In the late nineteenth century, life became more stable and orderly for most American city dwellers, but not for blacks. Roger Lane offers a historical explanation for the rising levels of black urban crime and family instability during this paradoxical era. Philadelphia serves as test case because of the richness of the data: Du Bois’s classic study, The Philadelphia Negro, newspapers, records of the criminal justice system and other local agencies, and the federal census. The author presents numerical details, along with many examples of the human stories—social and political—behind the statistics.
Lane reveals how social and economic discrimination created a black criminal subculture. This subculture, overlooked by those histories depending on often inaccurate census materials, eroded family patterns, encouraged violence, discouraged efforts at middle-class respectability, and intensified employment problems by adding white fear to the white prejudice that had helped to create it.
Modern crime rates and patterns are shown to be products of a historical culture that can be traced from its formative years to the 1980s. Lane not only charts Philadelphia’s story but also makes suggestions regarding national and international patterns.