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Places of Their Own

African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century

On Melbenan Drive just west of Atlanta, sunlight falls onto a long row of well-kept lawns. Two dozen homes line the street; behind them wooden decks and living-room windows open onto vast woodland properties. Residents returning from their jobs steer SUVs into long driveways and emerge from their automobiles. They walk to the front doors of their houses past sculptured bushes and flowers in bloom.

For most people, this cozy image of suburbia does not immediately evoke images of African Americans. But as this pioneering work demonstrates, the suburbs have provided a home to black residents in increasing numbers for the past hundred years—in the last two decades alone, the numbers have nearly doubled to just under twelve million. Places of Their Own begins a hundred years ago, painting an austere portrait of the conditions that early black residents found in isolated, poor suburbs. Andrew Wiese insists, however, that they moved there by choice, withstanding racism and poverty through efforts to shape the landscape to their own needs. Turning then to the 1950s, Wiese illuminates key differences between black suburbanization in the North and South. He considers how African Americans in the South bargained for separate areas where they could develop their own neighborhoods, while many of their northern counterparts transgressed racial boundaries, settling in historically white communities. Ultimately, Wiese explores how the civil rights movement emboldened black families to purchase homes in the suburbs with increased vigor, and how the passage of civil rights legislation helped pave the way for today’s black middle class.

Tracing the precise contours of black migration to the suburbs over the course of the whole last century and across the entire United States, Places of Their Own will be a foundational book for anyone interested in the African American experience or the role of race and class in the making of America’s suburbs.
Winner of the 2005 John G. Cawelti Book Award from the American Culture 
Winner of the 2005 Award for Best Book in North American Urban 
History from the Urban History Association.

Read an excerpt.

422 pages | 42 halftones, 14 maps, 6 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2004

Historical Studies of Urban America

Black Studies

History: Urban History

Sociology: Race, Ethnic, and Minority Relations, Social History, Urban and Rural Sociology


"Numerous authors have detailed the phenomenon of black suburbanization in the 20th century surrounding specific U.S. cities, but Wiese is one of the few to consider the overall trend, particularly comparing migration in the North and the South. Wiese argues that instead of being forced from the cities, blacks moved into the suburbs by choice in order to build their own communities. His discussion of Southern suburbanization is especially interesting, partly because earlier studies have focused on Northern cities and partly because Wiese sees suburbanization as an extension of the Civil Rights Movement’s impetus toward black empowerment.... Wiese does a good job of covering his topic from both black and white perspectives. A useful addition to the literature of black suburbanization."

Anthony J. Adam | Library Journal

"A work of exceptionally broad research, Places of Their Own does much more than simply document the presence of African Americans in suburbs. It also illustrates how black suburbanization changed over the course of the twentieth century."

Amanda Seligman | Journal of Planning History

Places of Their Own is a necessary corrective to underclass stereotypes and the well-meaning academic obsession with black slums—the black middle and upper classes are rarely portrayed with so much depth or sensitivity. Wiese, by organizing his narrative around the impact of racial discrimination on urban form, may consciously follow in the footsteps of scholars such as Thomas Sugrue, Kenneth Jackson, and Arnold Hirsch, but the negativism that dominates the work of those scholars is tempered by the success stories of many of Wiese’s black suburban subjects and communities. Wiese’s approach produces a more balanced, if still troubling, account of racial change in the American metropolis.”

Nicholas Dagan Bloom | Journal of American History

“Wiese’s mission is to explain the ways by which African Americans discovered and pursued places for themselves in suburban America. Among other objectives, he aims to demonstrate that the African American commitment to suburbs living is no mere late-twentieth-century development, but extends back to the early decades of the century. . . . [Wiese’s] work should serve as the stimulus of sociologically-grounded comparative historical investigations of African American suburbanization. . . . Places of Their Own will become a valued and pioneering contribution to the sociological project of analyses of African American residential transformation.”

Alfrod A. Young, Jr | Ethnic and Racial Studies

"Wiese has provided an insightful reference work on black suburbanization that will influence the field and encourage new research. His informative maps, tables, and photographs further reinforce what is now the best scholarly treatment of an important subject."

Eugene P. Moehring | Journal of American Ethnic History

"This is an important book, as Wiese expertly deploys the concepts of race, class, and gender to demonstrate both the similarities and the differences between European-American and African American suburban experiences. . . . Historians of race relations and the civil rights movement, as well as urban and suburban historians, will find here much to spark debate and to stimulate further research. . . . But no matter how these issues are resolved, Places of Their Own will force us to reconsider the nature and meaning of twentieth-century American suburbanization.—Jack S. Blocker Jr., Left History

Jack S. Blocker, Jr. | Left History

Table of Contents

Chapter 1- The Outskirts of Town: The Geography of Black Suburbanization before 1940
Chapter 2- "Who Set You Flowin’?": The Great Migration, Race, and Work in the Suburbs
Chapter 3- Places of Their Own: An African American Suburban Dream
Chapter 4- "Forbidden Neighbors": White Racism and Black Suburbanites, 1940-1960
Chapter 5- Driving a Wedge of Opportunity: Black Suburbanization in the North and West, 1940-1960
Chapter 6- "The House I Live In": Race, Class, and Suburban Dreams in the Postwar Period
Chapter 7- Separate Suburbanization in the South, 1940-1960
Chapter 8- Something Old, Something New: Suburbanization in the Civil Rights Era, 1960-1980
Chapter 9- The Next Great Migration: African American Suburbanization in the 1980s and 1990s


Popular Culture Assoc./American Culture Assoc.: John G. Cawelti Book Award

Urban History Association: Kenneth Jackson Award

ASA Community and Urban Sociology Section: Robert E. Park Award
Honorable Mention

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