THE LONG VIEW: A Forgotten Legacy

W.E.B. DuBois built the world you live in today.  Brick by brick, concept by concept, he tore down a world dedicated to colonialism, segregation, and exploitation.  Who was he?  Sadly, too many people will ask this question with flawless sincerity.  The United States Congress essentially erased him from the public record because he stood for peace in an age of multiple wars.  DuBois’s academic and intellectual accomplishments would fill this entire newspaper for years, if they received the coverage he earned.  In brief, his career began before the Presidency of William McKinley and ended just before the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  While the world celebrated Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford, DuBois refined Frederick Douglass’ concept of universal human equality and developed the global political agenda of democratic self-rule.  His most recognized insight was the exploration of ‘double consciousness’ — the idea that within a single person there was a self-image and an awareness of how other people saw you.  The distinction between the internal and external perceptions of a person could utterly destroy an individual, especially when the difference between the two visions involved the idea of race.

 

However, another keen insight came from his work, “The Freedom to Learn,” in 1949.  DuBois asserted that the right to learn was the most difficult achievement humanity had won in 5000 years of struggle.  Consider that.  More than the Jeffersonian rights to life, liberty, and property, the right to learn was most valuable.  In the long process of human beings exploring different form of civilization as we moved from religion to enlightenment to science in pursuit of greater freedom, learning was never a right.  For DuBois, this achievement was a product of the American commitment to public education in the late nineteenth century.  Education was no longer the exclusive domain of the wealthy or the devout.  Everyone could learn.  The content of the education could certainly be debated.  Which lessons were most appropriate for which people?  Still, the fundamental claim that everyone had a right to more information built the conceptual foundation for the schools, libraries, and colleges across the world.  Indeed, it is the premise behind the widespread information sharing we do with websites like Wikipedia, Youtube, and Google.

 

Who carries the torch today for increased freedom, education, and a better world tomorrow?  Salamishah Tillet and Aishah Simmons have led the way in giving greater voices to women around the world in their work “No! The Rape Documentary” and its related projects.  Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar, Marc Anthony Neal, Marc Lamont Hill, Dawn Elissa-Fisher, and Marcia Dawkins have all established the ways hip hop music transforms societies towards democracy.  Mary Sies, Thomas Sugrue, Robin Bachin, John McCarthy, and Julian Chambliss have applied these lessons to understanding architecture, environmentalism, and metropolitan growth for more than twenty years.  We are all inheritors of DuBois’ unparalleled intellectual legacy.  From his work on The Philadelphia Negro to The Souls of Black Folk to The Crisis Magazine to Black Reconstruction (of Democracy) in America, DuBois was the voice that invented an America and a world that stood for justice and equality in ways inconceivable when his career began.  If we want the best world in the twenty-first century, we must teach these lessons and engage this work in ways that have been too rare over the last forty years.  DuBois is the touchstone for establishing the best human principles for the future.  There are literally thousands of interpreters of his work throughout secondary and higher education.  When all Americans rediscover and embrace these ideas, we will have taken another step towards achieving the beloved community.

The Long View: Worst Case Scenario? Expect Success.

