“The Fire This Time”
The Politics of Contingency
Keywords:dispossession, conjuncture, urban renewal
In a series of evocative images, of which I share one, artist Eden McNutt draws our attention to the Hill District of his city, Pittsburgh. A neighborhood with deep histories of Black settlement, the Hill District is emblematic of spaces restructured through urban renewal in the mid-20th century. McNutt depicts the Hill District on fire, its homes ablaze in a seething swirl of destruction.
In December, 1962, James Baldwin published a letter to his nephew in The Progressive. The letter, “My Dungeon Shook,” penned on the occasion of the “one hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation,” appears in Baldwin’s epochal book, The Fire Next Time. Baldwin famously tells his nephew: “This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish…You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason.”