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Chocolate to Rainbow City: the dialectics of black and gay community formation in postwar Washington, D.C., 1946-1978

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Title: Chocolate to Rainbow City: the dialectics of black and gay community formation in postwar Washington, D.C., 1946-1978
Author(s): Holmes, Kwame A.
Director of Research: Barrett, James R.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Barrett, James R.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Burton, Orville V.; Somerville, Siobhan; D'Emilio, John
Department / Program: History
Discipline: History
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): American History Urban History African American Studies Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT) Studies Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT)
Abstract: This dissertation historicizes popular assumptions which frame “black” and “gay” as exclusive urban identities and which brand black urban communities as embodiments of economic failure, disorderly heterosexuality and criminality and gay communities as embodiments of economic success, safety, urban renewal and whiteness. In order to denaturalize these assumptions my dissertation explores the material, political and discursive processes through which two adjacent Washington, D.C. geographies, Shaw and DuPont Circle, came to be understood as “black” and “gay” neighborhoods between the end of World War II and the 1978 mayoral election. The racial and sexual complexity of the populations who lived and traveled through DuPont Circle and Shaw in these years belie the ease with which Washingtonians map and inscribe homogenous racial and sexual identities onto them in the present day. I argue that the social movements formed by black and gay activists after World War II to combat both institutional structures of oppression and stigmatizing discourses that justified oppression became stages for redefinitions of the public meaning of “black” and “gay” in the urban context. As postwar logics of mass consumption and commodification came to dominate the way Americans understood the difference between citizens and non-citizens, black and gay movements used claims to particular neighborhoods to rebrand themselves as deserving participants in American life. However, severe economic stratification between the neighborhoods where “black” and “gay” identities were inscribed made activist coalition between black and gay movements impossible and contributed to popular notions that blackness and gayness operated on the urban landscape in oppositional ways. While there may have been an opportunity for black and gay movements to work together, the politicization of the urban landscape as well as the intensification of racial and economic stratification in the postwar era necessarily limited the kinds of narratives black and gay social movements could tell about who belonged within their political constituency or who was truly “black” or “gay.” This project then is less concerned with black and gay activism or agency around specific institutional oppressions. Instead, my dissertation interrogates the possibilities and limitations for stigmatized urban groups to rewrite public discourses that blamed them for the decline of the American city.
Issue Date: 2011-08-26
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/26383
Rights Information: Copyright 2011 Kwame A. Holmes
Date Available in IDEALS: 2013-08-27
Date Deposited: 2011-08
 

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