Cities After the 1960s-- Where Have All the Promises Gone?




Wilkins, Roger

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School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution


The promise for the cities in the 1960s was that America had taken an honest look at its racial history. The country was rich then and growing and vital. Some people thought that America had experienced a profound change of heart and that justice could be purchased with our bountiful growth. We were then experiencing a continual period of low inflation, low unemployment, and steadily growing gross national product. I remember I was upbraided once after I had given a speech by a man who said, ‘We will have justice out of growth. America is never a zero-sum game. We will always grow. Out of our bounty, we will have justice.’ Well, unfortunately it did not turn out that way. Some of us had strong suspicions-Jim and I, Wally Warfield among them-that there was less promise and more foreboding in our sixties experiences. From the things that we had seen in the cities all across the country, I had profound doubts that the humane trajectory of the early sixties could be sustained in the cauldrons of despair deep in our inner cities. There was too much animosity toward the people there. There was too much poverty. There was too much human devastation. And, there was too little will and money to be marshaled against those things. So, I left the federal government almost exactly 25 years ago, making the same warnings in speech after speech. There were really two warnings. First, if we do not change our national investment patterns, our cities will become blacker and poorer, and that will be a disaster for our nation. Second, if we continue to treat people like savages, they will become savages, and raising groups of savages in the middle of the central points of growth and renewal of a culture is a wonderful way for a civilization to commit suicide. Now, 25 years later, the forebodings have clearly outdistanced the promise.