Creative Extraction: Black Towns in White Space

Authors: Danielle Purifoy*, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, Legal Geography, Environment
Keywords: Black Geographies, Property, Local Geography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Washington 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This article interrogates the “anomalous” case of black towns in the South--their [in]visibility, their struggles for self-determined formation and development, and their externally ascribed narratives of dysfunction and failed governance, frequently invoked to explain their frequent lack of access to basic infrastructural systems. We propose illuminating some of these so-called anomalies through Mills’ “racial contract,” which we argue structures space at a deeper level than particular legal arrangements and allows us to look relationally at black towns in “white space.” We examine a paired case study to build from extant theories of black space. While existing research on black communities’ struggles for infrastructure usually blames their unincorporated status, in combination with their “dysfunction,” we show how two southern black towns experience racially predatory governance and resource extraction regardless of legal status, while white communities can sometimes use unincorporated status to their advantage. In other words, jurisdictional boundaries serve white interests. To illustrate this, we focus on three overlapping mechanisms of “creative extraction” that create the advantages or disadvantages of incorporation: theft, erosion and exclusion. Further, these issues around town making (and unmaking) are tied to the environmental harms inflicted on black towns, as some of the many existential threats they face.

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