The Negro Worker in the Chicago Labor Market: A Case Study of De Facto Segregation (Harold M. Baron and Bennett Hymer, 1965)

Synopsis by: Chelsea Birchmier

Part I

The four years leading up to 1965 were marked by prosperity, according to the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. Yet, as Baron and Hymer point out, this prosperity did not extend to Black workers, who, quoting Martin Luther King Jr., constituted “an island of poverty in a sea of affluence.” They demonstrate this paradox of prosperity spatially by contrasting employment and housing conditions in the Northwestern suburbs, where most of the jobs were located, and the unemployment and public housing projects, which Baron and Hymer refer to as “apartheid [that was] almost complete” and “the largest single concrete reservation for a dispossessed urban peasantry” in Chicago’s South and West Sides. The condition of Black workers in Chicago, write Baron and Hymer, was reflective of the experience of Black workers in the urban North. In part I of this paper, Baron and Hymer demonstrate the “second-class status of the Negro worker” by examining racial differences between Black and white workers in four areas: labor market participation, unemployment, income, and occupation. Generally, the gaps in these areas were more marked for men than for women, which they explain as a result of all women experiencing job discrimination and Black women obtaining jobs more easily than Black men.

Unemployment estimates did not include those who were not actively seeking employment. For this reason, in his 1963 paper “Negro Unemployment: A Case Study,” Baron developed a “social concept of unemployment” that incorporated the “discouraged workers” who had given up on the job search. Nationally, while the Civil Rights Movement helped maintain labor market participation rates for Black men ages 20 to 34 years old, they declined for Black men over 34 and teenagers; rates decreased by one-sixth for Black male teenagers from 1960 to 1965 and only one-sixteenth for white male teenagers. While Black female teenagers had lower participation rates than white female teenagers, Black female participation for 25-to-44-year-olds was greater than white female participation, likely due to white women leaving the market to raise families.

Baron and Hymer point to systematic differences in employment between white and Black workers. Nationally, from 1950 to 1965, unemployment rates rose for all races, with nonwhite unemployment consistently greater and longer in duration than white employment. In Chicago, the nonwhite to white unemployment ratio was higher than the national ratio, with Black unemployment three times white unemployment for all three measures of unemployment from 1959 to 1961. Even in the tight Chicago labor market of 1965 with white unemployment at only 2 percent, nonwhite unemployment had only decreased to 6 to 7 percent, but this decrease was a result of more Black workers leaving the labor force as discouraged workers. Baron and Hymer cite Lester Thurow’s 1965 study to demonstrate that nonwhite employment went through greater fluctuations than white employment, with nonwhite workers being absorbed into and cast out of the labor market in economic upturn and downturn, respectively, at greater rates than white workers. Ultimately, Baron and Hymer viewed disparities in employment as primarily structural rather than skill-based or educational, as evidenced by Denis F. Johnston’s 1965 paper showing that a nonwhite worker with a high school education was no more likely to be employed than a white worker who had not completed eighth grade.

They then discuss income, which increased for all races between 1940 and 1965. Yet, the relative gap between Black and white incomes never closed, despite temporary improvements in relative Black wages in wartime tight labor markets. According to Baron and Hymer, the fact that Black male income was 41 percent of white male income in 1939 was reflective of regional differences between a rural Southern labor force and an urban Northern labor force. The relative income of Black men increased to 54 percent of that of white men in 1947 with the redistribution of Black labor to the urban North, but the gap had not narrowed by 1962, largely reflecting racial differences within cities as opposed to the former regional differences. Next, they compared personal income data by race in Chicago in 1949 and 1959 broken down by upper, middle, and lower income quartiles. The largest gap in 1949 was in the upper quartile, with Black men earning 68.3% of white men’s income. By 1959, in a reversal of the earlier trend, the relative income of Black men decreased substantially for the lower income quartile to only 60.8% of white men’s income. The quartile data pointed to emergent Black class stratification, with the income of the bottom quartile decreasing relative to the top quartile from 1949 to 1959 and the lower income earners constituting “an urban peasantry, living at a subsistence income, and clearly out of the main stream of the economy.” Baron and Hymer also show how the racial gap increased for Black men with age, suggesting greater opportunities for promotions and job security. Black female income did improve relative to white female income from 1949 to 1959 in the lower and median quartiles and remained constant in the upper quartile, but this might have been due to the growing number of white women working part-time jobs, and thus, earning smaller incomes. However, their analysis suggests that the gap in income between Black and white female heads of household was similar to the gap between Black and white men. As with employment, racial differences in income were systematic and could not be explained by differences in education; in fact, Black male college graduates earned less than white dropouts.

Finally, Baron and Hymer describe the occupational second-class status of the Black worker, who was concentrated in the occupations that were at highest risk of automation. As with income, while both Black and white workers had moved into more skilled and higher paying occupations in absolute terms, Black workers had not improved occupationally relative to white workers. In the city of Chicago, Black workers were concentrated in the unskilled and semi-skilled occupations while excluded from the professional, technical, and managerial jobs. Baron and Hymer constructed an occupational index to demonstrate the relation of Black workers to white workers within the occupational structure of Chicago. The closer the index value to 100, the greater the proportion of Black workers in higher paying, more skilled jobs relative to white workers. They found that between 1910 and 1950, the index ranged from 82 to 85 for both Black men and women, except for a drop in Black women’s occupational index in 1940 during the Great Depression. In the Chicago Metropolitan Area, Black men’s occupational index value dropped from 83 in 1950 to 77 in 1960, partly resulting from a greater proportion of white men entering professional and managerial occupations. Black women’s index increased from 83 to 87, likely due to an increasing proportion of Black women entering clerical jobs. The occupational index did not measure divisions within occupations; even within the higher paying occupations in Chicago, Black workers were earning substantially less than white workers, particularly in sales, managerial, or proprietor jobs. The smaller gap in occupations including operative, service workers, and laborers was potentially a result of minimum wage laws and union coverage, with a larger gap among craftsmen jobs, where trade unions often excluded Black workers.

Part II

After offering evidence for the second-class status of Black workers, Baron and Hymer go on to analyze its dynamics in Part II of this chapter. The racial disparities in labor force participation, employment, income, occupation, they write, were “permanent features of the Chicago labor market since World War I.” In contrast to white immigrants, for whom disparities dissipated after a generation or two, Black workers in Chicago, an increasing proportion of whom were born and raised in Chicago, were permanently concentrated into certain sectors of the labor market like they were into segregated schools and ghettos. Baron and Hymer first describe the racist ideologies that explained this second-class status and how they emerged as justification for existing conditions. Southern myths involved the biological and genetic inferiority of Blacks as justification for slavery and later peonage, as evidenced by writings from John C. Calhoun and James De Bow. With the mass migration of Black workers to the North after the 1920s, new ideologies developed to justify Northern racial institutions that attributed the conditions of Black people to individual and psychological deficits and racism to prejudices and preferences. Then, they furnish their own analysis in contrast to these myths and offer three generalizations to understand how the Chicago labor market drove the disparities discussed in Part I: a dual labor market with separate Black and white sectors, a surplus labor pool that included an unemployed and marginally employed labor force used to supply labor during shortages, and a complex Northern system of de facto segregation where racial barriers in one institutional area supported those in other areas. Finally, they describe how ideologies of racism and a lack of political power upheld these dynamics.

