Counter-Capital: Black Power, The New Left, and the Struggle to Remake Washington, D.C. From Below, 1964-1994

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"Counter-Capital: Black Power, the New Left, and the Struggle to Remake Washington, D.C. From Below, 1964-1994” traces how grassroots organizers in the nation’s capital fought for greater control over the city and its future between the War on Poverty and rise of neoliberal austerity, helping to shape its recent past and present. Comprising a set of linked case studies, it explores how a generation of activists forged in the crucibles of the Black freedom struggle and resistance to the Vietnam war responded locally to redevelopment schemes, planned inner-city freeways, nascent gentrification, and an exponential rise in homelessness from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. The campaigns they waged brought them into confrontation with federal administrators, legislators, mayors, and even the president. They also led to moments of collaboration with the state, altering the course of urban and social policy locally and nationally and contributing to the growth of community development and direct service approaches. Going beyond the boundaries of policymaking, the radicals it follows fostered emancipatory and participatory visions for the District and urban life more generally rooted in their movement ideals, ones which remain instructive even as they encountered obstacles to their full realization.

Drawing on a diverse array of archival materials including organizational newsletters, meeting minutes, event flyers, campaign brochures, and correspondence; underground press and community papers alongside mainstream news outlets; documentary film and preserved footage; and oral histories and personal interviews, “Counter-Capital” contributes to debates in the fields of African American, social movement, and urban history. The project is further animated by and participates in discussions taking place across the correlating interdisciplinary fields of African American studies, American studies, and urban studies, bringing aspects of these fields that don’t always speak to one another into closer conversation. Laboring at these intersections, it shows how sustained attention to space—and specific places—can reframe the historiography of Black Power and the New Left and how centering activists and their campaigns expands the literature on Washington while troubling conventions in the composite portrait of late 20th C. US cities.