My first meeting with the Trump coalition came before my fifth birthday. It was in 1977. Disco was the music that energized my family’s television on the weekends, but it was a mark of shame – the Devil – in our neighborhood. Country and gospel offered legitimate expressions of faith, humility, and perseverance in my neighbors’ minds. In that atmosphere, I learned why I lived where I did.
If you know me, you know the powerful impact William Harris had on my life. He was my mother’s “god-brother” – a specific form of affective kinship that protected him from most of the harm which would have otherwise shaped his life. His mother, Ariana, was a migrant farm worker who knew my mother’s parents. My mother, as a child, often babysat William – despite his being seven years older. William was developmentally disabled, physically and intellectually unable to live independently. He was thrown out of school in the early years of the Great Depression because the other children laughed at him. After years of working in potato fields, after Ariana and her sister, Pearl, died, William moved in with my family. Shortly thereafter, my family moved to the neighborhood where he had grown up. It was a rural delivery route where his ranch house (built in large part by my mother’s support for Ariana) sat 300 yards back off the main road – hidden behind a migrant labor housing site.
William became my older brother. Like my mother before me, I helped him wash, get breakfast, and do chores around the house. He often told me about the ways he and his family struggled to survive the harsh realities of Jim Crow segregation in New Jersey. As I made sense of these stories, I asked my mom questions like, “why was William thrown out of school?” The one that changed my life was, “why did Ariana live back behind all of the other houses?”
In 1958, despite changes to the New Jersey State Constitution to provide legal protections from racial and ethnic discrimination in 1947, white families in western Monmouth County remained very comfortable with the traditional barriers to racial equality that had evolved after the final enslaved African Americans became free in 1865. While formally segregated sites like the Court Street School in Freehold gradually changed to include white children, the larger institutions of government and commerce only made limited concessions to include black voices in local politics. There was no functional participation of African Americans in the region’s economic growth. Now, that possibility has been foreclosed for another generation.
When Ariana saved enough money to acquire a plot of land to build a house, her white neighbors feared that her family’s home would reduce the value of their houses. So, they raised a pool of money and purchased a larger plot behind the migrant labor site. They sacrificed to hide the spectacle of a black woman homeowner from public access. The fact that she was able to pay the property taxes on the lot, as well as build a larger ranch house on it, was never meant to be part of the equation. When my family moved there, we became inheritors of both a gift and a curse. The gift was the legacy of rare, African American property ownership in a community steadfastly hostile to black dignity and wealth. The curse was the unspoken recognition that the accomplishment came at the cost of accepting an invisibility – a politics of respectability – as the only, flimsy shield against dispossession and violence.
Never has that film felt thinner, more transparent. The compromised system of the Electoral College will likely deliver Donald Trump and Michael Pence to the Office of the Presidency of the United States in January 2017. The moment to rehash the successes and failures of the campaign season has passed. The occasion now calls for immediate preparation for the changes that will unfold over the next two years – at minimum. It also is an opportunity to see the indelible long-term impacts the new administration will likely accomplish.
Millions of activists and political operatives have started organizing campaigns to limit the powers of the White House over the next four years. In this way, they hope to stage public outrage against new policies and executive orders until they can shift the political composition of the federal Senate or House of Representatives. Both tasks are difficult changes to make in 2018. However, the longer goal is to cultivate a society that resists the politics that the Republican Party rode to victory since 2010. American resistance to government expansion animates nearly every public institution from town councils through the Supreme Court. The Obama coalition believed that they could show that good government might erode that cultural resistance. Hillary Clinton’s campaign showed that the effort to create inclusive democracy has never been more popular in American society. It was simply not popular enough right now.
If the remnants of the Obama coalition could learn to organize at the local level, none of the immediate changes in policy over the next four or eight years will last. There will be suffering, though. Beyond the obvious efforts to register Muslims and deport undocumented Mexican immigrants, the increase in surveillance and incarceration of all Americans (especially African Americans, Puerto Ricans, and poor, white Americans), and the reversal of legal gains for women and the LGBTQIA communities, the turn towards the economic strategies of the George W. Bush presidency will be more severe. In fact, these changes will resemble a broad governmental effort to overturn all of the political reforms accomplished since 1932.
The First and Second New Deals, under President Franklin Roosevelt, created the core promise of a stable, social safety net for the first time in American history. From 1932 to 1941, the Congress acted forcefully to stabilize banks, provide old-age insurance, stimulate industry, create new infrastructure, and provide direct employment. While industry did not grow in those nine years, the suffering of individual poverty never returned to the extremes of deprivation seen between 1930 and 1932. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan’s legislative agendas, led by the most reactionary body of Republican officials since the Dixiecrats in 1966, promise to return the nation to the laissez faire economics of 1924. It is an attempt to resurrect the industrial protectionism of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. Leaders in the White House like Jeff Sessions and Steve Bannon have their eyes on an even earlier target – 1876. It would be a world without the Fourteenth Amendment where the only equality in America exists among the several states. The Confederacy will have won its greatest victory.
Such a reality remains beyond the scope of the new administration for now. Yet, the desire to undo the New Deal, and prevent any future steps towards a true Reconstruction of democracy, has never had greater voice. In this recognition, citizens who supported Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton must measure their strategies and tactics carefully to advance the work that the Reconstruction Republicans and New Deal Democrats never undertook. (Sadly, the multiple incarnations of the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizens’ Councils mastered this approach.) Any political mobilization to defend and expand progressive and liberal milestones must ground themselves in private organizations, regional business interests, and local government. It is a lesson of the nineteenth century labor politics that built the most successful socialist movement of the early twentieth century behind Eugene Debs. If the voters for Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders organized successful campaigns over the next year for local elections in places like Cambridge, Massachusetts; Prince George’s County, Maryland; and Oakland, California, the tide of change could rise to reshape major races like the campaign for Governor in New Jersey. The politics of protest are critical, but fundamental, transformative resistance must be grounded in steady, daily activism to create new systems of local government that better serve individual families.
In the short term, observers must expect the Republican administration to accomplish much of their proposed agenda in the next two years. The fundamentals of the economy are strong; the effort to deregulate will promote an immediate rush of new bubbles in the energy, healthcare, and industrial sectors. Low-interest rates will finally have a framework to stimulate infrastructure spending especially in states where the Republican governments dominate. An aggressive push to isolate and destroy terrorist cells like ISIL, in conjunction with efforts to dismantle Iran, will cause defense spending to surge. The immediate rush of capital into a system that the Obama administration managed for stability will create a perception of affluence that the Republicans will use to justify their choices across every media platform.
Projecting corruption, dysfunction, and failure does little except make these officials stronger when the predictions are wrong. Expect some success from this unified government through 2017. Stay critical of the shortcomings and false promises. In the long battle to protect the major victories of human freedom, the immediate protests and public outcry must yield to steady, sustained analysis. Better candidates will emerge from the effort to serve every community more effectively. A national government predicated on gerrymandering, voter suppression, and public deception will collapse.
However, the politics of outrage surrounding the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina will not suffice to change public opinion next time. The leading images of the Obama coalition and the voices of the Clinton campaign will not persuade the moderate voters of the rural North and Midwest to reject Donald Trump. It is a time to lift up a new generation of John Browns, Thaddeus Stevenses, and Helen Kellers. The spectacle of white respectability, in service to a progressive agenda, is the key to a short-term political reversal. Only then will the opportunity to secure the safety and stability of all people be restored.
Former Federal Reserve banker and GE Capital executive Michael Silva recently gave a public presentation about the mechanics of the global financial system. His discussion demonstrated why so many people supported the Trump campaign. In many ways, their energetic mobilization reflected the support for William Jennings Bryant in 1896. Silva talked at length about the ways that leaders like Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, and Tim Geithner saved the world economy through ingenuity, humility, and determination. The audience responded with respectful skepticism. Questions focused on the repeal of Dodd-Frank as a regulatory structure and the errors of Janet Yellin in overlooking asset quality as a measure of macroeconomic stability.
At the heart of the conversation was a fundamental misunderstanding. None of the people in the room understood the main point of Silva’s presentation. In describing the differences between the Bear Stearns and AIG bailouts, specifically in contrast to the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, Silva emphasized the betrayal of basic banking principles on an unprecedented scale. The markets compounded this betrayal by overreacting against an entire category of assets — money market funds — in September 2008. Most importantly, the solution was a public-private partnership in creating a unique investment vehicle to supply liquidity to multiple sectors of the global economy. In a room full of bankers and financiers, no one questioned global market fragility and the arbitrary nature of the solution.
Billions of people worldwide relied on three men in a room to invent a fiction to restore market confidence. The unwieldy, conglomerate structure that no one can adequately manage is now the most significant line of defense against the excesses of the new American government. For the people who chose this leadership, uncertainty is the only truth. For the opposition, the certainty is the unprecedented extent of surveillance and suppression for the foreseeable future. Beyond this moment, we need a world of cooperative self-reliance that defies the savagery of global capitalism.
Having lived in places committed to the intersectional dominance of patriarchy, heterosexism, white supremacy, and rural capitalism all of my life, I know the country that the Republicans want back. It is where a little boy with physical challenges knows peonage, yet thrives because his mother and god-sister gave him the miracle of a better home. It is where women defer to the dominant men in their lives, staying quiet enough to not be neglected or beaten. It is where gays, lesbians, and transgender people live in iron maidens, dreaming of closets where they can hide. It is where Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists keep themselves silent in public, preferring flight to ridicule, shame, and abuse. It is where immigrants, American Indians, and African Americans shuffle quietly through their days, expressing only humble gratitude at the crumbs they’re offered to avoid deportation, incarceration, and murder.
It is a world that must never exist again.