Baron and Hymer examine the dynamics of the racially dual labor market, where a primary labor market in which white workers are recruited and seek jobs exists alongside a smaller sector in which Black workers are recruited and seek jobs, each sector operating on separate supply and demand forces, with jobs transferred to the Black sector with the growth of the economy and the Black labor force. They then begin to explain the mechanisms through which jobs were distributed to white and Black workers. Black workers were segregated by industry as well as smaller units within an industry. In Chicago industries, Black workers were employed in government and primary metal industry jobs in much higher proportions than white workers, while the reverse was true in the banking and finance and non-electrical machinery industries. This trend intensified when looking at firms within an industry. Baron and Hymer present data from the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry that showed the proportion of firms that were segregated in 1964, meaning they did not hire nonwhite workers. Seven of ten small firms, one of five medium-sized firms, and one of thirteen large firms were segregated. Within firms, further segregation occurred by occupational classification; most professional, managerial, sales, and skilled craftsmen classifications excluded nonwhite workers. When these occupational classifications were not segregated, the departments within them often were, with Black workers often in “hot, dirty departments” like foundries. Generally, they write, the lower positions in the occupational hierarchy were more likely to be integrated. An exception was found in the increased employment of Black women as clerical workers. While less marked, racial divisions also existed within government jobs, where many skilled Black workers found employment due to decreased hiring barriers. While 19 percent of US Government employees in Chicago’s Civil Service Region were Black, 27 percent at the lower level and only 1.7 percent at the higher level were Black. In another example, the Chicago Board of Education, the largest employer of Black professionals, the majority of Black employees taught and served as administrators for primarily Black schools. Segregated hiring patterns led to separate job-seeking patterns, with Black workers looking for jobs in the Black labor market and white workers in the White labor market. The recruiting practices of firms, the referral practices of employment agencies, and the guidance of schools and counselors reinforced racial dualism in the labor market.

Baron and Hymer then argue that the Black labor force consisted of three components: a Black service sector, which primarily supplied services to the Black community, a standard sector, which supplied services and goods across communities, and a surplus pool of labor that was either unemployed, out of the labor force, or marginally employed. They estimated that about 50 percent of the Black labor force was employed in the standard sector, 10 percent in the Black service sector, and 40 percent in the surplus labor pool. The workers who were marginally employed in the surplus labor pool worked in low-paying, dirty, and unsafe jobs that were often temporary with few possibilities for advancement, including jobs that were given to Black workers as white workers climbed the occupational ladder and those that had become “traditional Negro jobs” like bootblacks, busboys, and servants. The level of subsistence income for workers in the surplus sector was primarily determined by welfare payments, and in Chicago, one-fourth of Blacks received public assistance. Additionally, the size of the pool depended on the level of unemployment in the economy at large and the level of white immigration. They suggest that movement out of the surplus labor pool occurred during period of economic expansion, which had facilitated Black workers moving out of the surplus sector from 1940 to 1965; however, the ongoing expansion of the Black labor force, particularly though teenagers entering the labor market as well as migration from the South, meant that the tight labor market was not enough to reduce the surplus labor pool. They make a comparison to studies of underdeveloped countries in which there a technologically advanced and industrialized sector existed along with a subsistence peasant sector with high marginal and unemployment. Similarly, they write, the labor market in the U.S. was divided into a skilled technologically advanced sector made up of white workers and an “urban peasantry” in unskilled and marginal jobs. During labor shortages, Black workers were brought into the general economy without raising wages, they suggest, because they were previously earning subsistence incomes. Baron and Hymer offer racial dualism and the surplus labor pool as explanations for why unemployment rates in the U.S. were greater than workers in Western Europe would accept; the increased rate of Black unemployment helped keep white unemployment down. However, they suggest, the Civil Rights Movement had the potential to make a high Black unemployment rate unacceptable.

According to Baron and Hymer, the disparities in the labor market were reinforced by racial institutions in other areas including the de facto barriers of housing, schooling, and employment discrimination that were not mandated by law but operated as though they were. These institutions formed a self-perpetuating network that was more than the sum of its parts such that barriers were mutually reinforcing, and reducing barriers in a single area had little effect without transformation in others. Employment discrimination occurred in various forms, including screening based on criteria that was direct (e.g., race) or indirect (e.g., residence near the job), cultural biases, lack of advertisements and recruiting in Black media, and exclusion from trade unions (while the industrial unions were often less discriminatory). Housing segregation was evident in Chicago, as was demonstrated by Chicago Urban League maps from 1950, 1960, and 1964, showing an expansion of Black ghettos on the South and West sides of Chicago, following historical block-by-block segregation patterns. Housing segregation confined Black workers geographically so that they were unable to access jobs, which were rapidly moving away from the Black ghettos of Chicago and into the Northwest from 1957 to 1963. School segregation had impacts on the skills and training of Black workers, with Black students concentrated in schools of inferior quality and faced with low expectations. Baron and Hymer quote social psychologist Kenneth Clark, who said, “Personnel managers need no longer exercise prejudicial decisions in job placement; the educational system in Chicago screens Negroes for them.” These barriers were supported by racist ideology and a lack of political power. White decision-makers from the suburbs were making decisions about Black employment, education, and housing. Black workers controlled few major institutions, owned few companies and held no wealth. They reference James Q. Wilson, who writes that the Black democratic organization, while it was able to mobilize voters, was secondary in power to the Cook County Democratic Party and did not hold power proportionate to these votes. The Civil Rights Movement was filling that vacuum of political power by using mass participation to influence decision-makers. It was yet to be seen whether the Civil Rights Movement would be able to transform the network of de facto barriers, but Baron and Hymer noted that they were working to redistribute employment and improve education and housing.

Finally, Baron and Hymer conclude that the dual labor market was a structural phenomenon that necessitated a transformation of social and economic institutions. The implications of this were that transformation had to occur on both the demand side, by removing hiring discrimination, and the supply side, by addressing school and housing segregation, that programming had to be built under the assumption of racial dualism in the labor market, and that the disparities would continue if the market was expected to check them and the network of racial institutions continued to support them. Long-term changes had to be made at all levels, including employers, unions, agencies, and the government to deconstruct the dual structure. The Civil Rights Movement had primarily impacted discriminatory hiring barriers, rather than housing and school segregation, and led to new laws and Federal Executive orders to this end. Firms contracted by the U.S. government became subject to the President’s Equal Employment Opportunity Program, and some Black workers were employed in professional and managerial jobs. These changes were mostly symbolic, however, and no major structural transformations had occurred. These minimal changes were summarized in a comment from an observer that “in the past personnel men used to discriminate against 9 out of 10 Negro applicants; today they only discriminate against 8 out of 10.”

