America's Johannesburg

Industrialization and Racial Transformation in Birmingham

Bobby M. Wilson

Foreword by Ruth Wilson Gilmore

Title Details

Pages: 292

Illustrations: 6 b&w photos

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 12/01/2019

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5627-3

List Price: $29.95

America's Johannesburg

Industrialization and Racial Transformation in Birmingham

Bobby M. Wilson

Foreword by Ruth Wilson Gilmore

An exploration of the connection between Alabama’s slaveholding past and modern-day Birmingham’s industrialization

Skip to

  • Description
  • Reviews

In some ways, no American city symbolizes the black struggle for civil rights more than Birmingham, Alabama. During the 1950s and 1960s, Birmingham gained national and international attention as a center of activity and unrest during the civil rights movement. Racially motivated bombings of the houses of black families who moved into new neighborhoods or who were politically active during this era were so prevalent that Birmingham earned the nickname “Bombingham.”

In this critical analysis of why Birmingham became such a national flashpoint, Bobby M. Wilson argues that Alabama’s path to industrialism differed significantly from that of states in the North and Midwest. True to its antebellum roots, no other industrial city in the United States depended as much on the exploitation of black labor so early in its urban development as Birmingham.

A persuasive exploration of the links between Alabama’s slaveholding order and the subsequent industrialization of the state, America’s Johannesburg demonstrates that arguments based on classical economics fail to take into account the ways in which racial issues influenced the rise of industrial capitalism.

Wilson is knowledgeable and insightful.


These two books [America's Johannesburg and Race and Place in Birmingham by Bobby M. Wilson] are extremely important and every urban scholar should read them. Most significant, Wilson has constructed a theoretical and conceptual framework that can be used to study the Black experience across time, as well as at specific moments in time.

—Urban Studies

A powerful addition to academic fields as varied as southern studies and Marxian critical theory. Wilson has written a book of uncommon depth. His melding of critical race theory, Marxian critique, and regional analysis is effective and engrossing. Wilson's work is fascinating and well-written.

—Economic Geography

America's Johannesburg is comprehensive, theoretically-driven, and convincing. America's Johannesburg contributes to the fields of urban studies, geography, and historical sociology by providing a case example of how racial oppression manifests itself in historically and geographically contingent ways. The text will be useful to scholars interested in the micro and macro processes that institutionalized and organized racial inequality in the U.S. southern economy.

—Ethnic and Racial Studies

Merits attention since it poses a direct challenge to the ongoing celebration of difference that pervades our field. . . . A creditable job of summarizing the work of recent leftist scholars who critique postmodernist/poststructuralist fashion.

—Labor History

This book is destined to make the 'required reading list' on Alabama history.

—Alabama Review

A fresh and original interpretation. The book contributes substantially to the historiography of industrial growth in Alabama. The author provides much insight into the racial dimensions of Birmingham's development. A pioneering work.

—W. David Lewis, Auburn University

America’s Johannesburg should be read by anyone concerned about race and place in American cities.

—Henry Louis Taylor, Journal of Urban Affairs

Wilson is among a rare cadre of scholars, including Horace Mann Bond, Robin D. G. Kelley, and Horace Huntley and his collaborators, who pioneered studies on the Black freedom struggle in Birmingham and in Alabama at the nexus of macro historical, political, economic, and social transformations across region, nation, and globe.

—Tondra L. Loder–Jackson, The Journal of African American History

About the Author/Editor

BOBBY M. WILSON is a professor emeritus at the University of Alabama. He is the author of Race
and Place in Birmingham: The Civil Rights and Neighborhood Movements.