A World More Concrete Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida
by N. D. B. Connolly
University of Chicago Press, 2014
Cloth: 978-0-226-11514-6 | Paper: 978-0-226-37842-8 | Electronic: 978-0-226-13525-0
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226135250.001.0001


Many people characterize urban renewal projects and the power of eminent domain as two of the most widely despised and often racist tools for reshaping American cities in the postwar period. In A World More Concrete, N. D. B. Connolly uses the history of South Florida to unearth an older and far more complex story.  Connolly captures nearly eighty years of political and land transactions to reveal how real estate and redevelopment created and preserved metropolitan growth and racial peace under white supremacy.  Using a materialist approach, he offers a long view of capitalism and the color line, following much of the money that made land taking and Jim Crow segregation profitable and preferred  approaches to governing cities throughout the twentieth century.

A World More Concrete argues that black and white landlords, entrepreneurs, and even liberal community leaders used tenements and repeated land dispossession to take advantage of the poor and generate remarkable wealth.  Through a political culture built on real estate, South Florida’s landlords and homeowners advanced property rights and white property rights, especially, at the expense of more inclusive visions of equality. For black people and many of their white allies, uses of eminent domain helped to harden class and color lines.  Yet, for many reformers, confiscating certain kinds of real estate through eminent domain also promised to help improve housing conditions, to undermine the neighborhood influence of powerful slumlords, and to open new opportunities for suburban life for black Floridians.

Concerned more with winners and losers than with heroes and villains, A World More Concrete offers a sober assessment of money and power in Jim Crow America.  It shows how negotiations between powerful real estate interests on both sides of the color line gave racial segregation a remarkable capacity to evolve, revealing property owners’ power to reshape American cities in ways that can still be seen and felt today.


N. D. B. Connolly is the Hebert Baxter Adams Associate Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University and visiting associate professor of history and social and cultural analysis at New York University.


“In this bold and brilliant book, Connolly demolishes the conventional wisdom about the relationship of race and place in modern America.  Rejecting a narrative that pits the black struggle for civil rights against a white defense of property rights, he shows how—and why—some African Americans embraced the logic and laws of real estate for their own ends.  Deeply researched and elegantly written, A World More Concrete does more than simply describe the landscape created by whites and blacks in a major city; it shows how contemporary America itself was constructed.”
— Kevin M. Kruse, author of White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism

“A World More Concrete explodes easy assumptions about the relationship between property-holding and white political domination in segregated South Florida.  Revealing the tangled connections between black and white landlords and their African American renters, Connolly argues that together, black and white landlords helped ensure Jim Crow's profitability, and its survival within state and society.  His unsentimental conclusion that ‘people of every complexion made Jim Crow work’ will provoke spirited debate among anyone interested in African American history, racial justice, and the quest for equality in America.”
— Jane Dailey, author of The Age of Jim Crow

“A World More Concrete marks the arrival of an exciting new voice in American political and social history. Through a fascinating history of Miami, Connolly brings together politics, culture, and economics in a riveting account of how shared understandings of property rights and real estate were central to the racial segregation that has plagued America’s cities. Connolly unpacks the complex dynamics of property transactions and urban development, meticulously analyzing all the various institutional actors who shape this market in order to understand the political economy of racism.”
— Julian E. Zelizer, Princeton University

“There are no heroes in Connolly’s A World More Concrete except, perhaps, the long-suffering black masses. There are winners and losers, however, and the big winners were whites who controlled the land and real estate in Miami and Southeast Florida.”
— Florida Times-Union

“Connolly’s sophisticated interpretation highlights ruthless white exploitation and black middle-class complicity alike, identifying entrepreneurs, landlords, elected officials, and self-styled reformers as eager participants in land control schemes that took advantage of the poor. His unsparing narrative shows how native-born whites and blacks, Cubans, Seminoles, Haitians, and other Caribbean groups all invested in segregation. . . . As these cases and a host of others make clear, the author tells us, the story of Jim Crow in South Florida turns out to be a complicated one in which few clear-cut heroes and villains emerge. Capitalism and the profit motive underwrote urban governance, preserved Jim Crow, and put real estate at the center of race relations—in Miami and throughout American society. The author’s fascinating account will force planners and urban historians to challenge many of their ideas about race and cities.”
— Planning Perspectives

