Illuminating the class issues that shaped the racial uplift
movement, Toure Reed explores the ideology and policies of the
national, New York, and Chicago Urban Leagues during the first half
of the twentieth century. Reed argues that racial uplift in the
Urban League reflected many of the class biases pervading
contemporaneous social reform movements, resulting in an emphasis
on behavioral, rather than structural, remedies to the
disadvantages faced by Afro-Americans.
Reed traces the Urban League's ideology to the famed Chicago School
of Sociology. The Chicago School offered Leaguers powerful
scientific tools with which to foil the thrust of eugenics.
However, Reed argues, concepts such as ethnic cycle and social
disorganization and reorganization led the League to embrace
behavioral models of uplift that reflected a deep circumspection
about poor Afro-Americans and fostered a preoccupation with the
needs of middle-class blacks. According to Reed, the League's
reform endeavors from the migration era through World War II
oscillated between projects to "adjust" or even "contain"
unacculturated Afro-Americans and projects intended to enhance the
status of the Afro-American middle class. Reed's analysis
complicates the mainstream account of how particular class concerns
and ideological influences shaped the League's vision of group
advancement as well as the consequences of its endeavors.