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When Richard Lee was elected Mayor of New Haven in 1953, the city desperately needed change. It had suffered from decades of decline as, in political scientist Douglas Rae’s assessment, “what had been a convergence of accidents favoring urbanism had turned into a convergence of accidents working against it”: steam-driven manufacturing and freight rail became obsolete, the development of cars drove suburbanization, restrictions on immigration stopped the flow of cheap labor, and local manufacturers were bought out by big corporations or closed down altogether. At the same time, Black Southerners migrated to northern cities like New Haven in large numbers “just in time to experience the end of urbanism full blast.” Between 1950 and 1970, New Haven’s Black population quadrupled as the city’s overall population shrank. New Haven’s Hill neighborhood had been a dense, working-class neighborhood since the 1850s, but in the earlier decades of the 20th century, residents could support themselves with good-paying factory jobs. Over the first half of the 20th century, this changed as wealthy New Haveners moved to the suburbs and the housing stock and job prospects in working-class neighborhoods deteriorated. In the 1950s, after the first major urban renewal project – the demolition of the Oak Street neighborhood to make way for an extension of Route 34 – many displaced Black and Puerto Rican New Haveners moved to the Hill along with Black transplants from the South.

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