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A Nation of NeighborhoodsImagining Cities, Communities, and Democracy in Postwar America$
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Benjamin Looker

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226073989

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226290454.001.0001

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Microcosms of Democracy

Microcosms of Democracy

Depicting the City Neighborhood in Wartime America

(p.21) One Microcosms of Democracy
A Nation of Neighborhoods

Benjamin Looker

University of Chicago Press

Under the cloud of international conflict, numerous early-1940s progressives cast the working-class, ethnic-accented city neighborhood as a place where democratic values became most concrete. The mixture of creeds and nationalities at the heart of the nation's older cities seemed to offer a uniquely American rebuff to the fascist drive for purity. As chapter 1 explains, elaborations of this vision emerged in the celebratory cadences of the popular press, in the projects of intercultural educators such as Rachel Davis DuBois, and in novels, radio plays, and Broadway shows by figures such as Sidney Meller, Sholem Asch, Louis Hazam, Kurt Weill, and Langston Hughes. Each offered new ways for making sense of urban space, yet these works also revealed contradictions and uncertainties, most notably in an inability to meld competing impulses toward assimilation and particularism. Interpreting such texts as a collective form of imaginative “placemaking,” this chapter examines the conflicted form of liberal nationalism that took the polyglot city neighborhood as its emblem.

Keywords:   war, working-class, neighborhood, democratic, Rachel Davis DuBois, Broadway, Louis Hazam, Langston Hughes, Sholem Asch, Sidney Meller

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