Northern Segregation as a System: The Chicago Schools (Harold Baron, 1965)

Synopsis by Chelsea Birchmier

“Northern Segregation as a System: The Chicago Schools” first appeared in the journal Equity & Excellence in Education, formerly Integrated Education, in 1965. In this piece, Baron argues that racial subjugation in the northern U.S. was tied to peculiar northern racial institutions rather than being inherited entirely from the South. Additionally, he emphasizes an institutional framework of northern race relations in contrast to a framework dominated by individual white prejudices and Black adjustment difficulties. While the origins of U.S. race relations lay in the southern plantation economy, the northern metropolis had developed and perpetuated its own racial institutions. In contrast to southern segregation, which was upheld by law and its enforcement by state police, Chicago had achieved a high level of segregation in schools in the absence of legal segregation. This, he suggests, was maintained via a “complex of interacting and mutually supportive institutions whose combined effect is greater than the sum of the effects of each institution considered singly,” a framework he further develops in “The Negro Worker in the Chicago Labor Market” (1965) and “The Web of Urban Racism” (1968). Racial segregation in schools, then, was supported and reinforced by the dual labor market, job discrimination, housing segregation, the lack of Black power, and an ideology of racism.

Baron then details how this system of northern segregation operated rather overtly in the Chicago Public Schools via dual Black and white sub-systems that were spatially and socially distant. In Chicago, only 18% of elementary schools were integrated; while high schools were more integrated, they were internally segregated via track systems. Similarly, faculty and administrators were segregated such that Black teachers and principals were concentrated in Black-segregated schools. One feature of northern segregation systems was the presence of exceptions to patterns of separation, in contrast to the absolute separation characteristic of legal segregation, exemplified by the presence of a few integrated schools in Chicago. Yet, even these schools were often transitionally integrating from white-segregated to Black-segregated schools. A second feature of such systems was the inferiority of the Black subsector. In Chicago, Black schools were inferior in inputs—more pupils per class, less money spent per pupil, less concern for needs of the community, lower expectations—resulting in inferior outputs—lower grades, higher dropout rates, lower self-esteem. The Civil Rights Movement, however, led to some improvements in inputs, which helped the disparities in outputs from increasing. Third, the system operated as one of racial subjugation. While Black people were able to improve their absolute conditions via education, their position relative to white people remained stagnant or worsened.

Baron lays out the other barriers that reinforced and were reinforced by the school system in Chicago. First, residential segregation maintained school segregation via a neighborhood school policy, while school segregation maintained residential segregation by the movement of whites out of integrated neighborhoods to avoid inferior schools for their children. Second, the dual labor market upheld school segregation through impoverishment and family instability while the schools produced inferior outputs in skills that upheld Black workers’ degraded relative income and occupational status as part of the dual labor market. Third, the ideology of racism legitimized school segregation while school segregation indoctrinated children with racist ideology. Fourth, the lack of Black political power made it so that the strong and continuous organization of Black Chicagoans against school segregation had not achieved necessary change, while the school system perpetuated and established this lack of power as a norm. Finally, racial discrimination, while not the fundamental basis of racial segregation, served to uphold institutionalization by punishing people who did not conform to defined role expectations.

That racial segregation in the Chicago school system continued after reducing blatantly racist policies and implementing colorblind boundary drawing policies was evidence for Baron’s argument that the Chicago Public School system was institutionalized, subjugated Black youth to second-class status, and was reinforced by a constellation of other racial institutions. Given these features, Baron investigates the potential of state and federal legal means to fight school segregation. At the state level, the Armstrong Law of 1963, which forbade racial separation in drawing school boundaries, did not contain enforcement provisions and had little to no effect on Chicago schools, in contrast to the Massachusetts law of 1965, which provided for the withholding of funds for schools that did not make progress toward reducing segregation. He then describes two federal laws relevant to school segregation. The first, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, responding to public pressure from the Civil Rights Movement, offered compensatory education funds for children from low-income families, which helped to redistribute funds but did not address segregation directly. The second, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, included provisions for withholding federal funds from discriminatory institutions. The success of this act in a northern system relied on a broad interpretation of discrimination that included institutions and not just individual discrimination and clear public policy, which was rare from a federal government with a history of accommodating segregation. When the Office of Education attempted to follow through on Title VI sanctions against Chicago schools, they were attacked by Illinois congresspersons, Superintendent Benjamin C. Willis, and Mayor Richard J. Daley, who asked the President to restore the funds, resulting in a settlement favoring the Chicago Public School system.

Baron concludes that the ability of the Civil Rights Act to make change in the Chicago School System had been hindered by these limitations, and that public policy and national leadership would have to do more to create serious change in northern segregation systems. In turn, changes in public policy required “an increase in the effective power of the Negro and civil rights forces.”

Building Babylon: A Case of Racial Controls in Public Housing (Harold M. Baron, 1971)

Synopsis by Briana Gipson

In 1971, Hal Baron published an incredible study on the relationship between housing policy, urban planning, and racism in 20th century Chicago. This study was titled Building Babylon: A Case of Racial Controls in Public Housing, a study completed by Baron during his time as a Research Associate of the Center of Urban Affairs at Northwestern University.[1] Baron used dozens of first-hand accounts, legal proceedings, and peer-reviewed articles and books to vividly recall the ways government institutions and property owners embodied racism in the development of post-World War II Chicago. His study shed an investigative light on the anti-Black practices committed by government officials, housing authorities, and planning agencies engaging in land use planning, particularly community and economic development planning, in the early to mid-1900s.

His study argues that Chicago and the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) created one of the most racist public housing programs using several planning and housing controls. These controls included discriminatory segregation, zoning, and public housing site, tenant and management regulations and procedures. He shows that these governance structures were implemented to expand the power of the mostly white ruling class and further terrorize, suppress, and control Black communities in Chicago. He refers to Chicago’s anti-Black housing program as Babylon, a code name used by federal officials to describe the nature of Chicago’s Housing program in the 1960s.[2] Baron provides a telling story of the ways Chicago’s public housing program perpetuated a regelated status of Blacks in and outside of the City’s public housing developments in seven sections.

Baron begins unpacking his story on the racist nature of Chicago’s housing program with a background section on the complexities and gaps of the federal public housing policy. He particularly introduces readers to the Housing Act of 1937. The Housing Act of 1937 was the first legislation to create large-scale, fully funded public housing programs in the United States during the Great Depression. Baron notes that it was not radical legislation as if often believed with New Deal legislation. The Housing Act of 1937 was designed to improve the built environment and housing stock for powerful, higher income groups rather than the poor. Baron identifies three limitations that showed the latter. But he makes it clear that public housing programs were not stigmatized and subsequently, designed to control groups, especially Blacks, in its infancy. He includes quotes from CHA’s first Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Wood, and the United States Housing Authority (USHA) that showed that public housing programs were initially respected and valued among a wide range of racial, ethnic, and class groups. This pattern of social acceptance would continue well into World War II.

It was after World War II Baron notes that resulted in public housing programs becoming stigmatized, racist institutions. Baron unpacks the latter statement by first describing the suburbanization processes that took place following World War II. He hones in on the history of Federal Housing Administration home loans and transportation infrastructure development in the 20th century. He describes that federal home lending and transportation policies along with McCarthyism and the Cold War lead to the weakening of the public housing movement. The movement would be further weakened by the urban renewal of the mid-20th century. Baron notes that federal development policies began to be prioritized over public housing as the public housing movement dwindled. This created the conditions for public housing programs to become subordinate to development pressures and led to public housing being stigmatized as “second-class housing for second-class people.”[3] Baron makes sure to inform readers that public housing projects became predominantly Black and failed due to Blacks’ treatment as second-class citizens.

