This essay traces the political development of black urban professionals and managers from the urban renewal era to the early period of federal devolution and privatization in the 1970s and 1980s. These periods are the foundation by which “generations” of black urban regimes have been generated. The staying power of black political entrepreneurs results from their capacity for populating, activating, and contracting black-led organizations in the nonprofit sector, which has allowed them to adjust to fiscal retrenchment and subsequent privatization. Black mayors have channeled demands for investment in public goods into contracts for black-led nonprofits and bootstrap social programs. In particular, the housing and community development field has allowed black political aspirants to cement ties to the real estate industry which plays an outsize role in postindustrial urban economies.
The benefits that black professionals received from new urban renewal was less a change in how they define their interests than a change in opportunities to pursue those interests. There has been an underappreciation for the role of class interests in driving black housing professionals and property owners’ politics during the postwar urban renewal period.
A politics whose point of departure requires harmonizing the interests of the black poor and working class with those of the black professional-managerial class indicates the conceptual and political confusion that underwrites the very idea of a Black Freedom Movement. The prevalence of such confusion is lamentable; that it go unchecked and without criticism is unacceptable. The essays that appear in this section will critique this tendency and offer in its stead a vision of what we think ought to be.