Date of Award

Spring 5-20-2024

Document Type




First Advisor

Keller Easterling


Beginning in 1933, the United States federal government initiated a series of historic investments in the nation’s housing infrastructure. Propelled by the convergence of the Great Depression and the Great Migration, New Deal administrators commissioned a network of segregated residential prototypes to operate as replicable models for private industry. At the core of the discriminatory program was the creation and circulation of federally-insured debt. Reading across federal records, correspondence circuits, and contemporaneous Black journals and newspapers, this thesis revisits struggles for land, property, and Black participation in the emergent housing-based economy. It explores the distributed networks within which the Black entrepreneurialism of figures like architect Hilyard R. Robinson and economist Robert C. Weaver variously clashed and congealed with the Black radicalism of historian W. E. B. Du Bois and the white socialism of the Regional Planning Association of America. Caught between conflicting frameworks of racial capitalism and economic cooperation, the model housing developments became rehearsal spaces for a renewed engine of accumulation and dispossession.

The inquiry is organized around case studies that investigate the role of New Deal housing within a racial economy of value. An introduction considers the home as an apparatus charged with ameliorating a crisis of overaccumulation and redistributing its attendant forms of economic surplus. Chapter 1 examines the administration of cooperative communities in the Black Belt region of Alabama alongside W. E. B. Du Bois’ Depression-era proposal for a separatist cooperative society. Chapter 2 documents Aberdeen Gardens in Hampton, Virginia, considering the plot system underlying the subsistence settlement and the legacy of “racial uplift” domestic pedagogy at the neighboring Hampton Institute. Chapter 3 describes the translation of Ebenezer Howard’s garden city morphology within the all-white suburb of Greenbelt, Maryland, the simultaneous construction of the all-Black Langston Terrace Dwellings in Washington, D.C., and the provision of a white wage within the utopian socialist-inspired community. An epilogue reflects upon the New Deal’s archival forms and the epistemic violence inscribed in state records.