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The Fixers

Devolution, Development, and Civil Society in Newark, 1960-1990

The Fixers

Devolution, Development, and Civil Society in Newark, 1960-1990

Stories of Newark’s postwar decline are easy to find. But in The Fixers, Julia Rabig supplements these tales of misery with the story of the many imaginative challenges to the city’s decline mounted by Newark’s residents and suburban neighbors. In these pages, we meet the black nationalists whose dynamic organizing elected African American candidates in unprecedented numbers. There are tenants who mounted a historic rent strike to transform public housing and renegade white Catholic priests who joined black laywomen to pioneer the construction of low-income housing and influence housing policy. These are just a few of the “fixers” we meet—people who devised ways to work with limited resources and pull together the threads of a patchwork welfare state.

Rabig argues that fixers play dual roles. They support resistance, but also mediation; they fight for reform, but also more radical and far-reaching alternatives; they rally others to a collective cause, but sometimes they broker factions. Fixers reflect longer traditions of organizing while responding to the demands of their times. In so doing, they end up fixing (like a fixative) a new and enduring pattern of activist strategies, reforms, and institutional expectations—a pattern we continue to see today.

336 pages | 15 halftones, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Historical Studies of Urban America

Black Studies

History: American History, Urban History

Political Science: Urban Politics


“Rescuing ‘the fixer’ from the bowels of urban political history, Rabig reframes the black freedom struggle in Newark, NJ, during the 1960s and 1970s. . . . By carefully measuring their potent mixture of radical protest with backroom dealing, Rabig allows readers to see how fixers sought self-determination and to meet immediate needs for housing and jobs. The book builds its final section, three compelling chapters on three very distinctive community development corporations, all of which embodied ‘a fixer ethos that shaped urban development on a national scale even as they remained locally focused.’ Rabig convincingly argues that these organizations, more than harbingers of privatized welfare provision, represented the holistic responses of Newark residents to the urban crisis. Recommended.”


“Rabig’s writing is beautifully fluid. She tells a story of the honesty and determination of those greatly influenced by the Civil Rights and Black and Puerto Rican movements as they worked to fashion a better way of living for the urban disenfranchised. . . .Rabig’s work would be of interest to any student of late 20th century urban studies.”

New Jersey Studies

“Rabig helps us explore Newark in a way that goes beyond the familiar story of the 1967 uprising, and demonstrates how innovative individuals and organizations in the city sought—and sometimes found—pragmatic ways to work around the structural and political constraints that faced Newark before and especially after the uprising. At times working within structures of corporate and governmental power and at others challenging such institutions, ‘the Fixers’ addressed problems of housing, employment, discrimination, and political neglect. The Fixers offers an account of what can be done in an urban environment struggling with conditions of rapid change and extensive regional inequality, and it shows that urban history in Newark did not end with the uprising. This is an important and engaging work.”

Guian McKee | author of The Problem of Jobs: Liberalism, Race, and Deindustrialization in Philadelphia

The Fixers is analytic, narrative history at its finest. Rabig captures how the momentum of black power was channeled into efficacious policymaking in post-riot Newark—the largest city in America’s most densely packed state. She cogently charts how visions of a better Newark transformed local activists, too easily dismissed as nihilists by critics, into bureaucrats of the shadow state—long after state government told Newark and Washington told all of urban America to ‘drop dead.’ Nimbly balancing telling detail with a colorful gaze on the big picture, The Fixers is one of those myth-shattering books—one that compels a rethinking of black political economy, urban crises, and recent America itself.”

Devin Fergus | author of Liberalism, Black Power, and the Making of American Politics, 1965–1980

“Rabig’s beautifully written history of Newark in the 1960s and ’70s, offers critical new insights into the ways that the War on Poverty worked on the ground and the complex connections between African-American community activists, politicians, labor unions, corporate elites, and the ‘fixers’ who built bridges between them. This important book brilliantly deconstructs the myth of the urban crisis in the city that came to embody that notion, offering a vivid analysis of how public-private partnerships in the late 1960s became the gentrified, privatized, neoliberal city of the 1980s. This is a must-read for historians of poverty, urban politics, race, and the history of capitalism.”

Annelise Orleck | author of Rethinking American Women’s Activism

“Newark’s urban rebellion and black power movement produced the ‘Fixers’—a constellation of individuals and organizations—that emerged to help shape the city’s emergent black and brown urban regime. Rabig’s book zeroes in on the multifaceted and complicated roles of the fixers in making Newark a just city for all of its citizens. More than just old-school reformers, Newark’s fixers built new political coalitions and organizations, which bridged the promise and reality of one of America’s most beleaguered cities. Rabig’s work is an important contribution to urban history that pushes the field to address the US urban crisis of the 1970s and 1980s.”

Kimberley Johnson | author of Reforming Jim Crow: Southern Politics and State in the Pre-Brown South

"Julia Rabig successfully weaves national trends with local Newark narratives to create a striking contribution to African American history and urban studies. Analyzing the national themes of civil rights, urban renewal, and the War on Poverty within a Newark context, Rabig demonstrates the unpredictability of applying federal policy to the municipal level. She accomplishes this while also giving a humanized account of the various “fixers” in Newark...Rabig’s work stands as an important scholarly contribution. She gives specific context to complex policy themes. The reader gains a broad understanding of national trends and then witnesses how they manifested in Newark. This book would provoke classroom discussion and be a beneficial addition to an undergraduate syllabus or a graduate reading list."

Damien Strecker | The Journal of African American History

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

PART ONE At the Crossroads

1 Fighting for Jobs in the “Laboratory of Democracy”
2 Restructure or Rebel? Newark’s War on Poverty
3 “Case City Number One”: Urban Renewal and the Newark Uprising

PART TWO Fixers Emerge

4 The Making of a Fixer: Black Power, Corporate Power, and Affirmative Action
5 Fixers for the 1970s? The Stella Wright Rent Strike and the Transformation of Public Housing

PART THREE Institutionalizing the Movements

6 Black Power, Neighborhood Power, and the Growth of Organizational Fixers
7 From Redeeming the Cities to Building the New Ark: Black Nationalism and Community Economic Development
8 The New Community Corporation: Catholic Roots, Suburban Leverage, and Pragmatism




New Jersey State Historical Commission: Richard P. McCormick Prize

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