Two Tales of a City

Two Tales of a City

During the last thirty years the perspective on the African-American urban experience has changed dramatically. Gone, to a large extent, is an interpretive model that stressed the social pathology of black life. Attributed, in its nonracist forms, to the destructive effects of slavery and postemancipation discrimination, this model emphasized the weakness of the black family and stressed the effects of a high crime rate, broad underemployment, and the effect of single-female-headed family units upon African-American familial and community life. Although important differences existed within this scholarly tradition, the premise that significant portions of the black community had, to some degree, been unable to withstand the pressures exerted by a hostile and powerful white world informed the work of such diverse scholars as W.E.B. DuBois, E. Franklin Frazier, Stanley Elkins, Kenneth B. Clark, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Amid appreciations of the complexity of African-American life, for example, DuBois wrote in his 1899 classic, The Philadelphia Negro, that “the great weakness of the Negro family is still the lack of respect for the marriage bond, inconsiderate entrance into it, and bad household economy and family management.” Since the 1960s, however, a new vision has emerged, one that might view DuBois’s perceptions as the musings of a brilliant if flawed Victorian moralist.’

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels