Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Gonda, Jeffrey D


American history, Black history, Civil Rights Movement, Economic inequality, Urban history, War on Poverty

Subject Categories

American Studies | Arts and Humanities | History | United States History


"Saving Salt City: Fighting Inequality through Policy and Activism in Syracuse, NY, 1955-1975" offers an in-depth exploration of civil rights and antipoverty struggles in the Salt City between 1955 and 1975. It centers the agency of activists who built interracial and cross-class organizations through which they contested the marginalization and segregation of Black Syracusans. By examining the struggles around major issues including education, housing, police brutality, employment, and a broader vision of economic justice, "Saving Salt City" documents the alternative visions and unrealized agendas for change generated by citizens in Northern urban spaces. This project recovers Syracuse's legacy as a laboratory of experimentation for social movement organizing as well as federal social welfare policy implementation. It contributes to the historiographies of the long civil rights era, economic inequality, and urban spaces.

The Salt City was a microcosm of many of the forces that shaped urban spaces after World War II: highway development, urban renewal, demographic changes, and deindustrialization. By proposing visions of a more equitable, racially integrated city, activists destabilized a dominant narrative of progress and offered alternatives to the urban decline that unfolded in the second half of the twentieth century. Centering the struggles of Black Syracusans for recognition and political power illustrates the historical importance of individual agency as well as contingency. Although the civil rights movement collapsed with many of its goals unrealized in the mid-1970s, Syracuse experienced more than a decade of concerted activism to disrupt racial inequality and to amplify marginalized voices. The hypersegregation and concentrated poverty that became features of the city by the end of the twentieth century were not inevitable. This project argues that the unrealized agendas of Black Syracusans may have mitigated the impacts of urban decline.


Open Access