Baron ends this section noting that public housing critics are recognizing the issues that led to public housing failures. However, he explains that they fail to simply acknowledge that public housing programs are rooted and enmeshed within “the web of urban racism.”[4] This web is made up of interconnected anti-Black urban forms, governance, and institutions that depends upon the repression of Black material conditions to magnify the white bourgeoisie’s power. Baron hints to the fact that the public housing system will remain flawed if critics do not dismantle the web and create social equity. In turn, he shows that his study is significant because it describes and challenges CHA’s position within the web and subsequently fills the gap of public housing critiques. 

Baron would write the next six sections explaining CHA’s inherent and systematic anti-Blackness due to “the web of urban racism.” The first of these six sections was titled “CHA, Creating a Racist Institution.” Baron provides a summary indicting CHA with embodying and enacting racism in this section. Baron used the nation’s most famous public housing desegregation lawsuit, Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority—a case he helped initiate—to justify his indictment. In this case, the Federal District Court of Chicago found CHA responsible for suppressing the rights and opportunities of Black communities and intensifying segregation in Chicago. They particularly instituted discriminatory site and tenant selection schemes to separate and regulate Blacks behavior. These racial controls, as Baron identify, resulted in all Black public housing developments in mostly Black neighborhoods.

Baron emphasizes that the CHA did not create predominantly Black spatial patterns alone in his next section, “CHA, Creating a Racist Institution.” CHA was mandated by four major institutions to carry out an anti-Black agenda and practice Baron shows. The institutions consisted of the political system, the ruling class (ie. non-governmental institutions, corporations, and associations), real estate and finance industries, and CHA’s leadership and resources. Baron explains that these institutions organized and implemented economic and political decisions that were not in favor of and excluded Black communities for the ruling class’ benefit. Baron indicates that these decisions resulted in the CHA becoming and being associated with police and police terror in Black communities.

He picks up his discussion on the ways CHA controlled and terrorized the Black community in his second major section, “The Early Days, In the Spirit of the New Deal.” He begins this section with an introduction to Elizabeth Wood. Wood was CHA’s first Executive Secretary. She served in this position from 1937, the year CHA was established, to 1953, the year she was demoted because of her desegregation work. Baron shares that Wood would lead her administration in the liberal reform tradition. However, he notes that the liberal reform philosophy had race-based flaws that the CHA could not escape. For example, the CHA attempted to implement “color-blind” criteria commonly used by reformers to screen and select public housing tenants.[5] Baron thoroughly explains that the criterion used was racist because of federal segregation policy. One of these segregationist policies was known as the “Neighborhood Composition Rule”. This rule required that public housing authorities admit tenants that were representative of neighborhood’s residential racial composition during the era of Jim Crow.

Baron immediately begins describing the horrible impact of the “Neighborhood Composition Rule” on Blacks. It further restricted the limited supply of affordable housing available to Blacks. This was particularly the case in the Jane Addams Homes on Chicago’s West Side, where only a small share of Blacks displaced by the Home were guaranteed apartments. The “Neighborhood Composition Rule” would also empower the police, Whites, and even the real estate industry to commit physical and psychological violence against Blacks needing housing in majority White neighborhoods due to war-work. Baron would briefly highlight the physical violence that took place at the Ida B. Wells Homes site on the City’s South Side. He provided more depth on the mob-related violence that took place at the City’s Airport and Fernwood housing developments.

When the CHA did challenge the “Neighborhood Composition Rule”, Black families were heavily screened and sometimes selected if they met Whites’ standards Baron explains toward the end of this section. At Cabrini-Green, one of CHA’s most infamous public housing developments, more than 250 Black families endured this screening at a point of time during World War II. Yet, they still were not admitted in the Cabrini-Green homes even though CHA had vacancies. They could only move in if a Black family moved out, which would only worsen Blacks’ lower access to affordable housing. Baron notes that CHA continued controlling the number of Blacks admitted into large majority White housing developments to navigate the rule. He explains this contributed to CHA losing its independency as it became the center of public discourse and treated as a political entity. Baron shares that the elite would certainly make moves to control CHA, particularly through urban renewal processes. Baron ends this section by describing the significance of another racial control, urban renewal, and its impact on Black communities in Chicago. He would use this as a transition to his third major section related to the racist nature of CHA: “The Landed Interests Set Priorities.”

In “The Landed Interests Set Priorities” section, Baron describes CHA’s role in urban renewal. Throughout this section, Baron shows that urban renewal was a racist economic and community development planning process that stole and destroyed a significant and disproportionate amount of Black homes and neighborhoods. He begins unpacking the latter by describing the history of urban renewal in Illinois and Chicago. Readers learn that Illinois Neighborhood Redevelopment Corporation Act of 1941 charted the path of urban renewal in Illinois. It provided private benefit corporations with legal and financial incentives to destroy deteriorated areas Baron identifies as slums in his study. Legal incentives included eminent domain rights, which is a powerful land-acquisition power that planners used to clear areas they zoned slums. He credits the development of the Michael Reese Hospital and Illinois Institute of Technology on Chicago’s South Side as the initiator of a massive urban renewal campaign in Chicago. The movement would expand due to the Illinois Blighted Areas Redevelopment Act of 1947.

Baron starts explaining the connection between urban renewal and public housing with a speech Elizabeth Wood delivered to the American Public Works Association in the mid-1940s. Wood would denounce the urban planning field for prioritizing economic development at the expense of Blacks’ homes and livelihoods. She noted that their work led to the forced removal of Blacks as their homes were often demolished and unreplaced. She argues that CHA could address these issues by supplying public housing. Baron explains that this sentiment gained momentum among planning and public officials in 1948. They wanted to use public housing to house displaced Blacks. This would become known as ‘Negro relocation’.[6] Baron included a quote from a federal housing official describing ‘Negro Relocation’ as ‘Negro Clearance’, a common term used for urban renewal in the mid to late 20th century.[7] Baron made sure to highlight Blacks’ agency in challenging urban renewal processes and outcomes before describing CHA’s role in Blacks displacement with the Michael Reese Hospital agreement.

Baron notes that the CHA agreed to clear parts of a Black neighborhood for the Michael Reese Hospital in the Michael Reese Hospital agreement. Baron explains that the Michael Reese Hospital was a Jewish owned hospital and research center in a dilapidated area of a Black community. The Hospital determined that they wanted to change the neighborhood for profit and cost-related purposes. They worked with the CHA to gain cleared land by requesting the CHA use it eminent domain powers granted by the Illinois Redevelopment Act of 1947. The CHA would use its powers and later build its Dearborn Homes on the South Side to supply housing for displaced households. Baron explains that the Illinois Institute of Technology would join Michael Reese Hospital development efforts with the creation of the South Side Planning Board. He identifies a number of concessions the Hospital and Board made to show that they were not engaging in ‘Negro Clearance’ after Blacks resisted.[8]

Baron would end this section challenging the idea that urban clearance was designed to produce affordable, decent and safe homes. He suggests that the Michael Reese agreement showcases that urban renewal was centered around economic development interests rather than public housing or community development for Blacks. He describes how medical, educational, government, and economic institutions such as the Chicago Plan Commission treated public housing secondary to their economic interests and practices. Baron uses the next section, “The Battle over Sites” to show the power these institutions gained to pursue their interests and deprioritized housing.

