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The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  1,956 ratings  ·  107 reviews
Once America's "arsenal of democracy, " Detroit has become the symbol of the American urban crisis. In this reappraisal of America's dilemma of racial and economic inequality, Thomas Sugrue asks why Detroit and other industrial cities have become the sites of persistent racialized poverty. ...more
Paperback, 375 pages
Published August 21st 2005 by Princeton University Press (first published December 1st 1996)
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Oct 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Stunning really, searing and beautifully thorough research on race, political economy and the urban fabric of Detroit.

He engages with some central questions: what the hell happened to rust belt cities, how did they turn from industrial centers to economic backwaters, how did the ghetto form, how did segregation and racism persist? He then answers these questions, in the process knocking the almost the entire body of literature on the 'underclass' out of the ballpark. He does build on those that
David Bates
Apr 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
In his 1996 work The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit Thomas Sugrue focused on the implications of the racism in the residential and labor markets of Detroit for the city. Key to Sugrue’s approach is his view that race is an economically and politically constructed concept that creates an illusion of difference, from which social prejudice arises. In large part Origins is framed as a rebuttal to “influential conservative scholars, backed by well-funded think ta ...more
Jan 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Sugrue presents a contrarian view of 20th century Detroit. While the post-World War II era is often remembered as a time of unmitigated prosperity, Sugrue’s analysis contends that Detroit was always fragile, even if just under the surface. He points to social tensions from overwhelming racial discrimination in housing and employment, wanton disregard for the city (and state) by the automobile industry, the poaching of jobs by other states, and the Federal government’s encouragement of decentrali ...more
May 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: race, detroit
As many other raters have mentioned, this book is an eye-opening, must-read account for anyone interested in Detroit, Urban Studies, or the politics of race. I'm surprised to find some have called it dry, because I actually found it to be pretty readable... And I often give up on super academic, jargon-laden works.

I loved this book, but I thought that the analysis of automation and decentralization by manufacturers in Detroit (particularly the big 3) was extremely biased against corporations. I'
Jan 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: planning, michigan
When did Detroit go wrong? The 1967 riots are often seen as the beginning of the city's tragic decline, but Sugure argues that the seeds of downfall were sown much earlier - in the 1940s. A toxic mix of elements: the dispersal of the auto industry away from the city, along with institutional and cultural racism that limited the options of black Southerners who had come to Detroit seeking a new life after the war, resulted in the implosion still visible today.

As someone who grew up in suburban D
Jan 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Incredibly thorough and depressing study of Detroit's postwar urban crisis. Most tragic are the countless self-destructive decisions and self-fulfilling prophesies made by white Detroiters, including government officials and employers. Detroit is a city that was violently brought down by racial discrimination in many forms, including housing and employment discrimination, divided labor unions, and grassroots racisim, especially among working-class Catholics. Detroit is one city that lends itself ...more
Sep 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes the most telling thing is what they didn't teach you in school.

Sugrue clearly did his homework researching this book, and makes a compelling argument for how many of the issues plaguing Detroit (and other American cities) have their roots in deindustrialization, and -- perhaps moreso -- in workplace and housing discrimination that effectively wiped out opportunities for minorities.
Bryan Craig
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
This is a powerful history of Detroit before the infamous 1967 riot. Historian Sugrue lays out an effective argument that Detroit was crumbling economically and systemic racism preyed on more blacks due to migration in the late 1940s and 1950s. All these economic and racial changes made whites nervous and they responded. Readers will learn a lot from this important book.
Katie Hanna
Nov 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It really changed the way I think about race and class and equality, to be honest.
Theodore Stavridis
Jul 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read this earlier this year and forgot to log it but this is a whopper of a read. One might think that a book written in 1996 might not contain the most relevant outlook is pretty wrong. Highly highly recommend, especially for those that live in and around cities.
Joseph Stieb
Mar 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
If you've ever wondered: "Dang, how did our inner cities get to be the way they are today, especially Detroit?" this is a great work for you. Sugrue traces the growth of urban inequality and segregation from WWII to the 1967 riots in Detroit and outlines the deeply rooted causes of the urban crisis.

WWII witnessed a vast expansion of economic opportunity for whites and African-Americans in Detroit with the growth of war industries. African Americans flooded the city from the South, creating a ser
Feb 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book, written in the mid-1990s, is still as relevant and applicable for reading today as it was two decades ago. Looking at Detroit as a specific case study, it picks apart the many tangled threads of race relations; class differences; the influence of religion; the decisions of business and industry; and the actions (and inactions) of the local, state, and federal government to reveal the reasons why one particular city -- once the shining example of America's productivity -- collapsed und ...more
Selmoore Codfish
May 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a powerful book. It was so powerful that it made me want to put it down so that I wasn't impacted by the ways that it pulled at me. Sometimes it was hard to take.
It is an essential book on race relations. It shows the historical context that built up to the riots and why Detroit has become what it is today.
The book has information pre-World War II, but focuses on the time between the war and the 1967 riot. The conclusion shows how the urban versus suburban hostilities developed, and why
Thomas J. Sugrue’s The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit is a rich, detailed tragedy of a once proud city. In America, Detroit has become synonymous with the concept of urban failure. It has been seen as a metropolitan blight on the American landscape, pocked with foreclosed homes, the lifeless husks of factories, and other signs of economic ruin. Inextricably tied to this perception is the issue of race, as African Americans have long been symbolic of the moral ...more
Oct 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
Thomas Sugrue’s The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and
Inequality in Postwar Detroit uncovers the multiple intertwined causes of urban decline and crisis in Detroit. Complicating the sociological reasons for the presence of the underclass and urban decline, Sugrue stresses the
need to look at the history of the political economy of Detroit in order to find the sources of urban crisis. Sugrue’s meticulously documented book ,rich with archival sources, statistics, photographs, and personal accoun
Jan 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
With this work, Thomas J. Sugrue presented a new interpretation of the decline and fall of the American industrial city using Detroit as a case study. While previous historians have pointed to the riots of 1967 as the fulcrum upon which Detroit’s (and by extension other northern industrial cities’) fortunes turned, Sugrue pushed that point back by two decades. Instead he contends that the seeds for the city’s substantial decline were actually sown in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Ther ...more
Aug 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
I took a break from fiction and medical textbooks to read some history/social science. This book looks at the massive problems that Detroit was suffering in the 1990s and continues to suffer in 2015. What was the root cause of these problems? When did they start? Who was responsible? Obviously, the answers to these questions like most historical questions are highly complex and require a lot of research. Thomas Sugrue put in an astounding amount of effort and detail into a diagnosis that goes wa ...more
Jul 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Thomas Sugrue examines the causes of the “urban crisis” of major American cities which involved white flight and suburbanization and caused high levels of poverty and unemployment for the urban black population. Sugrue contends that this phenomenon was not inevitable, but was caused by economic and racial policies which began amidst the post World War II national economic boom. Race riots as seen in Detroit in 1967 were the climax of these tensions. Through statistical analysis, demographic maps ...more
Jul 16, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book changed how I look at the modern landscape of American cities. Sugrue focuses on the post-WWII trends in Detroit, but the same population and industrial patterns are found to a lesser degree in just about every other Rust Belt metropolis. I grew up in Milwaukee, one of the most segregated cities in the US, and now I have a better idea of how it got that way.

