Simultaneously a symbol for the nation and a longtime major Black city without political representation, Washington, D.C., has appeared to many—in the words of blues poet Gil Scott-Heron—as “a ball of contradictions” between affluent white political elites “who come and go” and the predominantly Black poor and working-class “who’ve got to stay.” Perhaps nowhere is this entanglement better illustrated than the McMillan Plan’s Progressive Era redesign of “Imperial Washington” made possible by the racialized slum clearance of the Metropolitan Police Department’s “war on alleys” at the turn of the twentieth century.
During the two centuries before 1865, the U.S. South was governed by and for slaveholding planters. Southern law gave these enslavers almost total authority over the lives of enslaved people. The Civil War, however, destroyed the legal institution of slavery and, with it, the legal power of the slaveholder. Southern states faced the question of how to maintain the cotton economy without slavery. Their solution was to transfer the legal power over Black Southerners that had been held by slaveholders to the state.
When the Payette family moved to northern New York some time around 1850, the mass migration of French Canadians to the United States was in its infancy. This movement of people from the St. Lawrence River valley continued for the better part of a century, with brief interruptions in the 1870s and in the early part of the twentieth century. Whereas a high proportion of early migrants settled in the Midwest, the U.S. Northeast became the primary destination for those seeking to steady themselves financially.