“The Battle over Sites” was the fifth section Baron wrote on racist practices within the CHA. He particularly shows that the ruling class used land-use policy to restrict CHA’s influence on tenants’ housing supply and perpetuate racial segregation. Baron credits the Illinois Blighted Areas Redevelopment Act of 1947 as the cause of the latter. This urban renewal act gave Chicago’s City Council Alderman and their White constituents the power to vote on CHA’s public housing development sites. He describes two major battles ensued over this racial control in 1947 and 1950. He showed that the 1947 battle resulted in CHA not being able to develop large developments in profitable, vacant land in White neighborhoods. Instead, the CHA was forced to build nine small developments that would displace Blacks and lower their access to affordable housing.

In 1950, the CHA would lose its battle to develop 20,000 housing units on vacant and deteriorated sites using funds from the Housing Act of 1949. Baron describes the dramatic steps City Council members took to show their disproval of the sites CHA selected including touring the City and selecting “absurd” alternative sites.[9] In the end, City Council leaders and Mayor Kenelley forced CHA to expand racial segregation by only approving 9,000 sites in Black neighborhoods. This would further reduce Blacks access to affordable housing and displaced 7,000 households. Baron thoroughly explains that the City’s housing shortage and mass displacement approval reflected the dying public housing movement that was taking place at all political levels. He particular used anecdotes and quotes from Chicago’s real estate, mortgage, and housing leaders like Elizabeth Wood to show the latter and close out this section.

In Baron’s fifth major section, “Tightening the Bonds”, he describes the havoc urban renewal, public housing developments, and the CHA inflicted on Blacks. He notes that land clearance and redevelopment practices displaced well over 33,000 Black households and destroyed over 25% of Blacks’ housing stock between 1948 and 1965. He particularly highlights CHA impact on Blacks’ displacement and housing stock by describing the significant amount of hardship the Michael Reese agreement created for Blacks. He provides statistics showing that the land CHA cleared for the Michael Reese Hospital resulted in substantial portions of Black families paying more in rent. He includes a table showing that Blacks were often paying more for lower-quality residential units when forced to move. Although those who moved to public housing often paid less and received larger and better-quality homes, Baron mentions that multiple studies have found that the number of Blacks paying high rents increased by 50%.

Baron connects the impacts of the Michael Reese Hospital to public housing data. This development along with others’ contribution to displacement and higher rents resulted in Blacks public housing demand ranging between 65% and 95%. Baron shows that public housing did not often meet the demands of displaced Blacks due to racism. He makes it clear that the CHA restricted Blacks housing by deeming a high rate of Blacks ineligible or imposing longer apartment wait times. Baron explains that the CHA tried to increase Blacks access through integrated projects. However, racial disparities still existed as Whites were given priority to certain units through a race-based coding scheme. In all White public housing developments, Commissioners had to authorized Blacks admittance. Barons end this section with a description of a violent accidental desegregation effort that took place at a White public housing development known as the Trumbull Park Homes in 1953. He used this incident to explain that urban renewal was a less subtle form of the White mob violence that took place at the Trumbull Park Homes.

He would dedicate the sixth major section, “Reservations in the City”, to describing the systematic violence the CHA employed against Blacks in public housing developments. First, he describes how Blacks became segregated. He mainly describes the Kean-Murphy agreement, an informal segregation agreement made between CHA’s Executive Director, General W.B. Kean, and Aldermen William Murphy, chairman of Chicago’s Housing and Planning Committee. It gave the Chicago’s Housing and Planning Committee and Alderman the right to veto CHA housing development sites. It also prompted the CHA to double the number of proposed sites in Black neighborhoods. Baron shows that this agreement led to Chicago’s City Council expanding segregation as 99.4% of approved CHA developments were in Black neighborhoods. This certainly would contribute to Blacks becoming CHA’s largest public housing tenant group Baron shows.

Baron provides a powerful description of the ways CHA constrained its Black tenant base. He highlights unjust housing transfer policies that showed that Blacks were often “stuck in place” in CHA’s housing developments. They could not move between housing developments unless extraordinary circumstances existed. He describes CHA’s failure to maintain their housing developments due to inefficient bureaucratic procedures and the role it played in the death of a three-year-old Black girl. Baron would note that terror would not end there. He describes the ways CHA policed the Black community through eviction, social service elimination threats, tenant council leaders, and inadequate facility design.

Baron discussion of the CHA’s leadership role in carrying out this violence against Blacks suggests that this led to the CHA being charged with racism in the Gautreaux lawsuit he discussed in the beginning of this study. He notes that the lawsuit forced CHA to build more housing units in White neighborhoods and subsequently desegregate. However, Baron ends this section indicating that desegregation will not occur if the racial controls he described in this study are not removed. In turn, he implies that CHA’s racism cannot be undone until the “web of urban racism” is undone. He shows that it is more financially feasible to destroy the web than maintain it a short data analysis that followed this section.

[1] Harold M. Baron, Building Babylon: A Case of Study of Racial Controls in Public Housing (Evanston: Northwestern University, 1971), 1-76.

[2] Baron, Building Babylon, 1.

[3] Baron, Building Babylon, 9.

[4] Baron, Building Babylon, 12.

[5] Baron, Building Babylon, 16.

[6] Baron, Building Babylon, 38.

[7] Baron, Building Babylon, 39.

[8] Baron, Building Babylon, 42.

[9] Baron, Building Babylon, 50.

Race and Status in School Spending: Chicago, 1961-1966 (Harold M. Baron, 1971)

Synopsis by Chelsea Birchmier

“Race and Status in School Spending,” which appeared in The Journal of Human Resources in 1971, is an empirical study examining expenditures per pupil by race and socioeconomic status in public schools in the city of Chicago and suburban Cook County from 1961­–66. Baron begins by reviewing the existing literature, most of which studied differential education by status while “race was at best relegated to a minor position in these analyses.” It was only, he suggests, the Civil Rights Movement and Black community activity that led to any “extensive study of urban schools as instruments for maintaining racial subjugation.” Baron references sociological studies showing the institutional mechanisms by which status dictated treatment in schools and economic studies showing the inverse relation between expenditures per pupil and status, as well as between expenditures and race. He also points to a more hidden spatial form of race and class difference in school spending: the monetary advantage of the suburbs over the central cities, which predominated by 1960, precipitated by middle and upper class white flight to the suburbs. In the few studies that compared spending in individual schools within a city, expenditures were negatively related to race and socioeconomic status. Looking at education spending as an investment in human capital, institutional racism in and out of school meant a lower rate of return for Black people. When the relation between per pupil expenditures and test scores, a measure of rate of return, was measured, for the most part, achievement increased with expenditures. An exception to this finding was the Coleman Report from the U.S. Office of Education, which found little to no association between educational expenditures and achievement. Baron notes, however, several methodological critiques and contrasting findings using Coleman’s own data. Finally, Baron writes that financial resources limited what could or could not be done, but the decisive factors in education (in)equality were processes of education and socialization in individual schools. Schools preserved intergenerational privilege by training white students to be racist and Black students to accept racism; they effectively acted as “instruments of social control.”