He takes on a number of tough topics that culminate in urban decay: systemic discrimination and segregation in the workplace and h
Melanie Wiggins
Feb 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
As soon as I moved to Detroit, this was a book that over and over again was mentioned and recommended to me. It took me 3 years to finally crack it open, and as a non-Detroiter I am so glad that I did. Sugrue weaves an extremely well-researched and compelling narrative of the city of Detroit and the many factors that contribute to the disparity in housing, employment and class that exists even today within the city. This book is extremely dense, and Sugrue presents fact after fact that further p ...more
Tom Schulte
This is a largely scholarly work with plenty of tables, graphs, and endnotes. The author manages to tip the content to compelling and away from dry, however. This the story of institutional lack of opportunity for African-American Detroiters largely tracked from the WW II-era boom of the city as an industrial 'arsenal' to the eve of the '67 riots. The story of racist loan, real estate, and owner association covenant policies is told on a municipal scale through data with interspersed incidents o ...more
Jan 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone in SE Michigan; urban politics/ministry folks
As a transplanted west-coaster recently arrived in Michigan - Sugrue's work first caught my eye several months ago. Now that I've finished, I wish I'd read it months earlier. He provides a close examination of the historical and sociological background to the 1967 Detroit riots beginning with the rapid industrialization and residential growth in the early 1900s. And by beginning his account so early, offers a richly nuanced and multi-faceted account.
A must-read for anyone doing ministry in Detro
Dec 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015
Really interesting, well-written, well-researched book arguing that the decline of Detroit traces back to forces long before the race riots of the 1960s -- to entrenched housing and employment discrimination against people of color in post-war cities, and the collision of those forces with deindustrialization. Excellent and illuminating book -- well worth reading. It is remarkable to think that this was only half a century before (and it'd be naive to think that the same forces of housing segreg ...more
Sep 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a book that attempts to chronicle the demise of the City of Detroit and the racial tensions that were at play at the time of the initial decline. Sugrue attempts to show how events unfolded and what resulted from those events. It covers the time period leading up to but not including the late 1960's riots. It is a must-read for anyone in the Metro Detroit area. Perhaps it provides a bit of perspective and knowledge into how we got to where we are now. ...more
Brent Pinkall
Apr 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a great book in terms of the research and documentation Sugrue provides. Sugure challenges the common narrative that racism wasn't prevelant in the North as it was in the South. He demonstrates how a complex mixture of factors including housing, jobs, racial prejudice, econimics, and politics led to the urban crisis in Detroit. If you're looking for a short and concise read, however, you will find this book overwhelming and a bit repetitive. ...more
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you ever wondered how Detroit ended up with an impoverished citizenry and in bankruptcy, read this book. Professor Sugrue lays out the origins of the crisis in the 1940's and 1950's. The African American community faced many roadblocks, but foremost were racial discrimination and deindustrialization of the city. This book studies Detroit, but I think we can reflect on how our local community has been affected by these issues. The book is dense but well written and totally fascinating. ...more
Richard's Bibby
Nov 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
A very academic and very powerful argument on the economic, racial and legal reasons for the existence of urban crisis. Centered around Detroit from 1930's though the 70's, the author lucidly shows how the past actions of government, business and citizens groups created a segregated inner city the influence of which extends to present day. ...more
Oct 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Read for school. Sugrue does a nice job with his case study of Detroit, though he mainly focuses on the realms of employment and housing. I wonder what effect discrimination and differences in health care and education had on the "urban crisis." He also denies any agency to black agitators for labor and housing gains by focusing so much on the factors acting against such gains. ...more
Jake Engels
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is an extremely thorough account of how the current map of class and racial inequality has been laid down upon Detroit. It is a shame that this history is not widely taught. Stories of white neighborhood organization resistance to black families moving in show that much of what people know happened in the South was also commonplace in Detroit and other Northern cities.
Stephanie Quesnelle
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
An interesting perspective that delves into race relations and poverty in Detroit from the 20s onward. Its intent is to highlight some of the historical reasons for inequality that led up to the riots of 43 and 67. It was a tough read and very academic, but I found it very interesting perspective of even geographic dispersions and such.
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