Hall of Fame (Ranney School)

FOR RELEASE – SEPT. 30, 2016 FOR MORE INFO: COMMUNICATIONS@RANNEYSCHOOL.ORG ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… RANNEY TO HONOR SCARYMOMMY DOT COM CEO, FASHION WEEK DESIGNER, MONMOUTH UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR, AND ASBURY PARK AUTHOR AMONG 2016 HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES Ranney School (Tinton Falls, NJ) will honor several distinguished alumni and faculty members at its 2016 Hall of Fame Induction ceremony on Saturday, October 8, 2016. The annual event brings together Ranney graduates, past and present teachers, and families from across Monmouth and Ocean Counties to celebrate the exemplary achievements of graduates, coaches, athletes, and teachers. Among the inductees this year are: CEO and Founder of the Some Spider Multimedia Network and Co-Founder of Diapers.com Vinit Bharara (Class of 1989), Asbury Park Travel Writer and Photographer Helen Pike (Class of 1974), Responsive Textiles Designer Kristine Rodriguez (Class of 2008), and International Center for Metropolitan Growth Founder and Monmouth University Professor Dr. Walter Greason (Class of 1991). Vinit Bharara, whose brother and 1986 Ranney alum Preet Bharara – now the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York –was inducted in 2014, co-founded and sold to Amazon the multi-million dollar eCommerce site Diapers.com as well as other top websites in 2011. Today, he is the founder and CEO of Some Spider, a multimedia network launched in 2014 that operates Scary Mommy (ScaryMommy dot com—one of the largest entertainment parenting properties in the country), The Mid, and Café dot com. He resides with his family in New York City.
International travel writer and photographer, Helen Pike currently lives in the Upper Connecticut Valley. Her illustrated books about communities along New Jersey’s northern coastline include Greetings from New Jersey, A Postcard Tour of the Garden State, a companion volume for children growing up in the Garden State subtitled A Workbook for Young Adventurers, and Asbury Park’s Glory Days.
Fashion designer Kristine Rodriguez is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. Her knitwear line RESPONSIVE TEXTILES, has appeared at the prestigious Fashion Weeks of New York (2016), Los Angeles (2015, 2016), and San Diego (2014, 2015). Known as a conceptual maker, she continues to blend knitted stich with graphic design from her home in Augusta, Georgia. Ms. Rodriguez’s works will be on display as part of Ranney School’s annual Alumni Art Exhibition through early November.
Dr. Walter Greason of Manalapan, an economic historian at Monmouth University, was named a “Contemporary Black History Maker” by the Philadelphia Daily News in 1996 for his work to advance equal justice for all people during his fellowship time at Villanova University. He is the founder of the International Center for Metropolitan Growth, a company dedicated to attracting global investment to North America, and won the Author Prize for Non-Fiction from the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance in 2014 for his work, Suburban Erasure. His newest collection, The American Economy, examines changes in agriculture, manufacturing, and services since 1750. Dr. Greason serves as the Treasurer for the Society for American City and Regional Planning History, and recently earned a fellowship to develop a digital model of international economic growth from the National Endowment for the Humanities. “It is an honor to be able to induct such an outstanding group of individuals into our Hall of Fame this year. It is wonderful to recognize all of our inductees for their accomplishments as they serve as positive role-models for generations of students to come,” said Tom Moriau, Ranney School’s Director of Alumni Relations.
Ranney School’s Hall of Fame awards are divided into four categories: Distinguished Alumni, Distinguished Faculty, Visual & Performing Arts, and the Panther Athletic Hall of Fame. Additional 2016 inductees include: Class of 1984 Alum and part-owner of Sea Bright’s Ama Ristorante and Driftwood Cabana Club William Stavola; Class of 2004 Alum and Performer Adam Metzger; former English teacher and Army Colonel A. Kevin Quinn (posthumously); former Forensics Coach and Middle School Administrator Nancy Wade of Jackson; current Performing Arts Chair John Doyle of Keyport; current Fifth-Grade Teacher Doreen Fowlkes of Holmdel; and current Coach (soccer, tennis, and basketball) Barbara Bongiovanni of Wall Township. Both Fowlkes and Bongiovanni have been at Ranney for approximately 30 years.
Ranney will also celebrate its Alumni Weekend with Varsity Boys’ and Girls’ Soccer games on the night of Friday, October 7 (5 p.m. start time); a Play4TheCure Field Hockey game benefitting the National Foundation for Cancer Research on Saturday, October 8 at noon; and its Parents’ Association’s annual Family Fall Festival.

