted as a largely blighted area. Eventually, it became predominantly African American as European immigrant workers moved further south. As the city became more segregated by race, The Patch came to be viewed as the “black district”. After the decline of the steel industry, The Patch ceased being atypical in its relatively low quality of life. Today the area is known as “Midtown” (Source:
  39. On September 9, 1934, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt traveled to Detroit for the symbolic start of slum clearance in Black Bottom, part of a $6.6 million federal program to replace dilapidate shacks with new public housing called Brewster Homes. The First Lady told the audience that the neighborhood was a slumlord’s paradise, with 92 percent of the tax payments delinquent (most of the homes were rentals), a crime rate six times the city average, and “juvenile delinquency” ten times the average. Tuberculosis was rampant, more than seven times the city average (Source: Detroit: A Biography by Scott Martelle).
  40. Conant Gardens was the wealthiest area of black Detroit. Settled by black ministers, teachers, lawyers, and businesspeople fleeing the inner city, the area was more suburban than urban, surrounded by open fields and remote from the city’s business and industrial districts. The quiet tree-lined streets of the neighborhood passed modern single-family detached homes, often with large well-manicured lawns (Sugrue 41).
  41. Wright, R.; Rosskam, E. 12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States; Viking Press: New York, NY, USA, 1941; p. 5. [Google Scholar]
  42. Despite the Supreme Court decision declaring the enforcement of racially-based restrictive covenants (see Shelley v. Kraemer), the practice remained commonplace. The Court found that the covenants themselves were not invalid, thus allowing private parties to continue to voluntarily adhere to the restrictions. These “unenforceable” covenants served as powerful signals to potential homeowners, realtors, and insurers about who was welcome in a given neighborhood. Government agencies also continued to rely upon the covenants as substitutes for overt exclusionary practices. As a result of continued use of racially restrictive covenants and “steering” of black residents to non-white neighborhoods by real estate agents, access for minorities to purchase homes remained severely limited. It was not until 1968 that the actual inclusion of racially-restrictive covenants into deeds was deemed illegal, although many such covenants can still be found within the language of deeds today. While no longer a legally sanctioned practice, the residential patterns created by racially restrictive covenants still persist. (Source: National Fair Housing Alliance).
  43. Poinsett, A. Black Power Gary Style: The Making of Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher; Johnson Publishing Company, Inc.: Chicago, IL, USA, 1970; pp. 76–82. [Google Scholar]
  44. James Charles Evers (born 11 September 1922), the older brother of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, is a leading civil rights spokesman within the Republican Party in his native Mississippi. In 1969, he became the first African American since the Reconstruction era to have been elected as mayor in a Mississippi city, Fayette in Jefferson County. Thereafter, he ran for governor in 1971 and the United States Senate in 1978, both times as an Independent candidate.
  45. Boggs, G.L. The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century; University of California Press: Berkeley, CA, USA, 2012; pp. xxi–xxii. [Google Scholar]
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