|89 percent white in 1950, Camden is 4.9 percent white today.|
In "Beyond the Ruins: The Meaning of Industrialization" we are offered a peak into the decline of white Camden (remember: the city was 89 percent white in 1940; 78 percent white in 1950; 59 percent white in 1970; today, it's 4.9 percent white)
Most accounts of urban decline have emphasized white flight, but have underestimated the ill effects of politicians dealing ineptly with growing minority populations. African Americans had lived in a largely contained area of South Camden as far back as the 1830s. As employment opportunities grew during World War II, their numbers increased dramatically following the pattern of most northern industrial centers. Even then, labor shortages encouraged Campbell's, among other companies, to import workers from Puerto Rico. By the late 1950s, these newcomers were facing the dual problems of declining opportunities for manual labor and increasingly crowded and inadequate housing conditions in the few segregated areas available for their residence... redevelopment plans worsened the situation by calling for uprooting as many as 14,000 mostly minority residents to make way for highways, new commercial facilities, and modern housing. Inevitably, these efforts provoked resistance, which grew increasingly militant in coincidence with the emerging black power movement. Determined to execute policies he believed were essential to the city's financial stability, [Mayor Al] Pierce (who thought he was destined to "save his city" -- a vision he had while flying aircraft over Germany during World War II) directed his police department to root out his opposition. Not only did efforts to convict black activists and their white religious supporters under phony charges get thrown out in court, a civil rights coalition managed to bring redevelopment to a halt through court action. (p. 146)
The mayor who replaced Pierce -- who failed in his religious vision of saving the city -- was Angelo Errichetti, who had this to say about the city he inherited (after large scale racial violence/riots by non-whites convinced whites it was time to abandon the city):
... the situation he inherited in 1973 was dire. Graphically describing his view of his native city as he made his way through the old [white] ethnic neighborhoods toward City Hall for his first day of work, he said: "It looked like the Vietcong bombed us to get even. The pride of Camden... was now a rat-infested skeleton of yesterday, a visible obscenity of urban decay... The years of neglect, slumlord exploitation, tenant abuse, government bungling, indecision and short-sighted policy had transformed the city's housing, business and industrial stock into a ravaged, rat-infested cancer on a sick, old industrial city." (p. 147)No, it was the importation of Puerto Ricans via Campbell' Soup to work as cheap labor and the migration of black people north to work in industrial yards that destroyed the quality fabric white people had sewn together as a 'community' in Camden -- it was diversity that unraveled the city.
The conditions white people created in Camden attracted non-whites to the city; the conditions non-whites in the city convinced white people it was time to abandon their city.
Today -- this is the story of a Camden, a 95 percent non-white city [America's 'invincible' city brought to its knees by poverty, violence, NBC News, 3-7-13]:
Inscribed on the walls of City Hall are the words of Walt Whitman, the great American poet who spent his final years in this city: “In a dream I saw a city invincible.”
But the decades since have not been kind to Camden. Today it is the poorest in the nation.
Directly in the shadow of the glittering skyline of Philadelphia, Camden has long suffered the indignities that poverty breeds. A drive through the streets of the 9-square mile city reveals a moonscape of crumbling infrastructure and abandoned homes, nearly 4,000 in all.
“I always think of Camden as the best visual aid in America to see what has gone wrong and what is going wrong,” said Father Michael Doyle, who has been serving the city’s poor from his Sacred Heart Church for more than 40 years.
Camden was once a manufacturing boomtown, home to RCA Victor, Campbell’s Soup and the biggest shipbuilding company in the world. But once industrial jobs began drying up decades ago – as they did in so many other cities across the United States – many people left for greener pastures.
Then came a crushing blow: the race riots of 1969 and 1971, which left the city mortally wounded. In the decades that followed, civic corruption and mismanagement rendered Camden increasingly poor and violent. Three mayors have been indicted in the past few decades, adding to the sense of hopeless among residents.
Last year was the bloodiest in Camden’s history; the city of just 77,000 had 67 homicides. On average someone was shot every 33 hours.
“It was a tough, tough year,” said Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson. “And for a city as hardened as Camden is and has become over time, it buckled the city to its knees.”
Distraught over the level of violence, the community erected crosses on the lawn of City Hall to try and draw attention to the crisis.
Thomson said crime rates have gone up because he has fewer cops. In early 2011, unable to fund its obligations, the city cut the police department in half, leaving roughly 200 officers to police one of the most violent cities in the country.
Chrissy Rodriguez, who lives on one of the most violent streets in the city, worries about her two young boys constantly.
“My kids don't get to go outside. They don't get to play,” said Rodriguez. “And I'm not gonna let them ride a bike down the street … in the afternoon. People are getting shot.”
But it’s hard for people like Rodriguez to scrape together enough funds to leave. Roughly 30 to 40 percent of Camden’s citizens are out of work. Rodriguez has only been able to find a part-time job, which brings in about $700 a month.
About 42 percent of Camden’s population lives below the poverty line, with the average income hovering around $26,000 a year. That is in stark contrast to the rest of New Jersey, where the average household income is $71,000 a year — the third highest in the nation.
“America has decided to concentrate its poor,” said Father Doyle. “The wall around Camden is very high, it’s an economic wall. You can’t get over it.”
The “walls” of Camden hold in a population that is 48 percent black and 47 percent Hispanic.
The city is trying to revitalize. Old buildings along the waterfront have been turned into luxury condos. Cooper Hospital and Rutgers University have created stability on handfuls of blocks. And recently Cooper opened a medical school. Still, the main industry remains the drug trade and it’s been so bad for so many years that the city’s tragedies often seem to go unnoticed.
Recently, a former citizen of the city paid for a billboard near the Camden exit off I-676 that read, “Say something nice about Camden.”There were plenty of nice things to say about Camden when it was a white city -- it's now a present image of America's future, a glimpse of a city devoid of 'white privilege' and replete with the resplendent affirmation of black and brown power.
Corporate America and the church protected - and perpetuated - the destruction of white Camden.Black and brown crime then destroyed the Camden whites had abandoned. In "Camden After the Fall: Decline and Renewal in a Post-Industrial City" by Howard Gillette, we learn:
African Americans, whose presence was always limited in heavy industry, were less affected, but as their number continued to grow, they competed with whites for housing. Workers congregating in older and thus more affordable housing located near the city's industrial core had reason enough to leave when they lost jobs. Pressures to sell their homes gave them one more excuse to leave, however attached they might have been to their old neighborhood. During the 1960s another 28,000 whites left Camden. now, clearly, economic change was contributing to the metropolitan area's demographic shift, even before the civil disturbance of 191.Camden once was one of America's great cities, the birthplace of Campbell's Soup. But when the white population that built and sustained the civilization there was displaced (by Campbell's Soup importing Puerto Ricans - cheap labor - and the migration of largely unemployable blacks), Camden reverted to the type of civilization its new inhabitants could maintain.
Industrial employment continued to decline in the 1970s, though not as rapidly as white flight rose. By the end of the decade, two features stood out: Camden could no longer be considered a manufacturing center, nor was it a predominately white working-class city. For the first time, whites no longer constituted a majority of Camden but just over 30 percent.
To the degree that racial and economic change were conflated in the public mind, subsequent reports of rising crime and social disorder, or what the Manhattan Institute's Fred Siegel calls "rolling riots," sealed the city's reputation as an undesirable place. (p. 43-44)
Camden 2013 is a reminder of what transpires in the absence of whiteness.