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To Stand and Fight

To Stand and Fight

The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City

Martha Biondi

ISBN 9780674020955

Publication date: 07/01/2009

The story of the Civil Rights Movement typically begins with the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 and culminates with the 1965 voting rights struggle in Selma. But as Martha Biondi shows, a grassroots struggle for racial equality in the urban North began a full ten years before the rise of the movement in the South. This story is an essential first chapter, not only to the southern movement that followed, but to the riots that erupted in northern and western cities just as the Civil Rights Movement was achieving major victories.

Biondi tells the story of African Americans who mobilized to make the war against fascism a launching pad for a postwar struggle against white supremacy at home. Rather than seeking integration in the abstract, Black New Yorkers demanded first-class citizenship—jobs for all, affordable housing, protection from police violence, access to higher education, and political representation. This powerful local push for economic and political equality met broad resistance, yet managed to win several landmark laws barring discrimination and segregation.

To Stand and Fight demonstrates how Black New Yorkers launched the modern civil rights struggle and left a rich legacy.


  • Biondi’s book makes the counterintuitive point that the modern civil rights movement began in the north, not in the south. It did not begin with the Montgomery bus boycott; it did not begin with the Supreme Court desegregation decision of 1954. In the aftermath of World War II, the civil rights movement came alive in northern cities. She focuses on New York City. Biondi highlights the moment when racial egalitarianism became a core element of modern liberalism. It wasn’t before. In the 1930s Roosevelt worked closely with racist, segregationist Southern Democrats who controlled important committees. He needed them to get measures through Congress. In other words, you could be a good New Deal liberal and be a total racist. Many liberals were racial egalitarians but many liberals were racists. Views on race were not part of the definition of liberalism. Today you can’t be a racist and a liberal.

    —Eric Foner, The Browser


  • Martha Biondi is Associate Professor of African-American Studies and History at Northwestern University.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press