A Movement Without Marches

African American Women and the Politics of Poverty in Postwar Philadelphia

By Lisa Levenstein

320 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 22 illus., 12 tables, 4 maps, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-7164-5
    Published: August 2010
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8041-3
    Published: April 2009
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-8998-5
    Published: April 2009

John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture

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Awards & distinctions

2009 Kenneth Jackson Book Award, Urban History Association

2010 Honorable Mention, Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Organization of American Historians

Lisa Levenstein reframes highly charged debates over the origins of chronic African American poverty and the social policies and political struggles that led to the postwar urban crisis. A Movement Without Marches follows poor black women as they traveled from some of Philadelphia’s most impoverished neighborhoods into its welfare offices, courtrooms, public housing, schools, and hospitals, laying claim to an unprecedented array of government benefits and services. With these resources came new constraints, as public officials frequently responded to women’s efforts by limiting benefits and attempting to control their personal lives. Scathing public narratives about women's "dependency" and their children's "illegitimacy" placed African American women and public institutions at the center of the growing opposition to black migration and civil rights in northern U.S. cities. Countering stereotypes that have long plagued public debate, Levenstein offers a new paradigm for understanding postwar U.S. history.

About the Author

Lisa Levenstein is assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
For more information about Lisa Levenstein, visit the Author Page.


"Levenstein's focus on the 1950s and 1960s serves to explore the roots of political and social activism embraced by so many younger black people in the subsequent decade. . . . Highly recommended."--Choice

"Challenges scholarship on black urban poverty. . . . Instructive to students of urban history, migration, race, gender, and poverty."--The Journal of American History

"Vivid stories of individual women. . . . Each one of them offers an original and compelling interpretation of its subject. Tightly interconnected as they are, each could also stand alone as a major addition to the historiography of public institutions."--Journal of Social History

"A path-breaking account. . . . [Levenstein's] wide-ranging study of five public institutions suggests a pervasiveness, depth, and force of this phenomenon that historians have not recognized. The field of twentieth-century U.S. politics desperately needs more of her sustained analysis."--Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

"Excellent. . . . Levenstein becomes a skilled storyteller and weaves narratives from her oral histories throughout the book to support the detailed analysis. . . . Does not disappoint."--Journal of African American History

"Is it possible to write about poor women as active agents without fitting them within a social movement framework? . . . Levenstein has already achieved that balance in this important work. . . . A full understanding of African American poverty must include the women Levenstein so powerfully analyzes."--American Historical Review