, Volume 78, Issue 1, pp 72-80

Root shock: The consequences of African American dispossession

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Abstract

Urban renewal was one of several processes that contributed to deurbanization of American cities in the second half of the 20th century. Urban renewal was an important federal policy that affected thousands of communities in hundreds of cities. Urban renewal was to achieve “clearance” of “blight” and “slum” areas so that they could be rebuit for new uses other than housing the poor. Urban renewal programs fell disproportionately on African American communities, leading to the slogan “Urban renewal is Negro removal.” The short-term consequences were dire, including loss of money, loss of social organization, and psychological trauma. The long-term consequences flow from the social paralysis of dispossession, most important, a collapse of political action. This has important implications for the well-being of African Americans. It also raises important questions about the strength and quality of American democracy.