Baron’s study breaks down educational spending by race and status in Chicago and Cook County public elementary schools in 1961, 1963, and 1966. While there were protests against school segregation and inequality in prior years, it was in 1961 that these became sustained through the Civil Rights Movement, making 1961 “the last year during which the Chicago Board of Education was able to administer without challenge a system of racial and class favoritism.” Prior to this, the Black community was not prioritized as stakeholders by the Chicago Board of Education, unlike business and political interests and “middle-class good-schools” organizations.

In 1961, school spending was on average $77 more per pupil in white schools than Black schools and $67 greater in high status than low status schools. The expenditures for biracial schools fell midway between white and Black schools. The greatest racial disparity in spending was in low status schools, and the greatest status differential in spending was in biracial schools. Within each racial group, spending increased with status. This bias in funding was driven by a pattern of teacher assignment such that more experienced teachers with higher salaries were assigned to white and higher status schools, the number of teachers per pupil (greater for white schools), classroom size (with white high status classrooms being the least crowded and Black and biracial schools being the most), double-shift schools in which students, 90% of whom were Black, were forced to attend school in shifts due to overcrowding, and a wide range of administrative practices. Chicago’s centralized city education system did limit differentials when compared to the decentralized municipal suburban school districts. The $155 differential in spending between low-status and high-status schools alone in the suburbs was greater than the difference in spending between low-status Black and high-status white schools in the city. In the suburbs, the gap between medium and high status schools was larger than that between low and medium status schools. Overall, spending in Chicago schools fell between spending for low and medium status schools in Cook County.

Between 1961 and 1963, “the Chicago Board of Education was the target of the most hard-fought and extensive protest campaign that had taken place in Chicago since the end of World War II” and faced mass demonstrations and civil disobedience locally in tandem with a rising national movement. The response of Superintendent Benjamin Willis to build more de facto segregated schools in Black neighborhoods reduced classroom crowding somewhat. Additionally, some changes in teacher assignment and compensatory programs for Black schools led to a reduction of disparities such that in 1963 school spending was $48 more per pupil in white schools than Black schools and $41 greater in high status than low status schools (compared to $77 and $67 in 1961, respectively). While appropriations remained greater for suburban schools, the gap in spending declined in suburban schools relative to Chicago schools.

By 1966, racial inequality in education had gained national attention. In 1965, the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provided funds for special programs in school districts for children from low-income families and children with disabilities. Baron analyzes the change in expenditures without and with ESEA funds. When ESEA funds were not taken into account, the racial gap in spending remained the same as it was in 1963. In other words, the Chicago Board of Education did not continue its attempts to equalize expenditures across race and status. When the ESEA funds were taken into consideration, the racial and status disparities significantly narrowed or disappeared. Baron points out that the ESEA funds, which were meant to compensate for social inequalities and discrimination in the larger system beyond the schools, really only compensated for the inequalities still perpetuated by local and state school budgeting. These funds then served as an attempt to placate the demands of the Civil Rights and Black community organizations. In suburban schools, stratification by status and race continued with little impact from ESEA funds, which few Cook County schools were eligible for since most extremely poor families receiving public assistance lived in Chicago. The gap between medium and high status schools in the suburbs continued to widen. While in 1966 the gaps between low and medium status schools in Chicago reversed and disappeared relative to low and medium status schools in the suburbs, respectively, the high status, almost entirely white, schools in the suburbs increased or maintained their advantage relative to all status groups in the city and to the low and medium status schools in the suburbs. Baron argues that the advantage of high status school districts in the suburbs was not primarily due to taxes but rather to the higher property values per pupil in the high status suburbs.

Baron concludes that “protest paid off—somewhat.” In 1963, the Chicago Civil Rights Movement won a decrease in discrimination in school spending, although they did not achieve desegregation, their main goal. They also, as part of a national movement, won funding from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Racial oppression continued despite changes in school spending, however, via the socialization processes in Chicago schools; “a school program imbued with the general racism of the society is culturally oppressive of black children, regardless of the sums spent.” Additionally, funds were not necessarily spent on resources that improved educational quality, such as high quality staff or programs. Instead, many ESEA funds were spent in the form of “conspicuous consumption” which was more symbolic than beneficial to Black students and families. Finally, Baron concludes that high status suburban schools were able to maintain their advantage in school expenditures from 1961 to 1966 despite the changes wrought by the Civil Rights Movement and ESEA funds. Quoting Charles Benson in The Cheerful Prospect, he writes:

There is good reason that discussion about educational inequalities is muted. After all, the handsome couples in the suburbs who deplore de facto segregation in the large cities and who are so daring as to form local committees on fair practice in housing, are the ones who have a major stake in preserving the lifetime advantages that their privileged, though tax-supported, school offers their children (p. 20).

Racial Domination in Advanced Capitalism: A Theory of Nationalism and Divisions in the Labor Market (Harold M. Baron, 1975)

Synopsis by Kurtis Kelley

In the essay Racial Domination in Advanced Capitalism: A Theory of Nationalism and Divisions in the Labor Market, Baron courageously seeks to provide both researchers and activists with a more detailed analysis of the relationship between different forms of nationalism and the capitalist economy. For Baron, Marxist theory had not yet taken up the concept of nationalism with enough depth—certainly not enough depth to sufficiently explain the non-integration of the Black working class into the American mainstream and the enduring influence and solidarity found within Black Nationalism. What role does both Black and White nationalisms play in regards to divisions in the labor market? How have Black and White nationalisms affected the assimilative efforts of the white capitalist superstructure on the Black community? Baron’s theory of racial domination in advanced capitalism helps us in answering these questions.

Three major features of U.S. American society provide “theoretical clarification of the unique position of the Black community”: the capitalist economy, racism within domestic and international spheres, and nationalism as a form of organization for both Black and White communities respectively. Through this analysis, Baron argues that racial nationalism and the relations of production are codependent, and that the Black working class remains a distinctive, non-assimilated national group whose position is largely determined and restricted by the three features of US society mentioned above.

To support his analyses of the racial domination of the Black working class, Baron employs the Marxist concepts of base and superstructure to help constitute the skeleton of his theoretical framework for understanding the relationship between nationalism and economic exploitation within advanced capitalism. Within U.S. society, the base refers to the capitalist economy and the superstructure refers to the culture and the social, political, and intellectual institutions that reinforce and reflect the capitalist economy.   Baron furthers traditional Marxist theory here by showing the inextricable link between base, superstructure, and nationality.

On the relationship between capitalism and nationalism, Baron is direct: “All capitalist societies have had a national form which conditioned, through boundaries, a set of cultural, ideological, social, and territorial elements that regulate the relationship between the base and superstructure.” Nationalism acts as a “regulator” of some of the most important relationships that people and groups form, which in turn often produces mass cohesion, loyalty, and sometimes autonomous, self-sufficient nations in the classic sense.

