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Color Line and the Assembly LineManaging Race in the Ford Empire$
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Elizabeth D. Esch

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780520285378

Published to California Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520285378.001.0001

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Out of the Melting Pot and into the Fire

Out of the Melting Pot and into the Fire

African Americans and the Uneven Ford Empire at Home

(p.83) Three Out of the Melting Pot and into the Fire
Color Line and the Assembly Line

Elizabeth D. Esch

University of California Press

The Rouge plant was the first Ford workplace—or any auto company—to hire significant numbers of black workers, who were recruited along with Mexican workers, by the thousands. This chapter challenges the notion that paternalism is the framework through which to understand Ford’s relationship to black workers, and it also considers Ford’s involvement in racial-uplift projects in two contexts more aptly described as “colonial” than “paternal.” In 1932, the company purchased the “black town” of Inkster, Michigan, its segregation partly premised on Ford’s failure to stand up for fair housing in and around Dearborn. Credited with saving the residents of Inkster from the crisis of the depression, Ford’s Inkster “experiment” was modeled on a plan of debt peonage and perhaps consciously on constructed a colonial relation with African Americans in the United States. In 1936, Henry Ford bought one million acres near Savannah, Georgia, restarting a plantation he named Richmond Hill. There the company launched a series of Jim Crow social-uplift projects designed to save the white residents from racial neglect and the black residents from themselves.

Keywords:   colonialism, Inkster, paternalism, eugenics, Jim Crow

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