400 Days of Obama

Dr. Walter Greason
December 2015
President Obama has less than 400 days left in office. As the beginning of his eighth and final year approaches, it is important to take stock of his failures, accomplishments, contexts, and timelines as a way of framing American politics in the twenty-first century. The impossibility of the success of his candidacy in 2007 still informs much of the political discourse as the current presidential candidates in both parties try to capture a sense of insurgent optimism about their visions for the nation. By this standard alone, none of the candidates can hope to succeed. It will be multiple generations before we can truly assess the social significance of the audacious campaign Senator Barack Obama led.
The most immediately contentious terrain for evaluation is the standing of the United States in the world community and President Obama’s explicit stance as an anti-war commander in chief. On this ground, critics and opponents have been the most vocal and numerous. Conservatives attack the lack of strident militarism in the Obama foreign policy, seeking to expand on the global military state the George W. Bush administration attempted to establish. Liberals lament the failure to close Guantanamo Bay, the expansion of state surveillance, and the constant use of drone warfare to attack Al Qaeda and ISIL. Both perspectives underestimate the complexity of the conflict and showcase unrealistic expectations for easy resolutions. The effort to contain and eliminate global terrorism is a process much more intricate than even the Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union. Terrorist networks are granular organizations with tiny footprints, despite their capacity to wreak mass casualty events. Only sustained coalitions on a global scale, especially in the creation of unprecedented special forces capacity across Africa and Asia, has any real hope of containing terrorist networks. Yet, this concept would still fail to eliminate the root causes of violent extremism.
The only real, long-term solution to the dispossession and disillusionment that leads people down the path of extreme violence comes from a source often reviled in western media – the Black Lives Matter movement and its related organizations. Citizen engagement and empowerment to radically transform local and regional governance and finance is the only permanent answer to radical terrorism. Isolated individuals must feel a sense of safety and belonging in order to believe that their lives have value and, in turn, that others’ lives matter. President Obama’s image, language, and actions allowed a longstanding element of American society to raise its voice in response to police killings over the last five years. Indeed, his example built a coalition of the LGBTQ community, feminists, civil rights advocates, and union organizers back to the center of federal policy for the first time since 1979. Most importantly, his administration built a new federal infrastructure to analyze and dismantle racial and economic segregation across the country. This movement for equal justice, empowered through both state and federal government initiatives, has a chance over the next year to re-write the standards of private finance and small enterprise creation. It is an opportunity to exceed the ambitions of the War on Poverty and to fundamentally lift the poor around the world into a global, middle class. Imagine a Freedman’s Bureau to oversee fair contracting and procurement. Imagine an Underground Railroad that promotes the free movement of labor everywhere.
The only audacity of hope that came from the successes of Barack Obama’s two terms in office is the determination of his voters to seize the reins of government. Local activists must become the new judges, politicians, and entrepreneurs to transform state legislatures, school boards, and town councils. The standard of an informed leader who listens to multiple perspectives and makes decisive decisions in the interests of all people, especially the most marginalized, must become the legacy of the Obama presidency. The specific accomplishments of a stable economy, a climate change accord, stronger allies, and a healthier population only scratch the surface of the analysis. The greatest victory is the fulfillment of a promise too long denied – both at home and abroad. Where the United States often claimed an identity of “e pluribus unum” (from many, one), the emphasis was often on the “unum” at the expense of the “pluribus.” President Obama’s time in office began the first real effort to recognize the nation and the world’s diversity in an inclusive way. There are many more steps on the path to becoming a united family of human beings, but we have taken a few steps forward since 2009. This progress is valuable and important to recognize.

the long view: quiet reflections (4 August 2015)

Imagine looking white, but not being white. It is an experience that exposes the limitations of racial perception, while reinforcing its power. As a child, the experience unfolds through the whispers of a community’s rejection. Hurried words and sudden glances as adults explain to each other – “he’s not really what he looks like.” It is the loss of unspoken opportunities, the isolation from an elite social circle, glimpsed but never joined. It is a daily pain and a forced passage into a marginal status where racial meaning constantly shifted regardless of ancestry.

Imagine the child of such a person, a child representing the first generation after the Loving decision. This “unwhite” person might seek refuge in a community color-struck with admiration for lighter complexions. A darker-skinned family of social status might perceive an opportunity to open doors for children who would not experience the depths of anti-black attitudes in the United States – if they were light enough, if their hair was good enough. Such a marriage, such a family, might come to represent both an affirmation and a denial of the racial politics at the end of the twentieth century. This child could pick from a variety of cultures and identities – but somehow, he could never become white.

