Strangers in the Land of Paradise

Strangers in the Land of Paradise

Creation of an African American Community in Buffalo, New York, 1900-1940
Lillian Serece Williams
Distribution: World
Publication date: 07/22/2000
Format: Paperback 40 b&w photos, 12 figures, 5 maps
ISBN: 978-0-253-21408-9
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Description

... will make a splendid contribution to the fields of African-American and American urban, social and family history.... expanding the tradition that is now well underway of refuting the pathological emphasis of the prevailing ghetto studies of the 1960s and '70s."
—Joe W. Trotter

Strangers in the Land of Paradise examines the creation of an African American community as a distinct cultural entity. It delineates values and institutions that the black migrant population brought with it from the South, as well as those that evolved as a result of their interaction with blacks native to the city and the city itself. Through an examination of work, family, community organizations, and political actions, Lillian Williams explores the process by which the migrants adapted to their new environment.

The lives of African Americans in Buffalo from 1900-1940 reveal much about race, class, and gender in the development of urban communities. Black migrant workers transformed the landscape by their mere presence, but for the most part they could not rise beyond the lowest entry level positions. For African American women the occupational structure was even more restricted, however eventually both men and women increased their earning power and that—over time—improved their lives and that of their loved ones.

Migration also made more visible the class differences in the African American community. With the movement of the black Southerners to Buffalo, African Americans experienced greater restrictions on their freedom. This became a source of friction because "old" black Buffalo families often perceived the newcomers and their "country ways" to be the cause of these indignities. Nevertheless, racial solidarity and common needs soon smoothed over these differences. Despite upheavals arising from in-migration, and an increase in both racial prejudice and social problems, the black migrant population brought with it from the South the strength and vitality w

Author Bio

Lillian Serece Williams is Chair of African American Studies at the University of Buffalo, State University of New York.

Reviews

“"Williams brings a fine balance to her work, revealing a group composed of people whose lives, institutions, and struggle for acceptance, achievement, and advancement mirrored the struggles of so many others." —Choice Strangers in the Land of Paradise examines the creation of an African American community as a distinct cultural entity. It delineates values and institutions that the black migrant population brought with it from the South, as well as those that evolved as a result of their interaction with blacks native to the city and the city itself.”

“[A] fine book, and one that significantly enhances our understanding of the processes of gender, community building and the struggle for equality and dignity that African Americans in Buffalo waged between 1900 and 1940.August 2002”
 — Urban History

“The small but long-lived African American community of Buffalo, New York, grew from free blacks and runaway slaves in the years before the Civil War and then increased in number with migrants from the rural South with the coming of WW I. This standard background serves as the basis for Williams's solid and scholarly exploration of how newer migrants coming to benefit from industrialization collided with the earlier settlers. There was at once a sense of responsibility to look after and yet also keep a distance from uncultured and rustic kinsmen. This finely nuanced study evokes class and status divisions within the African American neighborhoods while presenting readers with the omnipresent role of the black church as a cohesive force among the divisive elements tearing at the community. Black clergy and the social elite served an important leadership role in preserving a sense of dignity and fighting for civil rights, despite the fact that the same leadership might split on whether or not to endorse Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Williams brings a fine balance to her work, revealing a group composed of people whose lives, institutions, and struggle for acceptance, achievement, and advancement mirrored the struggles of so many others. Upper-division undergraduates and above.”
 — J. Kleiman, University of Wisconsin Colleges , 2000jan CHOICE.

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