Houston and Commercial Desegregation

Monday, December 19, 2005

My recent mention of Morgan Freeman's annoyance with Black History Month reminded me indirectly of an article (Scroll down to Joel Kotkin's "A Tale of Two Cities".) I encountered about Houston. It is notable first of all for its succinct comparison of the two Gulf Coast cities that starred in this year's months-long hurricane miniseries, and second for its mention of the way that Houston succeeded in integrating peacefully back in the early 1960's.

The following paragraphs tie both of these themes together.

Under very different management, Houston long ago surpassed New Orleans, and now boasts a population more than three times larger, and a vastly more dynamic economy. During the 1990s, the Texas city grew almost six times faster than greater New Orleans. It flourished as a major destination for immigrants, particularly from Latin America.

One clear area of success has been race. Like New Orleans, Houston was a Southern city with a history of racial discrimination. But in the early 1960s the city decided to desegregate. It did so not as much for moral reasons as because it was perceived to be bad for business.

That phrase, "bad for business," is close to a curse in Houston. Business drive and the search for a better economic future has sustained this city through boom times and crashes, notably the disastrous energy bust of the 1980s. Because of the economic flexibility of the locals, even that disaster was turned into a boon. Collapsed property prices and lots of available space lured hundreds of thousands of new immigrants to the city, sparking a durable new revival, recalls Houston architect Tim Cisnero, whose clients include Mexican, African, Chinese, and Indian entrepreneurs.
That bit about Houston desegregating (and mostly peacefully) because segregation was "bad for business" reminded me further of a very well-done documentary I saw several years ago about that very story.

Back when I was in grad school, I was lucky enough to see one of the first public screenings of The Strange Demise of Jim Crow at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. This capsule summarizes it well enough, though it does not do the film justice: "Eldrewey Stearns and other participants reveal the behind-the-scenes compromises, negotiations, and the controversial news black-outs which helped bring about the quiet desegregation of commercial establishments in Houston, Texas between 1959 and 1963." The entire film can be viewed over the internet from the site I link to at the movie title. I highly recommend it because it is very interesting and because it provides a concrete example of capitalism helping to cure racism, as George Reisman might put it.

-- CAV

6 comments:

zama202 said...

Sorry for the off topic post but I would be interested in your take on the Australian riots given the information in this article written by a retired Australian police detective. It is truly frightening.

Multiculturism run wild.

http://www.quadrant.org.au/php/archive_details_list.php?article_id=581

Gus Van Horn said...

Zama,

On a quick reading, this seems consistent with what I posted here, especially in the PS.

It is well-known that lax law enforcement encourages crime. What we have now is multiculturalism, which is basically the notion that Western culture is "oppressive" calling for the excuse of criminal acts by urban youths strongly influenced by nihilistic modern culture and the warlike impulses of militant Islam. Lawlessness quickly transmutes into rebellion in such an atmosphere.

The cop nails it when he says the following:

"There is also the serious possibility that some of these Middle Eastern youth that are engaged in organised crime and have no regard for our values and way of life may go a step further and engage in terrorist acts against Australia. The ingredients are there already. It is but a small step from urban terrorism to religious and political terrorism, as we have seen with groups such as the IRA, where organised crime often became interwoven with terrorism."

Gus

zama202 said...

Excellent. Thanks.

What are the chances that something similar could happen here?

Gus Van Horn said...

Zama,

Hmmm. Holy "ticking bomb", batman! That was quick.

Not a regular reader here, I gather. I discussed that a little bit here.

Hope that helps.

Gus

zama202 said...

Thanks, that was just what I wanted to read. Its true, I just discovered your blog and have read about 10 or so posts. Its great. I have made it one of my favorites.

Gus Van Horn said...

Zama,

Welcome aboard, then! I'm always glad to see new readers here.

Thanks!

Gus