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Thompson, Whose Detroit: Politics, Labor, and Race in a Modern American City (Cornell University Press, 2000)

From Library Journal:

Using as a pivot the spectacular riots that gripped Detroit in July 1967, Thompson (history, Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte) casts the Motor City turned murder capital as a symbol of America’s post-1945 urban crisis. She traces Detroit’s fragmented civic, labor, and racial politics from the 1930s through the 1980s to argue that more than black-white racial polarization determined the transformation of American inner cities. Thompson argues that Detroit and other northern cities in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s were battlegrounds between contradictory visions of a revolutionary, uplifting Great Society and of a reactionary, repressive, law-and-order society. The clashes were no less divisive and fierce than those of the Civil Rights Movement, which were occurring in the South at that time. On city streets and shop floors and in courtrooms, the struggle for equitable housing, worker dignity, and an end to discrimination and police brutality enlisted a biracial cast of reformers, she argues, while featuring the determination of a militant black middle class. Thompson’s engrossing work challenges an array of interpretations about postwar urban America, race relations, labor relations, the triumph of Reagan conservatism, and more. Essential for any collection on the history, politics, or society of post-World War II America.
Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


  • “A valuable addition to literature on race, labor, and urban life in postwar America. Whose Detroit? identifies the crucial link between shop floor and labor union issues, on the one hand, and broader urban political developments on the other.”-Robert H. Zieger, University of Florida”Heather Thompson uncovers as few others have the rich variety of black community and workplace organizations in Detroit in the 1960s and 1970s. Her effort to show the different responses of city leaders and union leaders to racial issues challenges the tendency either to merge these two groups or to overlook the distinctions between them.”-Nancy Gabin, Purdue University
  • “Heather Thompson powerfully rewrites the narrative of the collapse of late-sixties liberalism and of the liberal/labor alliance. The 1967 riots were a turning point in the history of the Detroit Left, perhaps the most important radical community in the country during this period. Rather than accept the riots as a product of rising black militancy, impatience, and scapegoating of ‘whitey,’ Thompson argues that they played a key role in the ascendance of the Black Power movement.”-Robin D. G. Kelley, New York University
  • “Thompson. . . uses Detroit in the 1960s and early 1970s to consider how the battles for civil and workers rights have shaped American cities. . . There’s plenty here for readers eager to think deeply about our hometown’s challenges.”-Marta Salij, Detroit Free Press, 11/26/01
  • “Thompson illuminates themes of race, labor, and politics in Detroit’s history during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, revealing much about the interplay of forces central to American life. . . . Thompson presents a vivid portrait of key courtroom battles against racial injustice. . . . This first-rate contribution to a better understanding of the dynamics shaping US cities captures the flavor and drama of the Detroit struggle. All levels and collections.”–Choice, September 2002
  • “Thompson has spent much of her adult life researching Detroit’s recent history. The result is a book that describes how a ferocious battle for control of the city took place after the 1967 riot. Her conclusion: White conservatives lost. Black liberals won.”-Bill McGraw, Motor City Journal, March 22, 2002
  • “The author presents a study of social conflict in Detroit in the 1960s and 1970s, which remained unabated despite a massive infusion of Great Society programs.”Business Horizons, January-February 2003
  • “Thompson’s study is a triumph of social and political history. She connects in a most engaging style events on the street, the factory floor, and the courtroom, and convincingly shows the political realignments that have remade Detroit.”-John F. Lyons, Joliet Junior College, Labour/Le Travail


Thompson. ed., Speaking Out: Activism and Protest in the 1960’s and 1970’s (Prentice Hall, 2009)

Speaking Out :  Activism and Protest in the 1960s and 1970s is a collection of readings about 21 different activist movements that came of age in the 60s and 70s.  Introductions written by recognized scholars who have studied and written about these movements in depth begin each chapter, followed by primary source documents that provide insight into each movement. The chapters not only offer a comprehensive overview of the most important social and political activist groups of these two decades, but they also locate each group’s complex origins, strengths, weaknesses, and legacy. As these authors make clear, ultimately the activist groups of this period each had their share of successes and each made their share of mistakes and miscalculations. Thus, together, they left a most complicated legacy for future generations.