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Yale University Press
Red Lines, Black Spaces: The Politics of Race and Space in a Black Middle-Class Suburb

Red Lines, Black Spaces: The Politics of Race and Space in a Black Middle-Class Suburb

by Bruce D. Haynes
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Runyon Heights, a community in Yonkers, New York, has been populated by middle-class African Americans for nearly a century. This book—the first history of a black middle-class community—tells the story of Runyon Heights, which sheds light on the process of black suburbanization and the ways in which residential development in the suburbs has been shaped by race and class. Relying on both interviews with residents and archival research, Bruce D. Haynes describes the progressive stages in the life of the community and its inhabitants and the factors that enabled it to form in the first place and to develop solidarity, identity and political consciousness. He shows how residents came to recognize common political interests within the community, how racial consciousness provided an axis for social solidarity as well as partial insulation from racial slights, and how the suburb afforded these middle-class residents a degree of physical and social distance from the ghetto. As Haynes explores the history of Runyon Heights, we learn the ways in which its black middle class dealt with the tensions between the political interests of race and the material interests of class.

Author Biography: Bruce D. Haynes is assistant professor of sociology at the University of California-Davis.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300084900
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 09/28/2001
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Bruce D. Haynes is assistant professor of sociology at the University of California-Davis.

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Red Lines, Black Spaces

The Politics of Race and Space in a Black Middle-Class Suburb
By Bruce D. Haynes

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2001 Bruce D. Haynes
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-300-08490-0

Chapter One

Race and Place in Industrial Yonkers

Beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century, Yonkers experienced a period of unprecedented industrial expansion that affected both population growth and future residential development. It became a city of immigrants and migrants in search of work. During the second half of the nineteenth century, a racialization of Yonkers' housing and employment markets took place; the development of black residential concentrations among both the working class and the middle class paved the way not only for the formation of the so-called Negro ghetto in southwest Yonkers (Getty Square) but also for the east-side black home-owning community that would come to be known as Nepperhan.

In Nepperhan, residents were brought together by both racial status and class position: in the housing market, race determined which housing was available, while class position determined residents' ability to purchase property. The development of segregated suburban housing markets linked race and class in contemporary geographic space, creating and reinforcing racially based group boundaries.

Transportation and Industrial Growth in Yonkers

The industrial development of Westchester County was made possible by advances in urban transportation in the 1840s. Jackson (1985) describes how the steam ferry, the omnibus, the horse car, the commuter railroad, and later the cable car transformed the landscape of American cities in the nineteenth century, allowing both people and freight to travel greater distances in a working day.

East-Coast cities developed primarily along waterways. Situated on the banks of the Hudson River and bordering the northwestern end of New York City, Yonkers was uniquely placed to take advantage of the advances of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in industry and transportation. To the north, Yonkers adjoins the village of Hastings-on-Hudson and the town of Greenburg; to the east, the Bronx River.

By the 1840s, regular ferry service carrying passengers and freight between New York and Yonkers promoted the expansion of industry and population. River travel by steamboat was slow and costly, however, and was thus restricted to well-to-do commuters. Cheaper, more efficient transportation would be a prerequisite to working- and middle-class residential expansion away from the waterways and downtown industries.

Before industrialization, farming was the main occupation for local workers. Oats, wheat, hay, peaches, apples, potatoes, walnuts, pickles, chestnuts, and corn were produced locally and shipped to New York City along the Hudson (Johnson and others 1962, 19). During the early nineteenth century, once extensive water power became available, Yonkers inaugurated light manufacturing, to make use of the extensive water power available.

Beginning in the 1840s, the growth of railroads and of local industry coincided with the arrival of two distinct groups of people in the burgeoning area: wealthy industrialists, who began purchasing vast tracts of farmland outside the central village, on which they built country estates, and skilled and unskilled laborers, most of them immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, who found work in local industry.

Until the end of the nineteenth century, Yonkers was a walking city. Most industrial workers lived in the downtown areas, close to their workplaces. Commuting was a time-consuming as well as an expensive affair, and many local estates were built to serve as summer "country" homes. Those who maintained their place of business in downtown Yonkers but lived outside town had to be able to afford either horse-drawn railway or private coach service.

A period of industrial development was ushered in along the railways. By the 1860s, the railroad suburb had been born, and by the turn of the century the industrial suburb had come into its own (Goldston 1970, 30; Zukin 1991, 138). As the industrial cities expanded and transportation became more rapid, suburbia was pushed ever further from the urban core.

