“Our Succulent Middle Class”: African-American Country Clubs and the Black Bourgeoisie


Sportsmans Golf July 18 1970

In July, 1970 Sportsman’s Club supporter and pro football player Leroy Kelly joined a group of golfers at the club’s nine-hole course.

In April, 1969 James Saint Clair Gibson reported on the opening of the Sportsman’s Club, a country club being built by African-American investors in the city’s northwestern suburbs.  Gibson contributed columns to the Indianapolis Recorder from 1936 until his death in 1978, often writing under his pen name of “The Saint” and dispensing acerbic commentary about life in African-American Indianapolis.  Gibson’s report on the Sportsman’s Club  inventoried its promised offerings of swimming pools, tennis courts, and golf links, but Gibson could not pass up a comment on the club’s apparent exclusivity, observing that memberships cost “$$$$ (hundreds) per year, and according to what we hear—they are being gobbled up right and left by our succulent (?) middle-class.”

The Sportsman’s Club aspired to provide a cross-class, multiethnic social club.  However, Gibson perhaps captured his readership’s wariness of exclusive country clubs, which were segregated along class lines and had historically been places where African Americans performed service labor.  The caricature of White hyper-wealthy clubs may have made the notion of a predominately Black club seem especially archaic at a moment when many once-segregated citizen rights were being transformed.  Perhaps the most unsettling implication was that the club illuminated the reaches of American life that remained utterly segregated.  Country clubs would indeed be one of the last bastions of segregation long after other spaces and citizen rights were effectively integrated. Continue reading

Imagining the Black Suburbs: Homogeneity and African American Suburbia

 This originally appeared June 16 2014 on Archaeology and Material Culture

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Heritage and the African-American Suburbs

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.