This originally appeared June 16 2014 on Archaeology and Material Culture
The Levey family posed in front of a Levittown home in New York in 1949.
The postwar suburb seems painted in our collective imagination as a White nuclear family standing proudly in front of a standardized tract home and a chrome-accented American car. Fortunately a rich scholarship on postwar suburbia has complicated or utterly unraveled that and many other suburban stereotypes, underscoring the material, social, and historical diversity of suburban landscapes: we know suburbia included a multitude of architectural forms beyond the interchangeable Levittown box; the roots of the suburbs reach well into the 19th century; working-class families predominated; and we are paying increasingly more attention to the suburban experience along the color line.
This blog and syllabus are for “Heritage and the African-American Suburbs,” a course to be taught at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) in Spring 2016. The class will examine the historical legacy of African-American suburbanization and the contemporary meanings of that history. Students in the course will conduct ethnographic, historical, and material analysis of African-American suburbanization in Indianapolis, Indiana and assess the consequence of that heritage on our broader understanding of the Black experience and American history. The course will partner with elder suburbanites, conducting oral histories and primary historical research on Indianapolis’ earliest predominately and exclusively African-American suburbs.
The course will focus on the heritage of a series of predominately or exclusively African-American communities, including Flanner House Homes (near-Westside), Augusta Way (Washington Township), and Kingsley Terrace (eastside). Many of the earliest African-American suburbanites in Indianapolis are now elders whose own accounts risk being lost without research that expressly focuses on their postwar experience. The course will produce histories of several Indianapolis neighborhoods that are based on ethnographic interviews with suburban residents and historical research on those communities, and that research will be shared on this course blog.
“Heritage and the African-American Suburbs” is a RISE Undergraduate Research Experience Course. The class development began in Summer 2015 with support from an IUPUI RISE Curriculum Development Grant. RISE courses focus on one of four areas: research, international experiences, service learning, and experiential learning. This course’s partnership between students and African-American suburbanites revolves around the RISE initiative’s experiential learning dimension. Students are expected to develop a clear understanding of the American suburban experience by studying postwar housing laws, reading contemporary discussions on housing, and listening to suburbanites who were part of this process. The course’s public scholarship is meant to address racist heritage that continue to shape the contemporary landscape.