“Connolly writes with a passion that is born of systematic and comprehensive research and in a voice that though colored with compassion and self-proclaimed ‘irreverence,’ is not tainted by bias.”
— Ethnic and Racial Studies

“At a time when the long-term consequences of both Jim Crow and urban renewal are still painfully evident across the United States’ urban landscape, studies such as A World More Concrete help understand how the contemporary structures of white supremacy and power came into being in the first place. Throughout Connolly’s work, it becomes very evident that urban planning decisions do not only change the physical structure and outlook of the city (in this case Miami) but also the way in which spaces can be and are inhabited and used in the everyday sense of the term. . . . This study provides plentiful new insights into the intersections of race and place in twentieth-century Miami, but also points far beyond that. The rejection of established ideas of this intersection will certainly lead to new readings of the workings of Jim Crow in the United States at large.”
— American Studies

“Just when scholars of the twentieth-century United States might reasonably assume we know plenty about how residential segregation in the North and South, in cities and suburbs, was created and defended, Connolly has shown us in this complex, multilayered, and engagingly written work that there is still more to learn about that story. . . . Connolly has a flair for language, metaphor, and character development that propels the narrative and renders it continually engaging. From those kids under the bridge to conflicting eulogies upon the death of Luther Brooks, the most prominent white property manager in the slums, Connolly draws out the contradictions that augment our understanding of how people built housing segregation and its impact. His A World More Concrete is a significant contribution to modern U.S. urban history and the history of race relations.”
— American Historical Review

A World More Concrete is a dense, packed tale that expands the historiography on urban racial segregation by embedding it in the history of capitalism. Connolly sharpens our understanding of the close and mutually constitutive relationships among liberalism, capitalism, and racism by placing real estate at the center of all three. Conflicts over the value of land shaped the American city in ways that policy reforms, social movements, and legal arguments could not undo. At times the density of detail somewhat obscures the larger arguments at the heart of the book. But if big points sometimes get buried in details, those details are consistently illuminating: Connolly uncovers an amazing array of perverse creativity, opportunistic alliances, and deceptive actions that shaped modern Miami.”
— Building & Landscapes

“Connolly’s focus on the enduring power of the social and property relationships at the heart of Jim Crow sheds new light on the unfulfilled economic promises of the civil rights movement. A World More Concrete demands we re-periodize the long history of the black freedom struggle along different axes of struggle and provides a compelling measure of its success and shortcomings.”
— Labor

A World More Concrete offers a densely researched account of the spatial history of the city and tells of how city planners and landlords conspired to cordon off neighborhoods like Jenkins’s Liberty City. Connolly points out the ways in which Miami is representative of other Sun Belt cities, with a local politics centered on property ownership and racism.”
— Los Angeles Review of Books



- N. D. B. Connolly
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226135250.003.0001
[white supremacy, landlords, interstate highway, eminent domain, property rights, suburbs, riots]
This introduction lays out the main themes of the book, principally the importance of thinking about landlords and property rights in the development of American cities, politics, and white supremacy. It also introduces readers to Miami’s Under-Expressway Park, a key landmark in South Florida’s tense racial politics in the late 1960s. (pages 1 - 16)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Part I: Foundation

