Lessons of the Fever: Disease, Development and Disfranchisement in the New South City
My next book project, Lessons of the Fever: Disease, Development and Disfranchisement in the New South City, explores how the language of disease was marshaled to justify disfranchisement in Jacksonville, Florida. Like most southern cities, Jacksonville endured recurrent epidemics of yellow fever, a disease that both stunted economic development across the region and killed thousands of southerners throughout the nineteenth century. With only an incomplete understanding of the causes of the disease, Jacksonville’s public health reformers identified the city’s outlying black suburbs as miasmatic vectors of infection, they moved to annex them in 1887. In so doing, they sought to extend their authority over what they saw as sources of disease and disorder in order to secure the city as a site for both tourism and investment.
However, the annexation transformed Jacksonville into a majority-black city, allowing black Jacksonvilleans to ally with the bi-racial Knights of Labor and win several seats in the new city council. This attempt at interracial democracy would not survive the year. In the midst of a deadly 1888 yellow fever epidemic, the deposed sanitarians reorganized themselves as the Jacksonville Auxiliary Sanitary Association, which became the vehicle for their return to power. Blaming the epidemic on a racialized understanding of urban disorder, the Sanitary Association convinced the legislature to replace the city council with an appointed, all-white city commission. Thus, in the name of defending white health and white supremacy, Jacksonville’s public health crusaders imposed their control on the city. Home rule would not return to Jacksonville until 1893, after black political power had been safely quarantined behind the poll tax.
To secure both white health and white supremacy, southern sanitarians linked the establishment of the modern sanitary city – replete with waterworks, sewage systems and paved streets – to the disfranchisement of African Americans. Lessons will explain how the golden era of public health also became the years in which Jim Crow began its strange career.
Hard Work: A History of Sanitation Workers and the Teamsters
Hard Work is part of a series popular histories written for rank-and-file members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. This installment covers the history of Teamsters organizing among sanitation workers. Hard Work offers three main narratives. First, through tracing the histories of New York’s Local 831 and San Francisco’s Local 350, Hard Work compares and contrasts public and private sector organizing strategies through the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935 and the spread of public sector organizing rights in the 1950s and 60s, especially at the municipal level. Second, the book also traces how the changing waste collection technologies such as the introduction of motorized garbage trucks in the 1920s, compacting garbage trucks in the 1930s, and the plastic trash bag in the 1960s change the nature of sanitation work. Finally, Hard Work places sanitation work in the context of the post-WWII urban history from the suburban building boom in the 1950s and 60s through the fiscal crisis of the 1970s and the current age of austerity. The book concludes with a discussion of the Teamsters’ current efforts to organize today’s major private-sector sold waste haulers through coordinated national campaigns targeting BFI, Allied/Republic and Waste Management, exploring recent significant victories in the suburbs of Atlanta and Chicago as well as among recycling workers in California.
“If it Snaps Heart Strings”: Race, Respectability and Black Balance of Power Politics after the Brownsville Affray
In September of 1907, W. E. B. Du Bois called on “the 500,000 free black voters of the North [to] use [their] ballots to defeat Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, or any man named by the present political dictatorship. Better vote for avowed enemies than for false friends.” What prompted Du Bois to break with the Republican Party was President Roosevelt’s 1906 decision to dismiss without honor all 167 black soldiers of the First Battalion, Twenty-Fifth Infantry for an alleged armed assault on the citizens of Brownsville, Texas. In reaction to the president’s decision, Du Bois and other black leaders nationwide called on African American voters to punish the GOP at the polls in 1908.
Ultimately, a generation before the Pittsburgh Courier’s Robert L. Vann would famously advise black voters to “turn Lincoln’s picture to the wall,” and leave the Party of Lincoln, Du Bois supported Democrat William Jennings Bryan for president in 1908. Four years later, he would endorse Woodrow Wilson. However, unlike Vann, Du Bois was not urging African Americans to defect to the Democratic Party; rather, he was attempting to establish the ground for an independent black politics. By 1908, he would theorize a genuine electoral balance of power held by northern black voters, around which a realignment of the party system could occur. However, before that could happen, African Americans would have to liberate themselves from generations of fealty to the Republican Party by making race visible in politics, which was made difficult by a culturally powerful politics of respectability. This article will argue that, not only did the politics of respectability cement black loyalty to the GOP; it also profoundly inhibited ideas of black political independence in the early twentieth century.
 W. E. B. Bois, “Niagara” in The Horizon: A Journal of the Color Line 2 (September 1907): 3-6, 8-10.