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Journal ArticleDOI

Blacks in Niagara Falls: Leaders and Community Development, 1850–1985

01 Mar 2023-The Journal of American History (The Journal of American History)-Vol. 109, Iss: 4, pp 945-945
TL;DR: In this paper , Boston reconstructs the journey of several migrants to Niagara Falls and details the expanded employment opportunities that awaited them, and argues that the growing population of Black migrants accelerated existing patterns of racial inequality and exacerbated the schisms within Black leadership.
Abstract: Michael B. Boston's ambitious book, Blacks in Niagara Falls, complements a growing list of community studies of African American migration, leadership, protest, and community formation in a northern city. Although Boston fails to offer an engaging thesis, he demonstrates that, despite their small population, Black people, who resided in Niagara Falls since the antebellum era, fought vigorously for equal rights. The city's Black population, which numbered only 344 in 1900, established community institutions, a local newspaper, churches, and an energetic leadership class. Black Niagarans regarded themselves as part of the broader struggle for full equality in the United States. Niagara's Black community expanded significantly during World War II, mirroring the migration pattern of hundreds of urban communities, as Black wartime migrants sought greater freedom and employment in wartime defense industries. Boston reconstructs the journey of several migrants to Niagara Falls and details the expanded employment opportunities that awaited them. Boston argues that the growing population of Black migrants to Niagara Falls accelerated existing patterns of racial inequality and exacerbated the schisms within Black leadership. Most Black Niagarans were unskilled laborers, following the familiar pattern of Black wartime migration to other northern cities. Nevertheless, the expanding Black middle and professional class dominated the community's leadership by the 1950s and early 1960s, and these leaders served as liaisons between the Black and white community. Residential concentration and housing discrimination also grew more intense as the Black population expanded. Although Niagara Falls never developed a ghetto, Black people were concentrated in several residential areas with limited access to better housing. Niagara Falls's schools also achieved little racial balance, and two public schools had Black enrollments of 80 percent and 99 percent as late as 1968. Attempts to achieve a semblance of racial balance in public schools through bussing were vehemently opposed by most white parents. Niagara Falls resembled a moderate southern city such as Greensboro, North Carolina, which expressed support for integrating its public schools following the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 but failed to fully integrate them for three decades.