Saul Alinsky and the Dilemmas of Race: Community Organizing in the Postwar City (Hardcover)

Saul Alinsky and the Dilemmas of Race: Community Organizing in the Postwar City By Mark Santow Cover Image

Saul Alinsky and the Dilemmas of Race: Community Organizing in the Postwar City (Hardcover)


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A groundbreaking examination of Saul Alinsky's organizing work as it relates to race.

Saul Alinsky is the most famous—even infamous—community organizer in American history. Almost single-handedly, he invented a new political form: community federations, which used the power of a neighborhood’s residents to define and fight for their own interests. Across a long and controversial career spanning more than three decades, Alinsky and his Industrial Areas Foundation organized Eastern European meatpackers in Chicago, Kansas City, Buffalo, and St. Paul; Mexican Americans in California and Arizona; white middle-class homeowners on the edge of Chicago’s South Side black ghetto; and African Americans in Rochester, Buffalo, Chicago, and other cities.

Mark Santow focuses on Alinsky’s attempts to grapple with the biggest moral dilemma of his age: race. As Santow shows, Alinsky was one of the few activists of the period to take on issues of race on paper and in the streets, on both sides of the color line, in the halls of power, and at the grassroots, in Chicago and in Washington, DC. Alinsky’s ideas, actions, and organizations thus provide us with a unique and comprehensive viewpoint on the politics of race, poverty, and social geography in the United States in the decades after World War II. Through Alinsky’s organizing and writing, we can see how the metropolitan color line was constructed, contested, and maintained—on the street, at the national level, and among white and black alike. In doing so, Santow offers new insight into an epochal figure and the society he worked to change.
Mark Santow is associate professor and chair of the History Department at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. He is coauthor of Social Security and the Middle Class Squeeze.
Product Details ISBN: 9780226826271
ISBN-10: 0226826279
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: September 15th, 2023
Pages: 400
Saul Alinsky and the Dilemma of Race is a major contribution to scholarship on postwar racial politics in northern US cities. Writing at the intersections of urban, labor and African-American histories, Santow has forged an analytical narrative that depicts Alinsky’s decades-long efforts to bridge Chicago’s racial divide neither as a quixotic challenge to white flight nor as a broad strategy that might have prevented northern resegregation. Rather, he provides a nuanced portrait of both the potential of Alinsky’s organizing for promoting neighborhood integration and its inability to address the structural forces driving racial transition in mid-twentieth-century Chicago.”
— Matthew Countryman, author of Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia

"What do race in the US and Saul Alinsky have in common? Both are mercurial, shrouded in myth, and caricatured across the political spectrum. Mark Santow confronts each, illuminating the intersection of the community organizer and the pragmatics of racism in the crucible of Chicago."
— Amanda I. Seligman, author of Block by Block

"The Catholic theologian Jacques Maritain once called Saul Alinsky 'a great soul'--a mahatma, devoted to promoting human dignity through the pursuit of radical democracy. In his exemplary new book, Mark Santow brings Alinksy’s vision up against the brutal realities of race in midcentury Chicago. The result is a consistently compelling, sometimes exhilarating, often sobering story of idealism, activism, and reactionary resistance in one of the nation’s most segregated cities."
— Kevin Boyle, author of The Shattering: America in the 1960s