In the African American community, there is a long record of reflection on the proximity of anti-black behaviors and attitudes contrasted against every person’s positive self-image of capability and confidence. W.E.B. DuBois’ described this experience as “double consciousness.” Scholars of European-American identity have asked if this concept had spread throughout the American population in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement. Was an aggressively racist, “white consciousness” replaced by a variety of ethnic public perceptions that manifested in the proliferation of media like “The Godfather,” “All in the Family,” and “Gangs of New York”? Had the children of European immigrants abandoned the tactics and strategies of assimilation into a broader “white” American identity after 1968?

The answers require more complexity than a simple yes or no. Ethnic identification persists across the shifting patterns of racial perception. Much of this confusion occurs when arguing that Nigerian, Egyptian, or Somalian immigrants have become African Americans, especially when their families in their countries of origin came from Denmark, Belgium, Germany, or the United Kingdom. The creation of the ethnic identifier – “Descendants of Africans Enslaved in North America (Daena)” – responds to these linguistic tactics in seeking advantages in college admissions, government contracting, and private sector employment. These tricks seek to preserve a special status for white identity that American law always defends without ever acknowledging. They are the pervasive defenses of racial elitism that prevent our hypothetical “unwhite” person and his children from participating in the lie of American liberty. Until the self-perceptions and public uses of “white” identity are abandoned by the institutions and individuals who use them to preserve economic, political, and cultural dominance, freedom will remain illusory for all people.

Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (www.icmetrogrowth.com), teaches economic history at Monmouth University (www.monmouth.edu), and is the author of the award-winning historical monograph, Suburban Erasure. His work is available on Twitter (@worldprofessor / @icmgrowth), Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (wgreason@monmouth.edu).

If someone could be white, but chose not to, what would they lose? If someone wanted to be black, but could not, what would it cost them?If someone could be white, but chose not to, what would they lose? If someone wanted to be black, but could not, what would it cost them?

the long view: seize the day (28 july 2015)

Villanova alumnus Steve Dow wrote a powerful and searching reflection on his need to discuss the last three years of racial terrorism that African Americans have experienced. In his essay, his constant frustration at his lack of knowledge about the horrors of daily oppression informs nearly every paragraph. Titled “A Different White Power,” Dow suggests that white Americans duplicate the effort he put into his writing in order to end the reflexive denial of the importance of antiblackness in human society. He calls for continuous reading, reflection, and conversation – both among white Americans privately and in the wider social context of diversity in world society. This task requires a long overdue reckoning with the African American and American Indian experiences in North America. In Cleveland, a coalition of activists have opened the door for Dow and everyone who shares his desire to create equal justice. The inaugural meeting of the Movement for Black Lives energized the city and the world over the last weekend. For everyone who is unfamiliar with the content, strategies, and tactics in pursuit of racial equality, this moment is your time to seize the day.

An early pioneer in the effort to make justice available to all people was Tim Wise. Wise organized to support the end of apartheid in South Africa and was a leader in the effort to defeat Neo-Nazi David Duke in his bid to become the Governor of Louisiana in 1991. Wise recognized the gross injustices on a large scale in ways that Dow did not twenty-five years ago. Yet Wise still overlooked the pervasive discrimination in New Orleans where he lived because the overwhelming majority of white Americans cannot imagine themselves complicit in a system of purposeful injustice. They cannot be the screaming, twisted, contorted faces of hatred that news footage captured during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. No, Wise and Dow represented the deeper, more troubling facets of white American resistance to equal justice – the apathy, the color blindness, the benign neglect. These evils are the focus of the current moment.

The rise of journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates to the top of the New York Times best sellers’ list for his searing work, Between the World and Me, is one of the most visible products of the nation’s hunger to do better. Coates has laid bare the core of racial violence that maintains the rift that Dow describes, that Wise has worked every day to bridge. His work appears as the nation has returned to a time when, every day, a new story about the killing of another African American dominates the headlines. Coates, Jamelle Bouie, and Stacey Patton write notices every day that place them in the lineage of T. Thomas Fortune, Ida Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. DuBois, and Charlotta Bass. These traditions of radical journalism held a marginal place in global debate as network, cable, and print news embraced the politics of racial neglect – often criticizing voices like Ralph Wiley, Jemele Hill, Stuart Scott, and Farai Chideya. Coates, Bouie, and Patton represent a new urgency to bring the suppressed research of historians, sociologists, and educators back into public view. These works formed the core of Tim Wise’s awakening to confront injustice everywhere. They are the required knowledge for newcomers like Dow to understand how to better educate their children. They are the leaders and guides for the current civil rights activists in Cleveland, Houston, Charleston, Staten Island, and every other place where black lives have not mattered – especially suburbs like Norristown, Phoenixville, King of Prussia, and Doylestown.

There is a video on YouTube titled “Justice: An Action Plan” that illustrates how to redirect resources to this present civil rights struggle. Fewer than 4 percent of white Americans have ever joined a civil rights organization or contributed financially to any of their initiatives. The percentage of white Americans that have maintained membership and financially supported organizations like the Neo-Nazis or Ku Klux Klan has held steady above 20 percent since 1970. For every 1 white American who stands for equal justice, there are 5 who resist and dismantle every advance. Worse, 3 out of 4 white Americans simply do not care one way or the other. For every 5 racists, there are 75 white Americans who are too busy to learn about the real adversity African Americans, American Indians, and, now, Mexican Americans face every day. This situation has become intolerable. Wise has pledged to come to Norristown in an effort to improve the politics and economics of inclusion locally. Organizations like the Carver Community Center and the Norristown Men of Excellence have proven their leadership, but must now grow to serve all of Montgomery County. Partners like Villanova University, Temple University, Monmouth University, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the Society for American City and Regional Planning History, and the Centennial Celebration at the Court Street School Education Community Center stand ready to join this effort.

