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Race, public transit, and automobility in World War II Detroit

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Title: Race, public transit, and automobility in World War II Detroit
Author(s): Frohardt-Lane, Sarah K.
Director of Research: Roediger, David R.; Leff, Mark H.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Roediger, David R.; Leff, Mark H.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Barrett, James R.; Crummey, Donald E.
Department / Program: History
Discipline: History
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): African Americans Resource Shortages Public Transportation Automobiles Detroit Public Space Race Conservation Gasoline Rubber World War II
Abstract: This dissertation examines the decline of public transportation and rise of automobile use in the United States from the perspectives of social and environmental history. Through a case study of Detroit, the dissertation argues that World War II reinforced a culture of driving and set the stage for mass abandonment of public transportation in the post-war era. Even as wartime resource shortages exposed the vulnerabilities of car-centered societies, riders’ experiences on public transit and whites’ increasingly strong associations of streetcars and buses with black bodies worked against efforts to create long-term alternatives to private car use. Understanding the significance of World War II in shaping Americans’ mobility requires exploration of wartime transformations in everyday travel, as well as how government agencies and private corporations depicted these changes. The first part of this dissertation explores the effects of wartime resource shortages on Detroit’s public transit system. As buses and streetcars became extremely overcrowded, and service unreliable, racial tensions on board mounted. Public transit vehicles became common sites of racial conflicts. The second part of the dissertation examines automobility in the war and immediate postwar era. Government propaganda and private advertisements portrayed driving as fundamental to the American way of life and upheld the white male driver as a symbol of freedom for which the United States was fighting. At the same time, federal programs to limit rubber and gasoline use promoted driving as patriotic and essential to the war effort.
Issue Date: 2011-05-25
Rights Information: Copyright 2011 Sarah K. Frohardt-Lane
Date Available in IDEALS: 2011-05-25
Date Deposited: 2011-05

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