Jessica Lautin

  • Fellowship year:2010-2011
  • University: University of Pennsylvania
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
  • Dissertation Title: Influential Black Cultural Institutions: The Shaping of Community Development and Civil Rights Politics in Philadelphia after World War II
  • This dissertation examines the cultural manifestations of class divisions within Philadelphia’s black community after World War II. I argue that in the wake of African Americans’ second great migration from the south to northern, midwestern, and western cities, cultural institutions created as much fracture as they did unity, modernity, or nationalism among blacks in the postindustrial metropolis. Even before the civil rights reforms of the mid-1960s, newspaper and radio revealed that there were multiple black communities as opposed to just one. Editors and general managers, and later music producers, directors of community art centers, and museum directors tried unsuccessfully to meet the cultural needs and embrace the more grassroots politics of the working class, and instead espoused an ideology—both real and perceived—of interracial liberalism and middle class uplift. In doing so, they missed the opportunity to create an urban cultural infrastructure that addressed economic inequality. Using sources that range from polls and planning documents to dance performances and art exhibitions, my work examines the operation and physical locations of the institutions, themselves, alongside their cultural products and the politics of the people who produced them. It thus answers the recent call by social historians to examine arts in urban places, and enlarges the story of African Americans in the post-industrial city to look not at crisis or unity, but at adaptation by the middle class to the working class and poor.