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For The Movement: An Ethnography of the National Urban League, Black Movement Communities, and the Black Middle Class

Robinson, Candice Ciarra (2021) For The Movement: An Ethnography of the National Urban League, Black Movement Communities, and the Black Middle Class. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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While scholars have long explored the importance of civic engagement for a functioning democracy, this area of scholarship has several shortcomings related to race and social movements. Literature on civic engagement has made advances in showing how volunteerism impacts social life, but rarely discusses how it facilitates social change. Barring mention of paradigmatic cases such as the NAACP, Black organizations and the Black Middle Class have been overshadowed as contributors to civic engagement. Furthermore, the study of social movements prioritizes contentious politics, while footnoting the contributions of elite Black organizations. Taken together, research suggests that civic engagement contributes to democracy, but social change is assumed to primarily occur through protests. Where does this leave the Black Middle Class and Black Middle Class organizations? What is their role in social change processes?
To address these questions, I conducted an ethnographic study of the National Urban League (NUL), one of the nation’s oldest Black civil rights organizations. I included 45 interviews from members of NUL, conducted participant observations totaling over 500 hours from 2015 to 2020, attended over 140 NUL, NUL Young Professionals, Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, and Urban League Young Professionals of Greater Pittsburgh events. The analysis demonstrates the role that the Black Middle Class and NUL play during a time of threat and opportunity for antiracist organizing. Specifically, the data demonstrate that although the NUL is far from a radical antiracist organization, it is part of a Black Movement Community. As part of this community, the NUL serves as an organizational "middleman,” a connector that operates with, and brokers between, marginalized Black communities, the Black Middle Class, and predominantly white political and economic elites. In serving as a connector, NUL provides symbolic and literal space for social change-oriented activities to come together. In bringing individuals together, it provides opportunities for resource mobilization, lobbying, and community building. I find that Black Middle Class participation in NUL stems not just from individualistic advancement, but from moral, familial, and racialized obligations. I conclude by discussing the implications of this study for research on civic engagement, social movements, race, social class, and gender.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Robinson, Candice Ciarraccr26@pitt.educcr260000-0002-7265-9432
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairStaggenborg,
Committee MemberBlain,
Committee MemberBlee,
Committee MemberMoss,
Date: 8 October 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 30 June 2021
Approval Date: 8 October 2021
Submission Date: 3 August 2021
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 220
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Sociology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: National Urban League, Black Middle Class, Race, Class, Social Movements, Civic Engagement
Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2021 20:22
Last Modified: 08 Oct 2021 20:22


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