How the urban past is curated is always a contentious process. This is especially true in the case of already politicised spaces such as the ‘inner city’, where urban decline was presented by politicians and the media (and some sociologists) as a ‘race problem’.
The project examines how, by whom and for what purposes the twentieth century ‘inner city’ is remembered, curated and represented. The project is international in scope and focuses on sites in London (Brixton), Paris (La Goutte d’Or / Château Rouge) and Philadelphia (the historic ‘Seventh Ward’, the location for W.E.B. Du Bois’ famous study The Philadelphia Negro). In each case, the resonance and influence of place—as historic centres of black urban life—transcends locality and extends beyond the city.
This project will not produce an archive itself, nor will it seek to narrate urban history. Rather it seeks to understand the contested ways that the times and spaces of the ‘inner city’ are made legible today in cities that are, at the same time, being shaped by political economic processes of gentrification, heritagisation and tourism. The project is led by Gareth Millington and the researchers are Miranda Armstrong, Aurélien Mokoko-Gampiot, Ayshka Sené, Irteza Mohyuddin, Sophie Rainbow and Austin Cooper.
Brixton was an important settlement for migrants from the Caribbean in the decades following the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury in 1948. During this period, Brixton gained a reputation as the spiritual home of Caribbean settlement in the United Kingdom. In the 1980s, Brixton was one of many British inner cities that experienced uprisings, often sparked by police brutality, that were the result of high youth unemployment and discrimination in many areas of life such as education, employment and housing.
La Goutte d'Or / Château Rouge, Paris
It is the banlieues or suburbs of French cities that are usually associated with migration, discrimination and resistance, but central locales such as La Goutte d’Or and Château Rouge—known as quartiers populaires (a French term that echoes that of the inner city)—are also important, if less studied sites. For example, in 1996—in what became an international news story—the Church of Saint-Bernard in Goutte d’Or provided refuge to 200 sans-papier migrants from Mali; who, after two months, were forcibly removed by police and deported from France.
Seventh Ward, Philadelphia
In 1899 W.E.B. Du Bois published The Philadelphia Negro, a landmark sociological text based upon a survey of African Americans living in the Seventh Ward, an area located just to the south of central Philadelphia. Critical labour shortages during and after WWI drew thousands more black people from the South to the city’s Seventh Ward. A second, far larger Great Migration occurred after World War II, almost tripling the African American population of the city by 1970.