Carpe diem.

Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (www.icmetrogrowth.com), teaches economic history at Monmouth University (www.monmouth.edu), and is the author of the award-winning historical monograph, Suburban Erasure. His work is available on Twitter (@worldprofessor / @icmgrowth), Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (wgreason@monmouth.edu).

A coalition of all people, in the US and around the world, must stand up to make the promise of freedom real.A coalition of all people, in the US and around the world, must stand up to make the promise of freedom real.

the long view: rural corridors (14 july 2015)

Many of my most successful colleagues often complain about the lack of creativity and imagination among their graduate students. Years of reading the same topics – the Civil War, World War 2, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement – rehashed endlessly along an infinite variety of timelines and thematic approaches create an ennui that robs the intellect of its vitality. To find an original topic with sufficient primary resources to support the development of a book-length work is an extraordinary accomplishment in itself. One of the keys that animated my first major research project was the recognition that other scholars focused on large, urban centers to the exclusion of communities like Norristown, Upper Darby, and Lansdale. Even more egregiously, the rural expanses of most states were completely ignored. The constant compounding error of scholarly disinterest combined with the most profound bias in research (a lack of previous studies) to limit a more complete understanding of the United States and the world. A recent issue of The Journal of Urban History praises Suburban Erasure for breaking this approach to the past, especially in the context of rapid economic development in New Jersey over the twentieth century. An ambitious group of students in Pennsylvania could duplicate this method here.

>>

Political operatives have often referred to the communities between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as the “Pennsylvania T.” Erie, Harrisburg, and Wilkes-Barre form the largest communities in this imagined structure, but the hundreds of smaller towns hold their own special importance. Where places like Morristown, Freehold, Rancocas, and Glassboro represented a series of specific changes in the ways suburbs grew in New Jersey, Pennsylvania counties like Chester, Berks, Westmoreland, Luzerne, and Crawford counties will be the growing regions of the twenty-first century. Despite the impressive wealth that the major metropolitan areas in the state have generated over the last two centuries, demographic growth will inspire greater residential and commercial investment beyond the boundaries of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and their suburbs. Only a fundamental readjustment in federal financial lending guidelines has any chance to slow the steady creep of sprawl beyond Lower Providence and Royersford.

>>

In a profound way, this pattern also operates on a national scale. Nearly all of the major metropolitan development in the United States lies on a major body of water. The Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts are the sites of almost-three quarters of the nation’s total assets. If you include the Great Lakes, then the percentage rises to nearly ninety percent. This concentration is only exceeded by the amount of media and research attention these areas have received over the last century. From this perspective, the absence of work on a national “rural corridor” becomes glaring. Small communities from the borders that Montana and Idaho share with Canada, moving southeast across the continent until one reaches the Florida panhandle, comprise a region that harkens back to the ideals of self-reliance in a rugged countryside that most still associate with the nineteenth century. Last week’s announcement from the Department of Housing and Urban Development takes essential steps to helping most Americans create more inclusive and prosperous communities. Yet, the core of socially isolated, rural poverty will not be affected by these reforms. Even important private initiatives like “The Geography of Poverty” project (presented by NBC News) overlook this region. Local historian Michael Tolle’s work on Montgomery County opens the door for valuable new insights to correct these errors. A coalition of interested citizens could follow in his footsteps and create a Truth and Reconciliation commission to document and explore the facets of history too long hidden from public view.  Fewer than twelve would be necessary to begin the work. Who has the courage to volunteer?

+++

>>

Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (www.icmetrogrowth.com), teaches economic history at Monmouth University (www.monmouth.edu), and is the author of the award-winning historical monograph, Suburban Erasure.    His work is available on Twitter (@worldprofessor / @icmgrowth), Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (wgreason@monmouth.edu).
What do we study? What do we ignore? Why?What do we study? What do we ignore? Why?

the long view: movements and moments (30 june 2015)

Movements & Moments
Dr. Walter Greason
Norristown Times-Herald
30 June 2015

The soul of the United States stirred last Friday. Indeed, a shudder rocked much of humanity when President Barack Obama intoned the first lines of the transformative gospel lyric – “Amazing Grace.” It was the culmination of a horrifying week as the world confronted a terrorist attack where the Charleston 9, Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Hon. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45; Myra Thompson, 59, were killed. It was the moment of reconciliation that the movement that elected the President had envisioned leading up to his first election. The sense of joy and peace that the nation has sought since the 1964 Civil Rights Act gained its first realization during that speech. All that remained was a catalyst to take action on this unique feeling.

Bree Newsome provided it early the next morning by scaling a flagpole and removing the Confederate battle flag from the capitol grounds. It was a temporary victory, and she was immediately arrested. Still, the symbol of direct, individual action to remove a symbol of division and strife has inspired millions of people everywhere. It has also enraged a volatile few. They have started to organize in defense of the ideology that inspired the confessed killer at Mother Emanuel AME Church.

In every community, but especially fast-growing areas like Montgomery County, there are small choices everyone can make to move forward in the present moment of grace and healing. Public displays of the Confederate flag can no longer be countenanced. Detailed, educational curricula and sustained study of the poisonous ideology of white supremacy should become common knowledge in every school. Every government agency and major local business should file public, annual reports about their fair hiring, promotion, and/or lending practices. Universal voter registration must become the hallmark of every free society. Most importantly, local truth and reconciliation commissions must undertake the task of uncovering the histories of slavery and segregation, so that everyone will recognize its remaining elements and be able to uproot them.