- N. D. B. Connolly
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226135250.003.0002
[urban development, property rights, racial zoning, Seminole Indians, African Americans, White Americans, Bahamas, tourism, eminent domain, Coral Gables]
This is the first of two chapters to explore the early development and experience of residential segregation in South Florida between the 1890s and early 1920s. It focuses on how city officials, developers, homeowners, and landlords juggled concerns over South Florida’s residential growth with practical efforts to initiate and maintain a workable color line. Over the course of creating the conditions for what local elites considered peaceful economic growth, property rights proved to be a powerful source of political power, as black and white property owners became the principal brokers in negotiating the rules of Jim Crow segregation. The chapter places special emphasis on national and local debates around racial zoning between 1915 and 1922, while also detailing how displays of black and Native American subservience at South Florida’s various tourist attractions proved critical to sustaining the region’s early economy. (pages 19 - 44)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- N. D. B. Connolly
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226135250.003.0003
[Caribbean migrants, Seminole Indians, African Americans, racial terrorism, tourism, real estate, Central Negro District]
This chapter highlights white, black, and indigenous people’s efforts create new opportunities for political power during the inflation and bursting of Miami’s real estate bubble during the 1920s. It illustrates the links between racial violence and economic growth, and details how white supremacy set the terms for real estate speculation, for conflicts between black Americans and black Caribbean people, and for a series of political transactions that included the surrendering of some 150,000 acres of Seminole Indian land to the real estate interests of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. During the 1920s, this chapter illustrates, South Floridians laid the foundation for Jim Crow’s political culture. And that culture included accepting violence against black people, and “unlawful” black people in particular, as part of acceptable practices of commercial development and good government. (pages 45 - 70)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Part II: Construction

- N. D. B. Connolly
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226135250.003.0004
[Federal Housing Policy, black politics, The New Deal, rental property, The Great Migration]
This chapter examines how people in South Florida utilized New Deal housing programs during the 1930s. It affirms widely held understandings about the New Deal as integral to the expansion of racial segregation in the United States. It also illustrates how Negro slums stood at the center of political and personal calculations about how best to regulate and profit from Jim Crow’s ghetto. Apart from introducing readers to one of the book’s central characters, a white property manager of black rental housing named Luther Brooks, this chapter details how black and white real estate interests used the federal government to advance their respective interests. (pages 73 - 100)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- N. D. B. Connolly
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226135250.003.0005
[World War II, tourism, Black leisure, migrant workers, pan Americanism, racial equalization, The Caribbean, law enforcement, beaches]
With a focus on the World War II years, “Pan America” details the ways in which increased federal investment in South Florida helped harden the color line and the political culture needed to enforce it. With the United States becoming more of a global power, residents and business leaders sought to make Miami the U.S.’s preeminent international city. That effort required new forms of social and residential control sturdy enough to protect white privileges and flexible enough to allow for non-white tourism, new networks of West Indian labor migration, and international trade with racially complex Latin American countries. Real estate and other expressions of property rights continued to be important to these efforts, because they affirmed the relationship between race and the built environment. Jim Crow governance had already helped initiate the idea that one’s “race” was a kind of property. And as Miami moved through the 1940s, new forms of government spending helped drive the development of several “Colored Only” institutions, including a black only beach, police force, and court. The expansion of Miami’s segregated infrastructure proved critical to growing South Florida’s economy and to increasing black people’s faith the federal government as a potential enabler of racial equality. (pages 101 - 132)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- N. D. B. Connolly
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226135250.003.0006
[post-war suburbanization, landlord, rent control, tenant activism, displacement, civil rights, slum clearance, Railroad Shops Colored Addition, Coconut Grove]
After successfully fighting back wartime rent controls, landlords continued to exert considerable influence over local politics in the postwar period, killing public housing programs for non-veterans, raising rents on white and black tenants, and contributing to the expansion of substandard housing across the region. Often, they also assailed the residential color line. “Knocking on the Door” is the first of two chapters addressing postwar debates over how and whether government should regulate and expropriate real estate. It focuses in particular on how landlords and real estate developers continued to protect their interests through government channels. It then explains how land expropriation, in the context of landlords’ influence, became an extension of earlier forms of white residential power. Special attention is paid to the case of Railroad Shops Colored Addition, a black community that suffers a series of dramatic displacements between 1947 and 1950. As in other cities, the residents of Greater Miami used “the Negro problem” to debate how and whether government should regulate and demolish black homes and black-occupied rental housing. Those debates eventually gave rise to a well-developed slum clearance movement that helped frame eminent domain as a progressive weapon against slumlords and an instrument for racial justice. (pages 133 - 162)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- N. D. B. Connolly
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226135250.003.0007
[Landlords, Public Housing, Federal Mortgage Insurance, Slum Clearance, Racial Terrorism, Carver Village]
Building on discussions of interracial alliances and conflicts outlined in the previous chapter, “A Little Insurance” explores how Jim Crow’s rental owners and property managers made use of the hard power of the state and the soft power that came from building community in colored neighborhoods during the late 1940s and the early 1950s. In particular, in focuses on how landlords utilized the mortgage insurance programs of the Federal Housing Administration 1) to keep slum clearance movements at bay and 2) to convert much of Greater Miami’s wooden tenements into concrete, low-rise housing projects. Concurrent with these efforts, white homeowners, frustrated with their inability to control land condemnation powers for the sake of preserving Jim Crow, resorted to a series of bombings, believing that racial terrorism, as in years prior, would protect their property values from the apparent “blight” of having black neighbors. The dangers that racial terrorism raised for Greater Miami’s tourist economy in the 1950s inspires local government officials to re-invigorate public housing programs. Government containment of black residents, by way of public housing, seemed a more effective means of maintaining the racial peace. To the view of some housing reformers, it also promised improved housing conditions for Negro renters. (pages 163 - 198)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Part III: Renovation

