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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Straddling the Color Line: Social and Political Power of African American Elites in Charleston, New Orleans, and Cleveland, 1880-1920
by Carey, Kim M., Ph.D., Kent State University, 2013, 332; 3618945
Abstract (Summary)

From 1880-1920 the United States struggled to incorporate former slaves into the citizenship of the nation. Constitutional amendments legislated freedom for African Americans, but custom dictated otherwise. White people equated power and wealth with whiteness. Conversely, blackness suggested poverty and lack of opportunity. Straddling the Color Line is a multi-city examination of influential and prominent African Americans who lived with one foot in each world, black and white, but who in reality belonged to neither. These influential men lived lives that mirrored Victorian white gentlemen. In many cases they enjoyed all the same privileges as their white counterparts. At other times they were forced into uncomfortable alliances with less affluent African Americans who looked to them for support, protection and guidance, but with whom they had no commonalities except perhaps the color of their skin.

This dissertation argues two main points. One is that members of the black elite had far more social and political power than previously understood. Some members of the black elite did not depend on white patronage or paternalism to achieve success. Some influential white men developed symbiotic relationships across the color line with these elite African American men and they treated each other with mutual affection and respect.

The second point is that the nadir in race relations occurred at different times in different cities. In the three cities studied, the nadir appeared first in Charleston, then New Orleans and finally in Cleveland. Although there were setbacks in progress toward equality, many blacks initially saw the setbacks as temporary regressions. Most members of the elite were unwilling to concede that racism was endemic before the onset of the Twentieth Century. In Cleveland, the appearance of significant racial oppression was not evident until after the World War I and resulted from the Great Migration. Immigrants from the Deep South migrated to the North seeking opportunity and freedom. They discovered that in recreating the communities of their homeland, they also created conditions that allowed racism to flourish.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Smith-Pryor, Elizabeth
Commitee: Goar, Carla, Harrell, Willie, Jr., Hudson, Leonne, Sotiropolous, Karen
School: Kent State University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- Ohio
Source: DAI-A 75/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: African American Studies, Black studies, Black history, American history
Keywords: African american elites, African american history, Black history, Charleston, Cleveland ohio, Louisiana, New orleans, South carolina
Publication Number: 3618945
ISBN: 978-1-303-87502-1
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