Thus, for Baron, nationalism refers to the “ideological, cultural, and political movements that agitate for the establishment of a nation or modifications within an established nation,” and not all nationalisms achieve a nation. Baron notes here that he shares the view that nationalism is a potential and demonstrable anti-colonial force with Lenin and Mao, and pushes for a greater appreciation of this within contemporary Marxist theory. The nationalism of colonial, imperialist nations is also under-theorized within traditional Marxism, which instead focuses too heavily on the political structures of the state itself instead of the superstructural elements which nationality as a concept better captures for our comprehension.

Within this discussion of Base-Superstructure-Nation, Baron also defines the concept of “relative congruency” to help readers understand the simultaneous and autonomous operation of major elements within society. While the superstructure of our capitalist society seeks to establish higher levels of “congruency” to aid in the predictability of an increasingly technocratic advanced capitalist system, many ideological/political/intellectual/religious movements will support the mainstream of society, while others will continue to have a conflictual relationship with the dominant society. For Baron, it is vitally important that we pay close attention both to reinforcing movements, such as Reformation Protestantism and early capitalism, and conflictual movements such as many of those that comprised the Black Power movement.

In seeking to contrast the difference between Black and White nationalisms in the United States, Baron notes that he isn’t claiming that either one of these nationalisms have a completely autonomous nation such as other internationally recognized countries, but that their institutional and social relationships “comprise nationalities that exist as significant formations within an overarching American nation.” Baron also resists the trend to downplay the Black and White racial tension, instead saying this conflict is now, “grounded in the nationality conflict between the dominated community and the dominating community, making the antagonism a deeply rooted one.” The concept of U.S. citizenship itself, Baron demonstrates, emerged being closely linked with the control of enslaved Africans. The superstructure these relationships produced helped to ease the class conflict between the white working class and the ruling white elite—all in an effort to maintain domination over Black Americans for economic, political, and social benefit.

Following the Civil War, the possibility of an autonomous Black nation in that era was defeated alongside Reconstruction policies that could have protected Black Americans from the quasi-colonial status they have maintained since. As Black Nationalist movements have sought self-determination since that time, most notably with the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, the state has had to take a less central role as an “organizer of racism”. In the contemporary moment, two strategies of White nationalism remain within US politics—the first being the Conservative view which seeks to maintain the status quo. The second is the liberal viewpoint, which seeks to assimilate certain Black people who will do so into the dominant society. Baron notes that neither has anything to say about the Black people who wish to maintain a level of autonomy and not assimilate into the white American mainstream.

Base and superstructure of society have operated alongside White nationalism to restrict the flourishing of Black nationality in such a way that its major manifestation lay outside of independent economics and national political structures, instead being found within Black social cultural and ideological formations.  To maintain cultural and political control over the Black nation, white institutions “have to promote the prestige of certain Blacks who can perform” as their surrogates. Booker T. Washington stands out as a white-funded surrogate for dominant economic interests that maintained a close relationship with the Black community. In contrasts, Marcus Garvey’s Pan-Africanist movement promoted a more conflictual relationship with White nationalism and the U.S. state.

Disturbances in the racial balance, a balance that the ruling class relies on for a predictable market, can come from three forces: economic shifts, Black Nationalist calls for self-determination, and White Nationalist backlash and reactionary politics. To support the maintenance of their hegemonic position in times of civil unrest, the ruling elite will deftly utilize temporary concessions to stave off revolution and other disturbances that could affect the predictability of the capitalist market. These concessions can also act to blur racial distinctiveness, which can lead to cultural cooptation by the white community of Black cultural artifacts, a process that is often viewed by white institutions as positive cultural exchange and evidence of integration, thus strengthening calls for gradual, non-revolutionary change.

For Baron, the implications for this theoretical inquiry lie in its ability to guide future action, in part by helping us avoid simple analogies for the situation faced by Black people in the US.  The racial domination of Black people in the United States is not analogous to other, more “classically” colonized nations, but must be considered in the specific context of “all three relevant national frameworks”: “Black and White nationalities and the inclusive nation-state.” Baron ends his essay with a call for white anti-racists to take a sober account of Black Nationalism as more than just a “cultural expression”, and of White nationalism as an “inclusive force” whose dynamics “impose conditions of operation that cannot be willed away through moral condemnation.”

Racism Transformed: The Implications of the 1960s (Harold M. Baron, 1982)

Synopsis by Kurtis Kelley

This essay was originally delivered as a paper at the 8th Annual Third World Conference in the March of 1982 in Chicago, Illinois and first appeared in print in the Review of Radical Political Economics, in 1985.

In his essay “Racism Transformed: The Implications of the 1960s,” Harold Baron explores the relationship between transformations occurring within the U.S. political economy, system of racial control, and black people’s quest for self-determination. For Baron, the new racial formation, or “distinctive position of the Black community,”[1] that emerged at the time signaled a shift as pivotal as that which occurred following the emancipation from plantation slavery. Along this path, Baron maintains the central role that Black agency played throughout US history, while also demonstrating the severe restrictions placed on national Black self-determination and the similarly endemic limitations placed on Black integration into the U.S. mainstream by a political economy defined as advanced capitalism, and a system of racial control Baron defines as advanced racism.

For Baron, the history of black/white race relations can be summarized as a “succession of different racial formations.” The first racial transformation, or period of major transition in regards to the U.S. racial formation, was the selection and solidarity around Black chattel slavery by white colonists. Not only did this racial transformation entail many different processes enacted within various institutions, it also was preceded by shifts within the dominant mode of production. In a time of merchant capitalism, these shifts saw the demand for tobacco grow, which created the need for more agricultural laborers and more crops planted. For the white planter class to maintain control, they empowered the non-slaveholding whites to become invested, socially and politically more than economically, in the domination of black people. This interclass pact amongst white Americans acted to dehumanize black people in all aspects of life as a bulwark: for slaveholders to protect their elite status and for white laborers to ensure domestic economic and political stability. This fledgling white solidarity around racial terrorism in the face of potential Black (and poor white) rebellion during the colonial era has provided the skeleton of all successive racial formations.

The next major shifts that occurred within US society was the ascendancy of northern capital over the slaveholding south during the Civil War, the brief national movement for Black civil rights and reparation during the Reconstruction Era, and the viciousness by which black people were forced into the southern-based sharecropping economy and apartheid-like racial system dominated by Jim Crow laws and customs. With the Union’s victory over the confederacy, the pace at which industrial capitalism (already more entrenched in the North) matured into the dominant mode of production increased.

