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Race and Housing in the Postwar City: - page 3 / 23





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Americans, migrated to the Seattle and Portland areas, mostly for work in massive shipyards on Puget Sound and the Columbia River. Rural southern blacks seized upon wartime chances for economic advancement, migrating in large numbers to the cities of the Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific Coast. These migrations did not come without consequences. The social dislocations of the war years and new levels of competition between blacks and whites for jobs, housing, and urban space touched off significant racial violence in the cities. Notably, New York, Detroit, and Los Angeles experienced severe race riots during the war, but racial stress was common throughout urban America. In short, World War II brought unantic­ ipated racial consequences to the American city.4

Americans continued on the move in the postwar era, but at a more intense pace. Millions of white middle-class and working- class Americans abandoned the city for sprawling suburban devel­ opments such as the Levittowns in the east, Park Forest near Chicago, and hundreds of similar developments in California, Florida, and elsewhere. Wartime savings, pent up housing demands, and the coming of the baby boom after 1946 combined to propel city apart­ ment dwellers to the sparkling new ranch houses plopped down in potato fields, prairie lands, and orange groves on diverse urban peripheries. The suburban migration stemmed, as well, from the fast pace of new housing construction, prefabricated building techniques, new highway building, rising rates of automobile ownership, and favorable tax and mortgage policies for homeowners. The suburban dream was now within reach of millions of Americans, but the migra­ tion from the city was also, in part, a racial response among whites

seeking to escape the perceived black neighborhoods.5

"invasion" of central city

By the time of the 1960 census, several significant demo­ graphic patterns had become evident. Huge population shifts within metropolitan regions became commonplace in the postwar period, as city folk headed for the suburbs. The proportion of total U.S. popu­ lation residing on the suburban fringes doubled from 15.3 percent in 1940 to 30.6 percent in 1960, and by 1970 considerably more Americans lived in the suburbs than in the central cities. Most of the


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