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The struggle for racial equality in the North has been a footnote in most books about civil rights in America. Now this monumental new work from one of the most brilliant historians of his generation sets the record straight. Sweet Land of Liberty is an epic, revelatory account of the abiding quest for justice in states from Illinois to New York, and of how the intense northern struggle differed from and was inspired by the fight down South.
Thomas Sugrue’s panoramic view sweeps from the 1920s to the present–more than eighty of the most decisive years in American history. He uncovers the forgotten stories of battles to open up lunch counters, beaches, and movie theaters in the North; the untold history of struggles against Jim Crow schools in northern towns; the dramatic story of racial conflict in northern cities and suburbs; and the long and tangled histories of integration and black power.
Appearing throughout these tumultuous tales of bigotry and resistance are the people who propelled progress, such as Anna Arnold Hedgeman, a dedicated churchwoman who in the 1930s became both a member of New York’s black elite and an increasingly radical activist; A. Philip Randolph, who as America teetered on the brink of World War II dared to threaten FDR with a march on Washington to protest discrimination–and got the Fair Employment Practices Committee (“the second Emancipation Proclamation”) as a result; Morris Milgram, a white activist who built the Concord Park housing development, the interracial answer to white Levittown; and Herman Ferguson, a mild-mannered New York teacher whose protest of a Queens construction site led him to become a key player in the militant Malcolm X’s movement.
Filled with unforgettable characters and riveting incidents, and making use of information and accounts both public and private, such as the writings of obscure African American journalists and the records of civil rights and black power groups, Sweet Land of Liberty creates an indelible history. Thomas Sugrue has written a narrative bound to become the standard source on this essential subject.
According to Sugrue (The Origins of the Urban Crises), most histories of the civil rights movement "focus on the South and the epic battles between nonviolent protestors and the defenders of Jim Crow during the 1950s and 1960s." The author's groundbreaking account covers a wider time frame and turns the focus northward to "the states with the largest black populations outside the south." Sugrue highlights seminal people, books and organizations in his tightly focused study that restores many largely forgotten Northern activists as integral participants in the civil rights movement such as Philadelphia pastor Leon Sullivan; Roxanne Jones of the "welfare rights movement" and first black woman elected to the Pennsylvania State Senate; and James Forman, advocate for reparations. The National Negro Congress, the Revolutionary Action Movement and the National Black Political Convention share history with the NAACP and the Urban League, as Sugrue traces the phoenixlike risings from the ashes of old organizations into new. Dense with "boycotts, pickets, agitation, riots, lobbying, litigation, and legislation," the book is heavily detailed but consistently readable with unparalleled scope and fresh focus.