In the American mind, nineteenth-century suburbia was becoming a place not only for the wealthy but for the aspiring middle classes. Yonkers was one of the first American cities to take on the suburban label, a result of its proximity to New York City. W. E. Baxter noted Yonkers' growth as early as 1855 (Jackson 1985, 36). Suburban areas like Westchester County expanded rapidly. With the coming of the great locomotives and the proliferation of the railroads, the village of Yonkers evolved into more than a mere extension of New York City, as industry took advantage of the available resources. The manufactured goods now produced in Yonkers were easily transported north and south by rail. Much of the manufacturing took place along the Nepperhan River.

When the village of Yonkers was incorporated in 1855, the population was 7,554 (Allison 1984, 149-150). A mere seventeen years later, the village was incorporated as a third-class city with a population of 18,189 (Johnson and others 1962, 26, 43). And by 1910, the U.S. Census tallied 79,803 persons, a 66 percent increase over the previous decade.

The proliferation of the railways facilitated residential expansion to the north and east, while making commuters less dependent on the Hudson River ferry for transportation. Grand Central Station opened in New York City in 1871, Penn Station in 1910 (Jackson 1985, 94). Three separate railroads traversed Yonkers and connected it to northern Westchester and New York City. The New York & Harlem Railroad (New York Central Harlem Division) was running by 1844, touching Yonkers' eastern boundary (Jackson 1985, 20). The Hudson River Railroad (Metro North Hudson Division) began its route along the western edge in 1849, and the New York & Boston Railroad was founded in 1869 (Allison 1984, 156-160).

After a series of mergers and acquisitions in the 1870s and 1880s, the New York & Boston Railroad was eventually incorporated into the Division of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company (Barlow 1980, 2). The single-track line began operation in 1881 (Allison 1984, 392). Known as the Putnam Line, or the Put, the railway cut through the center of the Nepperhan area, running parallel to Runyon Avenue to the west and Moultrie (Merril) and Touissant (Wilson) Avenues to the east. The line originally carried passengers as well as freight from Brewster, New York, proceeding south past businesses along Saw Mill River Road and Nepperhan Avenue in Yonkers, moving through what would become the Nepperhan community, through Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, and on to upper Manhattan. The small wood-frame Nepperhan Passenger Station, which gave the area its name, remained active until May 1958. Other communities would also develop along the railroad's fourteen-and-a-half-mile route.

Until the 1890s, only the wealthy could afford the luxury of country living outside the downtown Yonkers area, and only the professional and business classes could afford the railway commute to New York City. The average worker had to live in the city where he was employed and within walking distance to work. By the late nineteenth century, the monthly cost of the commute from Yonkers to New York was five dollars, nearly half the weekly wages of the average male worker (Johnson et al. 1962, 20). The burden of commuting was especially heavy for the small minority of Negroes who lived in Yonkers and worked in the least skilled, lowest-paying jobs as foundry workers, coachmen, domestics, servants, and cooks (Bogart 1898, 290).

From Walking City to Trolley-Car Suburb

Although railway expansion prompted industrial development, it was advances in local transportation that spurred suburban residential development. In 1866, the first horse-drawn-railway tracks in Yonkers were removed in order to widen its main street, Broadway. In 1886, the Yonkers Railroad Company was granted a franchise to lay horse-drawn-railway tracks in the downtown area of the city. They were quickly replaced by electric cars in 1893; in 1896 the company was consolidated with two other lines, and tracks were extended to Tuckahoe Road, one of two major arteries connecting east and west Yonkers, close to the Nepperhan area. Tracks were also laid down along Broadway from Yonkers to the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx (Allison 1984, 228-392). With the new electric trolley, travel speed increased to fourteen miles per hour, four times the rate of the horse-drawn systems (Jackson 1985, 115). This allowed workers to live farther from the center of town without increasing commuting time to work. With the advent of the elevated subway train on Broadway and 242nd Street in Kingsbridge, which connected with the Yonkers trolley from Getty Square, a relatively inexpensive commute to New York City had been established. The trolley paved the way for the suburban residential development outside downtown Yonkers that would occur after 1910. The Yonkers trolley system later became a part of the Third Avenue Railway Company, the last survivor of consolidations, bankruptcies, and competition in Westchester County's transportation industry.

