Abstract: Always a Fight and a Question: Corporate Philanthropy, Community Activism, and Machine Politics in the Long Urban Crisis

Julia Rabig


In 1967, Newark, New Jersey, experienced one of the most destructive urban uprisings of the 1960s. And yet, in the years that followed, Newark residents forged new alliances with which they confronted their city's crisis. Newark's first-generation community development corporations (CDCs) emerged out of this period of both creative ferment and desperation at the intersection of the civil rights, black power, and antipoverty movements. Between 1970 and 1990, Newark's first-generation CDCs became an established force in the urban political economy. Grassroots activists received measured praise from the city's corporations as they built low-income housing, expanded social services, and unrolled new businesses in neglected neighborhoods. At the same time, some CDC leaders clashed with former allies in both municipal government and the private sector over the kinds of business development that would substantially improve residents' lives. These debates culminated with attempts—some initiated by the grassroots, others lavishly funded by foundations—to foster collaborations between Newark's nonprofit and corporate sectors and to rectify the groups' often-hostile relationships with municipal officials. Yet, as one foundation executive found, cooperation on the massive scale Newark required was "always a fight and a question." My paper bridges a gap in late twentieth-century historiography by analyzing the grassroots organizing, corporate strategizing, and municipal politicking that surged in the shadow of the New Federalism and shaped neoliberal economic development policies on the ground.