Here Baron asks readers to consider the implications that the rhetoric of “civil rights” had for not only political action but also for the popular understanding of black national politics and notions of freedom. Because of the structure of oppression faced by black people in the years following emancipation, the quest for “civil rights” included notions of protections against “unwarranted encroachment” by individuals or the state.[2] For Baron, these differ from “political rights” which involves “claims to be involved in governmental decision making or to receive benefits from government action”.[3] Following the end of Reconstruction, these two forms of rights were often condensed into “civil rights.” With the Northern retreat from involvement in southern states’ racial policies, black politics turned towards protecting the civil rights legally won with the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, expanding them, and also organizing for survival in spite of restricted rights. As Baron points out later, however, political arguments “relying on the doctrine of equal protection under the law framed the discourse on race more in terms of the formal aspects of civil rights than in terms of power and capacity.”[4]

The agrarian ascendancy, the term Baron uses to define the racial formation typified by white southern dominance over the black community, did not undergo transformation until nearly a century after its emergence following plantation slavery. Baron outlines several historical developments which brought about shifts in the dominant modes of production and contributed to another racial transformation, such as: technological innovations related to agricultural production, the tradition of African American northern migration, the shifting labor market as a result of mass war mobilization during World War II, and anti-communist hysteria resulting in the repression of popular democratic sentiments. By the 1950s, these developments resulted in “a number of profound contradictions” within the racial control system. The effort of both elite whites and the black community in the following decade would decide the parameters of the resulting racial formation.[5]

The Supreme Court victories of the NAACP during the 1950s, and the massive resistance of white society against those federal policies, conditioned the emergence of Black mass mobilization. As integrationist civil rights politics waned midway through the 1960’s as it met this massive resistance, the “cultural-denial implication of integration became clear,” and black nationalist politics, with their focus on independent institution building to protect black culture and sustain black survival, came back to the forefront and remained until the mid 1970s. According to Baron, Black Nationalism’s relationship with civil rights is a strained one: “Since nationalism is about the sources and boundaries of political power and civil authority, the concept is by its nature not comprehensible under the categories of civil rights, which assume a unified and over-arching structure of legitimacy,” within the rights-granting U.S. state.[6]

For Baron, an implication of the Civil Rights Movement for Black Nationalist politics was a recognition that, for black communities, civil rights “was necessary but not sufficient for their survival and viability.” In reaction, white elites gave concessions such as War on Poverty programs and a degree of institutional desegregation. The dominant mode of production matured into advanced capitalism, defined as dominance through large global corporations, the larger role of the state in everyday life, and the growing influence of consumer culture. Advanced racism, the new racial formation that emerged following the civil rights era, defined so-called post-racial hidden forms of institutional racism, restrictive labor markets that keep black people in marginal jobs, and a paternalistic state that keeps black people dependent on a “bureaucratically-ordered system of supervision.”[7]

Due to the failure of the civil rights movement to bring about the realization of equalitarian treatment, Baron writes that in the early 1980’s Black politics must move beyond the notion of an “unfinished agenda” towards a larger focus on Black institutional survival and a greater recognition of the changing implications of “racism within advanced capitalism.”[8] He also warns activists against a wishful expectation of a return to the explosive and fertile political moments of the 60’s bearing similar changes, and to expect an extended “war of position” rather than a “war of maneuver.”[9]

With the turn of advanced capitalism towards widespread long-term planning, Baron urges activists to pay closer attention to the “implicit investment and planning policies” of the elite. The future of Black political mobilization must counter the “steering away from situations or strategies that involved the mobilization of the black community, especially those outside the newly-negotiated channels of legitimacy.” Only by engaging in long-term organizing of the black working class can a sustainable attack on advanced racism be mounted.

[1]Baron, Harold. Racism Transformed pg. 4

[2] pg. 14

[3] Ibid.

[4] pg. 20

[5] Ibid. 19

[6] pg. 23

[7] .pg. 30

[8] pg. 34

[9] pg. 35

Chicago Maroon Vignette

Vignette By: Donald Planey

Later in life, Dr. Baron would sometimes allude to his socialist roots, dating from his association with the Labor Youth League in the 1950s.  But during his time as a PhD student at the University of Chicago, he wrote pieces published in the Chicago Maroon on socialist organizing, anti-imperialism, urban racial segregation, and the purges of left-wing intellectuals occurring across the U.S.  While the University of Chicago had a history of censoring dissident academics, it also resisted the extremes of the red scare.  The student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, served as an avenue for Baron to express his convictions.

Dr. Baron did editing work for the Chicago Maroon while serving as a public voice for the Labor Youth League, a student-oriented spinoff of the American Communist Party.  Eventually, Baron would leave the LYL, citing their unwillingness to focus on fighting racial segregation in Chicago’s education system as a major cause of his break.  But while at the University of Chicago, he identified with the LYL enough to write for the Chicago Maroon on their behalf.  In one instance, Baron wrote a letter to the paper that was meant to serve as a public response to a debate challenge from the Socialist Youth League, a Trotskyist counterpart to the LYL.  The SYL had declared that with the failures of Stalin and the Soviet Union, as well as the challenge of the red scare, socialists needed to find a new direction.  Speaking on behalf of the LYL, Baron agreed with the SYL’s criticisms of the Soviet Union, but insisted on public debate on crucial social issues of the day as the first step forwards for a possible reinvention of socialist politics.

In a letter dating from 1979, Baron described himself as a product of the Popular Front[1]: The Depression-era moment when the American Communist Party successfully opened up and initiated successful organizing projects, supporting the New Deal while advocating for peaceful engagement between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.  But from an early date, Baron showed that he was no orthodox communist.  One of his first major organizing projects was the push for student co-op housing in Hyde Park, marking the earliest evidence of his interest in promoting local self-governance in U.S. cities.

According to Dr. Lou Turner’s interviews with Dr. Baron, Paul Robeson was a crucial inspiration throughout his life, representing another aspects of his intellectual roots in postwar socialism.  At multiple points throughout the 1950s, Dr. Baron emphasized the corrosive effects of McCarthyism on the U.S.’s ability to engage in public discussion of foreign policy and domestic social issues.  In one shockingly prescient article in the Chicago Maroon in 1954, Baron warned of the U.S.’s growing involvement in “Indochina” (Vietnam) as proof that the U.S. was losing the ability to imagine foreign policy outside the framework of military intervention.

While studying at Amherst College, Dr. Baron made lifelong friends with Amon Nikoi.  This friendship would open Baron to the subject of anti-colonial liberation and the relationship between autonomy and development.  Dr. Baron continued to correspond with Amon Nikoi as late as 1995.

Baron also served as a delivery manager for the Chicago Maroon, perhaps providing him with early “entrepreneurial” experience, as he would later phrase his approach to organizing.  In one of his first significant published writings, he reviewed an early collection of the Austrian School’s developing approach to economic history in the paper.  He strongly objected to its cartoonish portrayal of the Marxian critique of capital, noticing from an early point many of the discursive techniques neoliberal academics used to promote their ideas, such as avoiding empirically-testable hypotheses in favor of litigating axiomatic principles.

In his student co-op housing work, he helped to draft a proposal for co-op housing units for submission to the University of Chicago administration.  Other details about this project are currently unavailable to the Hal Baron Project.  Baron also gave speeches on the challenge of racial segregation that were advertised in the Chicago Maroon, but additional details on the kind of audience these talks drew in, or their impact, are unknown to us.

Baron’s appearances in the Chicago Maroon taper off after the 1950s, around the time he completed his dissertation.  His final appearance in the Chicago Maroon came in 1968, in a promotion for an event meant to bring Chicago’s religious leaders into conversation with the emerging Black Power movement.

[1] Muhammad Ahmad-Correspondence, Hal Baron, 1980-1982. 1980-1982. The Papers of Muhammad Ahmad (Max Sanford). Personal Papers Collection of Muhammad Ahmad. Archives Unbound. Web. 16 Nov. Gale Document Number SC5003272048.