Population Growth and the Racialization of Labor

Industrial expansion and population growth after the 1850s transformed the ethnic composition of the city. Many Irish immigrants came to work on the Croton Aqueduct. Scottish, Slavic, and English immigrants found work in the carpet factory of Scottish immigrant Alexander Smith (Weigold 1984, 77). By 1880, Yonkers, with approximately 19,000 residents, had expanded from a village of 900 acres to a city of 17.5 square miles (Allison 1984, 169-227). After 1890, as Yonkers, like the rest of the northeast, was becoming increasingly urban, thousands came from Eastern Europe in search of work. Between 1880 and 1920, Yonkers' population expanded by more than 500 percent, although the black population remained small. Out of 32,033 persons counted in the 1890 U.S. Census, only 533 were designated "colored" (Table 1.1). This broad and ambiguous category included "persons of Negro descent, Chinese, Japanese, and civilized Indians" (Allison 1984, 266-267). Although the "colored" population was growing, it still accounted for only 1.9 percent of the 100,176 city residents in 1920. Growing steadily, but more slowly than the city at large, the black population still represented fewer than 5 percent of Yonkers residents as late as 1960.

By the 1890s, Yonkers boasted a diverse industrial infrastructure and a multiethnic and multiracial workforce. Major employers included Otis Elevator (1854), the Waring Hat Manufacturing Company (1879), the Alexander Smith Carpet Factory (1865), and the Habirshaw Cable & Wire Company (1886). Yonkers industry also included sugar refineries, rubber companies, breweries, and silk, plow, chemical, and wool factories (Johnson et al. 1962, 26-37).

After the Civil War, industrial employment in Yonkers resembled what scholars have labeled a split labor market, where better jobs were reserved for a labor aristocracy that was defined in racial terms. Workers who were socially and politically classified as white developed a consciousness that emphasized their place as free laborers in the market, and organized themselves along racial lines to exclude nonwhite workers. White workers' anxiety toward nonwhite laborers culminated in the Passage by Congress of a series of exclusion acts beginning in 1882 that placed stringent restrictions on Chinese immigration for twenty years (Ringer 1983, 644; Omi and Winant 1986, 65; Takaki 1989, 111).

Racial restrictions existed in Yonkers in a wide range of industries. David Roediger, in his study of the American working class, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, describes how European workers became white workers by defining themselves as a collective in opposition to black workers. White workers claimed the designation "hired hand" and rejected the term "servant," which had previously been used to refer to African slaves (Roediger 1991, 49). They also avoided menial jobs in domestic service, the performance of which was considered suitable only for so-called Negroes, who found few alternatives. As early as 1830, white workers had largely abandoned jobs in domestic service (Roediger 1991, 55).

All European immigrants were regarded as "white" by the dominant society, even though many of them had individual physical characteristics associated with being of African descent. Their ignorance of American language and culture did not bar them from exercising the civic and social privileges that accompanied the "white" political classification. As they adopted Anglo-American culture, they and their children increasingly assimilated into "white" America. As a result, once they had settled in the industrial cities of twentieth-century America, the non-English-speaking European immigrants were granted honorary membership in the white group. That acceptance was crucial in the areas of housing and employment. Their children benefited from the process of public education and were assimilated into the cultural, social, and political mainstream, unlike their darker brothers, who were consistently excluded, regardless of their degree of cultural adaptation.

Zunz (1982, 398) argues that as "occupational bonds began to replace ethnic bonds in the white community.... Blacks were drawn into an ever growing ghetto, irrespective of their social status." Zunz fails to acknowledge the significant fact that ethnic Europeans were able to forgo ethnic bonds for occupational ones only by excluding black workers from the industrial labor market. White inclusion was dependent on black exclusion. More than occupational bonds united workers; whiteness mattered.

Within the American social order, structural inequality, property, and racial representation are intricately linked (Dominguez 1986). The development and maintenance of a consciously white identity among European immigrants in industrial cities were contingent on the perception that black workers posed a threat to the industrial labor and housing markets. The maintenance of a strong Negro identity, by contrast, was predicated on the discrimination the group continually experienced, which helped foster group sentiments and racial consciousness. While black racial consciousness is made manifest by a rigid system of racial subordination and exclusion, white racial consciousness is dependent on the presumed threat of the black "other." The benefits of inclusion within the white group are taken for granted, and white racial identity is invoked whenever blacks threaten to challenge the political, economic, and residential norms of white privilege (Waters 1990, 18).


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