Crime Capital: Public Safety, Urban Development, and Post-Civil Rights Black Politics in Atlanta Open Access

Wiggins, Danielle (Spring 2018)

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Crime Capital examines a central paradox in the post-Jim Crow African American experience: the advancement of black elected officials to positions of power, particularly in urban settings, and the simultaneous entrenchment of economic inequality in black communities. It argues that in response to rising crime rates and the shifting needs of increasingly mobile global capital, Atlanta’s emergent black political class advanced punitive public safety and development policies that were undergirded by the black liberal reform tradition. This tradition was characterized by a commitment to personal responsibility, family values, capitalism, and order. In doing so, black political leaders reimagined the reformist principles that emerged out of the late nineteenth century to fit the material and ideological landscape of 1970s and 1980s America.

Crime Capital provides new insights into the evolution of black politics and U.S. politics broadly since the 1960s. First, it advances our understanding of the nuanced reasons why black political leaders constructed punitive crime control policies that criminalized marginalized people and acquiesced to urban development plans that displaced poor black urban dwellers. In situating these leaders within a tradition of black reformist politics in which property ownership and individual responsibility were held as means to black advancement, it shows that their responses to the crises of the 1970s developed within organic black political traditions. Second, this project intervenes into narratives of the rightward turn in national politics by shifting the focus away from Republicans in suburbs in the 1960s and toward Democrats in cities in the 1970s and 1980s. It suggests that the public safety and development policies that would become definitive of “New Democrat” politics in the 1990s were first tested and contested in cities in crisis.

Table of Contents


Acknowledgements                                                                                                                     i


List of Abbreviations                                                                                                                 iv


Introduction                                                                                                                                 1



Chapter 1

Black Atlanta and the Development of the Black Liberal Reform Tradition, 1880-1972                                                                                                                             26


Chapter 2

From the City Too Busy to the Murder Capital of the U.S.A: The Politics of Law and Order During the Crime Panic of 1972-1975                                                             71


Chapter 3

“Order as Well as Decency:” Crisis, Conventions, and Conceptions of (Dis)Order During Maynard Jackson’s Second Term, 1977-1981                                              120


Chapter 4

Spare the Rod, Endanger the Child: The Atlanta Youth Murders and the Crisis of the Black Family                                                                                                              165


Chapter 5

Restoring the Spirit of Sweet Auburn: Black Enterprise, Economic Development, and the Contradictions of the Black Liberal Reform Tradition                                        208    


Epilogue                                                                                                                                  253


Archives                                                                                                                                  275


Bibliography                                                                                                                           278

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