- N. D. B. Connolly
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226135250.003.0008
[Tourism, Interstate Highway, Civil Rights, Governor LeRoy Collins, Cuban Immigration, Urban Renewal, Tenant Activism, The Central Negro District, Overtown]
This is the first of two chapters that explore the processes by which government officials removed formal Jim Crow while preserving key aspect of residential segregation. “Bulldozing Jim Crow,” in particular, explains how the arrival of interstate highways and, later, urban renewal and public housing projects came to Miami as part of a broader effort to renovate racial apartheid into something more equitable. As South Florida moved through the 1950s and into the 1960s, business people and landlords, as a class, abandoned the forms of racial paternalism that made slums workable and profitable in previous decades. Landlords also abandoned their fight against eminent domain and public housing. Federal urban renewal, as an expansion of slum clearance powers first crafted in the late 1940s, helped affirm demolition as the best approach to dramatic housing reform. Within a politically volatile New South, the program also preserved an approach to civil rights that confined credible race reform to negotiations and conferences between elite civic leaders and property owners. Because of Miami’s unique geography and its history of Pan American commercial development, however, the conference approach to civil rights was greatly compromised by the thousands of exiles fleeing Cuba following that country’s 1959 revolution. (pages 201 - 238)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- N. D. B. Connolly
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226135250.003.0009
[Black Suburbanization, Civil Rights, Eminent Domain, Suburban Riots, Public Housing, Brownsville, Miami Lakes, Richmond Heights, Liberty City]
This chapter examines how black people pursued suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s as part of new efforts at racial integration and long-time efforts to realize and showcase class-distinctions within segregated black communities. Black support for suburbanization must be understood as part of more general residential trends in metropolitan development, this chapter shows. African American and black Caribbean suburbanization also served, however, as uniquely important engines for a political culture that continued to privilege property ownership as the most durable marker of respectability and equal citizenship. Commitments on the part of white city officials and developers to maintain a degree of racial segregation in housing – post-Jim Crow – made South Florida’s new color line harder to see, and thus more impervious to legal challenge. And commitments among many entrepreneurs to continue profiting from racial segregation ensured that black suburbs in South Florida would suffer much of the same unequal treatment and infrastructural development that had plagued Jim Crow’s tenements over the previous century. The resulting downward mobility of South Florida’s black suburbs and the attendant frustrations among black Miamians, by the late 1960s, sparked a most dramatic break in Miami’s fragile racial peace – the Liberty City riot of 1968. (pages 239 - 276)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- N. D. B. Connolly
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226135250.003.0010
[Memory, Civil Rights, White Supremacy, Urban Redevelopment, Black Politics, Overtown]
In addition to wrapping up the central themes covered in this book, the conclusion details the fate of Miami’s Central Negro District, also known as Overtown, shortly after the building of Interstate-95 and mass black suburbanization. It contends that present day recollections of Overtown’s apparent demise remain linked to black frustrations about the failures of suburbanization to provide greater racial and economic equality. (pages 277 - 290)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

List of Abbreviations