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The story of white flight and the neglect of black urban neighborhoods has been well told by urban historians in recent decades. Yet much of this scholarship has downplayed black agency and tended to portray African Americans as victims of structural forces beyond their control. In this history of Cleveland's black middle class, Todd Michney uncovers the creative ways that members of this nascent community established footholds in areas outside the overcrowded, inner-city neighborhoods to which most African Americans were consigned. In asserting their right to these outer-city spaces, African Americans appealed to city officials, allied with politically progressive whites (notably Jewish activists), and relied upon both black and white developers and real estate agents to expand these "surrogate suburbs" and maintain their livability until the bona fide suburbs became more accessible.
By tracking the trajectories of those who, in spite of racism, were able to succeed, Michney offers a valuable counterweight to histories that have focused on racial conflict and black poverty and tells the neglected story of the black middle class in America's cities prior to the 1960s.