In the long term, there must be benchmarks and goals to guide a society’s march along the long arc of moral justice. First among these is the accomplishment of integrated housing and commercial markets. The persistence of racial disparities in these two sectors will allow segregation to endure eternally. Civil rights organizations must begin an annual review of every local, county, and state office as a non-partisan actor to keep the public informed about effective solutions and intransigent problems. Finally, leading educators must work beyond their schools and universities to create a global education and employment pipeline. By coordinating students to find and create millions of new opportunities in every part of the world, the grace so many seek will be made manifest.

For most of the last six years, pundits have made extensive commentary about how the world has seen the limits of the Presidency during Barack Obama’s time in office. Over the last week, his constituency has embraced the highest responsibilities of freedom. Where the Tea Party failed to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, this worldwide coalition of determined activists now understand the daily discipline necessary to make democracy real. Bree Newsome’s moment grew out of this expanding movement. Now, the movement knows how to create an infinite array of transformative moments.

Dr. Walter Greason is available on LinkedIn, Twitter (@worldprofessor/@icmgrowth), Facebook, and by email (wgreason@monmouth.edu).

Are we courageous enough to stand against the coming tide of the violent backlash?Are we courageous enough to stand against the coming tide of the violent backlash?

Infinite Skills Create Miracles: Activism, Scholarship, & Digital Media (June 2015)

“I self, lord and master, shall bring disaster to evil factors, demonic chapters shall be captured by kings.” When Guru (of the legendary rap duo, Gangstarr) opened the song “Above the Clouds” with these words, he sparked a soul-rattling meditation on the power of self-image and its impact in reshaping the world. A decade earlier, their song “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight” transformed a young man’s imagination, inspiring him to use the energy from the music to shape programs and organizations that would inspire others. Many people find their discipline through diet, exercise, or prayer. Hip hop as an art can channel all paths to achievement. Ultimately, that student’s choice – my choice – was the combination of activism, scholarship, and digital media.

At a college fair, a student bragged to his friends that he was going to a school where there were no minorities. He didn’t say ‘minorities.’ He used slurs for Latinos and African Americans that sparked chuckles from his audience. I was then, and remain today, a child of farmers. A verbal or physical confrontation with this student would only work to my disadvantage in that context. Instead, I learned about his chosen university – one of the most prominent Catholic institutions in the United States. After winning a full academic scholarship to attend, I confronted constant harassment, discrimination, and a few death threats in the early 1990s. The goal was always to break down the institutional barriers that kept students of color outside of the institution or cowed if they managed to enroll. The best an unprecedented coalition of student leaders could do was the fundamental redesign of the student government and the creation of the nation’s first “strategic plan for cultural diversity” in higher education. Over the next decade, a larger, research institution became my home for graduate study. After a group of activists attended the Million Man March, we returned and founded a magazine dedicated to multicultural activism. Over the next four years, it reached more than 250,000 readers and shaped a series of commitments to regional economic justice that included thousands of full university scholarships and dozens of partnerships between local government and private capital to create jobs and companies throughout the region. One of the more successful organizations was the First Suburbs project. Based in two small, suburban towns, it grew to include more than 1,000,000 members and became the model for ongoing partnerships between the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration. By combining the lessons of institutional action taught by Dean Alvin Clay with the uncompromising historical integrity of Professor Maghan Keita, my standards for activist achievement made the pursuit of universal equality relentless.

Timetables, benchmarks, and assessments are not the tools that scholars prefer, however. Traditions of detachment and objectivity collided with my experiences about performance and accountability. Unlike a medical doctor, attorney, or other highly skilled professionals (even other scientists and social scientists), historians embrace a distance from the dramatic twists and turns of daily life. Balancing the urbane and the austere is one of the first tests many graduate students in history must often pass. Yet the urgency of activism was the passion that drove me to persevere in this environment. The life of Olivia Stuard Henry – the first woman ordained to pastor an African Methodist Episcopal church – showed me the risks of a meteoric rise and the resilience to withstand the inevitable pitfalls. Meeting dynamic historians like Robin D.G. Kelley in the course of organizing a conference titled “Afric’s Sons with Banner Red” illustrated different paths to use undiscovered knowledge in service to the historic mission of human liberty. I could no longer limit my writing to afrofuturist fiction like “Communion” or activist manuals like “The Ebon Flame.” For the next decade, I gathered hidden primary sources to document the lives of black working families whose communities had inspired the later civil rights work of Ella Baker, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The tragic transformation of black migrant workers’ lives as their dreams were realized and shattered simultaneously in the process of a global service economy’s emergence became the subject of my most recent two books, “The Path to Freedom” and “Suburban Erasure.” Worst of all, the criminalization of citizen activism, especially in the name of racial justice, at the end of the twentieth century required a fundamental reconsideration of both tactics and strategy.

