Thomas Sugrue: Talks about his upcoming book, Sweet Land of Liberty

Historians in the News

While Tom Sugrue, Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Professor of History and Sociology, was researching his award-winning book The Origins of the Urban Crisis, he found the inspiration for yet another untold American story. In Origins, Sugrue offers an important new perspective on the economic decline in Detroit and other industrial cities since World War II. One of the major issues he explores is how residential segregation, economic transformation and discrimination in the workplace constrained opportunities for African Americans in Northern cities in the mid to late 20th century. He realized, however, that the history of how African Americans and their allies challenged and resisted these developments was largely unknown.

“I decided to look at the ways in which these major changes that were transforming mid-20th-century America didn’t go uncontested,” Sugrue says.

The result is his upcoming book, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North. Sugrue, a self-acknowledged “archive hound,” exhaustively researched a variety of sources including African-American newspapers, government investigative reports, records of civil rights organizations and letters “to put flesh on the bones of this forgotten history.”

Scheduled to be published by Random House this fall, Sweet Land of Liberty depicts a fight for civil rights in the North that was as complex and ferocious as the highly publicized battles in the South. He also argues that to understand the continuing legacy of the fight for civil rights, it’s vital to look at the North’s as well as the South’s successes and failures in addressing racial inequality.

Sugrue says, “We really need to put the North front and center in terms of understanding the situation of America today.”...

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