The African Americans

Search for Truth and Knowledge

By Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Jr.

Part Thirty-Four: African Americans and the Urban Centers Migration Since World War II

The internal migration of African Americans and Hispanics is changing the face of American cities, especially impacting on large urban centers. The out-migration of whites has also occurred at a time when northern and mid-western cities were losing factory and industrial jobs. Many of the industries which have traditionally supported the working classes of American cities have relocated in the Sun Belt. This combination of losing property-owning middle classes and tax-paying industries has weakened the financial base of American urban centers and heightened the dilemmas for the cities. The middle class and working populations are increasingly leaving the center cities and the replacements are inevitably the young, the poor and the jobless. They are often African American and Hispanic families that are looking for opportunities to get a stake in American prosperity but the urban resources and dynamics that nurtured previous immigrant groups are no longer available. Or they exist in only a limited way. Many African American and Hispanic families have taken advantage of existing opportunities and are rapidly becoming part of the growing working and middle classes. Others, however, are restricted to welfare and dead-end jobs and are trapped in a style of poverty leading to an underclass.

During the 1960s, urban explosions rocked city after city across America as African Americans demanded Civil Rights and an end to segregation in the South and Human Rights and jobs in the North. Rebellions and riots by youth in the inner cities of great urban centers, such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit and Newark, revealed the extent of the urban crisis in the United States. Studies of these "Civil Disorders," especially the McCune Report on Watts, Los Angeles and the Kerner Report on national disturbances, point out longstanding problems of the neglect of inner city communities with their lack of services and urban housing blight that had been allowed to grow over the decades. They centered on joblessness that greatly affected the male population and the youth.

Short-term solutions to these urban problems involved increased riot control and police training for the inner cities and crash community development projects. More long-term solutions included projects and programs supported by local, state and federal government agencies and private sector assistance through organizations like the urban coalitions that united businesses, churches and foundations. Unfortunately, these efforts were limited and did not have significant impact on the problems. A more permanent result of this urban crisis with its rebellions and riots by Black youth was an increase in white flight to the suburbs and expanded blight of the inner cities' Africa American communities. These enormous urban problems remain a major challenge for American society.

An immediate result of accelerated white out-migration to the suburbs has been the expansion of African American communities in the urban centers. Since the urban explosions of the 1960s, these communities have continued to receive in-migration from the rural areas of the South and an increasing immigration from the Caribbean by people of African descent as well as Hispanics. As a result of these changes America is faced with what has been called "Metropolitan Segregation" and "the white suburban noose around the cities." Metropolitan segregation is the product of northern style discriminatory housing patterns. This type of discrimination is sometimes overt and visible as whites protest and rally against African American families moving into new neighborhoods. It is often covert and invisible like the practice called "redlining" which is a conspiracy of white bankers, real estate agents and homeowners, organized to prevent African Americans from moving into communities of their choice.


Special African American Ties to Urban America

The founding of the Nation's Capital, Washington, D.C. is linked to an unheralded African American inventor and surveyor Benjamin Banneker. When President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson were discouraged and believed that their plans for a new capital on the Potomac River were doomed, a young African American, Benjamin Banneker, saved the day by using his talents as a surveyor to lay out the plans for the City of Washington. Banneker had worked as a surveyor with the Frenchman, L'Enfant who was commissioned to draw up plans for the new capital. When he left in disgust with the plans, the whole project was in jeopardy until Banneker came to the rescue, recalled the original designs he had worked on and laid out the City on land that earlier had been no more than a swamp.


Benjamin Banneker and Washington D.C

The story of Benjamin Banneker and his little known contribution to the nation is very revealing. Banneker was born on a farm outside Baltimore, Maryland, in 1731. He was a freeborn African American like his mother but his father was a slave. Fortunately, a Quaker school was opened near his parents' farm and he was able to enroll in the school in spite of white objections and became the only African American to attend. He was fascinated by mathematics. He made great progress and his teacher gave him a book on geometry and Isaac Newton's Principia on the laws of motion. This interest led to a fascination with clocks and mathematical calculations. In 1753 he created a sensation when he built the first clock ever made in the Americas. It kept perfect time and functioned for forty years. In 1792 he prepared an Almanac which was widely read and sent a copy to Thomas Jefferson with a twelve-page letter defending the mental capabilities of African Americans. It is ironic that his mental abilities later helped Jefferson and Washington realized the dream of a new Capital.

When President George Washington decided to move the capital of the new nation from Philadelphia to a new site along the Potomac River, he appointed a three-man team to carry out the work of laying out the city. A young French army officer, named Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant, who served in the American Continental Army in the Corps of Engineers, was put in charge of building the new city.

President Washington also appointed Major Andrew Ellicott to the team as Chief Surveyor. In 1772 the Ellicott family built a mill and settled in Maryland near Benjamin Banneker's farm. The Ellicotts and Bannekers became lifelong friends. At the suggestion of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Banneker was appointed the third member of the team. The stage was set for Banneker to play a crucial role in the establishment of the nation's capital.

Other leading American cities have had special ties to African Americans. Chicago, for example, has roots that can be traced to the trading post in Lake Michigan that was established by Jean Baptist Pointe Du Sable. Tradition gives him a place in history as Chicago's earliest settler and acknowledges his African ancestry. Families of African descent were among the first Spanish settlers of Los Angeles. In New York, an African community was established early in the Dutch colonial period when it was called New Amsterdam. African roots are deep in some of the nation's major cities.

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