In that moment, I returned to my first skills. Before research, before activism, before teaching, I was a computer programmer. Simple designs on early Apple machines consumed hours of my days in the 1980s. Zork and Bard’s Tale served as early inspirations, giving way to Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Killer Instinct in later years. These techniques were essential to both the activist work and the research agenda, but never at the forefront of either. Activists feared the ways governments could monitor electronic transmissions. Rightly so, as the police catalogued and documented communications prior to protests against the 1999 World Trade Organization meetings and the 2000 Republican National Convention. Historians, well, tend to prefer bound leather and parchment. 2006 marked a turning point where the struggle for LGBTQ equality began to gain national support just as elementary social media like MySpace gave way to Facebook, then Twitter, and now Instagram. Digital media provided endless opportunities to provide new content and context. It remains a greater revolution than manufacturing, literacy, or science. Where previous revolutions relied on static categories to create knowledge and greater organization, digital media destabilizes simplicity. It is not the scale of big data that threatens the conglomerate society that emerged from the Cold War – it is its dynamism. Where I created groups like “Champions Palace” or “Race and Suburbs” for thematic discussions at the start of the twenty-first century, social media offers outlets like @worldprofessor or “The Holy Bible: Dignity & Divinity” that constantly change and challenge both creators and audiences to reimagine the worlds they share.

In this intersectional, vibrating string theory of multiverses, the people who recognize the limits of mastery, humbling themselves to the realities of collaborative human accomplishment, will build the institutions that will shape future achievement. Popular movies like “Transcendence” and “Lucy” grapple with the most profound questions of becoming human in ways inspired by earlier works like “Dark City” and “The Matrix.” This patient, adaptive world manifested in the election of Barack Obama. It has begun a generational process of redefining life, liberty, and property through the crucible of the Great Recession. The remnants of the racist Massive Resistance Movement cling to relevance through fear of their cousins in ISIS or Al Qaeda. A global renaissance has begun – a Massive Acceptance Movement.

I remember how alone I felt – designing games no one else would play; writing university policies no one would read; researching forgotten people destroyed by economics. Still, somehow, I never doubted that infinite skills created miracles. I never imagined I might experience that promise beyond any limitation. I never imagined the legions of voices who shared some part of this knowledge and who now arise from Ferguson, Baltimore, Staten Island, McKinney, and Charleston.

I will never forget this moment of social change.


Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (ICMG_International Center for Metropolitan Growth) and is the author of the award-winning historical monograph, Suburban Erasure. He is also the primary instructor for the “Engines of Wealth” initiative at Monmouth University. His work is available on Twitter (@worldprofessor / @icmgrowth), Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (wgreason@monmouth.edu). For bookings (workshops and speaking engagements), contact NJ History (njhistory350@gmail.com).

Guru (left) and Premier, legendary hip hop artists.Guru (left) and Premier, legendary hip hop artists.

the long view: a peaceful, prosperous summer (23 june 2015)

Summer is officially here, and a new dawn has broken in Montgomery County. Primary elections ushered a new generation of energized officials into office. A revitalized coalition of community volunteers has opened the historic swimming pool at the Carver Community Center. These important accomplishments are merely the next steps in a long pattern of sustained efforts from local residents to end segregation and discrimination in the region. It is time to think about the rest of this year and the plans for extraordinary opportunities in 2016.

Across the nation, it has been a rougher road as individuals and communities struggle to adapt to widespread efforts at inclusiveness. Symbolic moments like the controversies surrounding Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal matter less than the systemic abuses that continued in McKinney, Texas, and Charleston, South Carolina. In McKinney, local white residents could not accept a pool party with large numbers of black teenagers. The tensions there reflected the local policies of exclusion that led to the creation of the Carver Center’s pool in Norristown. When a police officer threw an unarmed girl to the ground and drew his pistol on a young man who was horrified by his actions, in full view of a white teenager’s cell phone camera, the nation recoiled in horror – especially in the wake of endless questions about police training and procedures. Less than a month later, a racial terrorist walked into one of the most important black churches in the nation’s history. He sat through a bible study with ten prayerful African Americans who had welcomed him into their spiritual home. He then stood up and shot them, killing nine, while claiming he had to do it to protect his race. An online journal has surfaced under his name, explaining a detailed agenda for restoring global white supremacy to its fullest glory. Millions of Americans have engaged in collective hand-wringing, wondering if any action could prevent similar bloodshed in the future.

Beyond the prayers and heartfelt words intended to heal, there is basic work required from people of good faith if the nation is to avoid one of its bloodiest summers ever. The widespread denials about the continuing power of white supremacy must end. Too many communities remain divided by racism and animated by specific hostility against African Americans. Places like Shelby, South Carolina, Boyertown, Pennsylvania, and Howell, New Jersey, must face their histories of explicit hatred that have shaped their current realities of segregation and injustice. Suburban counties like Montgomery, Chester, and Bucks in the Philadelphia area must engage in pointed, thorough reviews to root out public officials, especially in law enforcement, who hold racist views against black people, immigrants, and religious minorities. Further, every jurisdiction (local, county, state, and federal) must develop a sustained, generational agenda to remedy the persistent inequalities in business ownership, housing, employment, and education that have impoverished communities like Philadelphia, Norristown, and Coatesville. Finally, every bank, realtor, and small business with more than ten employees must look to support leaders and programs like the ones growing in Montgomery County over the last month.

As new graduates begin a summer of celebration, they and their families are the keys to expanding on the important successes of local organizations like the Norristown Men of Excellence and the Carver Community Center. More importantly, families from surrounding communities like East Norriton, West Norriton, King of Prussia, Blue Bell, and Plymouth Meeting have the power to break out of their racial isolation to make the region an inclusive place for all people. This coalition is the only possibility for a peaceful and prosperous summer – in Pennsylvania and across the United States.

Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (www.icmetrogrowth.com). Contact him through Twitter (@worldprofessor) or by email (wgreason@monmouth.edu).

We must do the work to earn the celebration.We must do the work to earn the celebration.