\\ , >\\’. ‘ Atkl;ta? 44′ A Polytechnic Heights, Fort Worth: street scene from commercial districtcourtesy of Albert G. Mogo BOOKS & THE CULTURE The More Things Change. The Transformation of a Fort Worth Neighborhood BY JOHN SUMMERS LEFT BEHIND IN ROSEDALE: Race Relations and the Collapse of Community Institutions. By Scott Cummings. Westview Press. 240 pages. $24.00. t was really a nice community, the kind that you would be proud to send your kids to its schools,” remembers a 49-year resident of Polytechnic Heights, a neighborhood in southeastern Fort Worth. “And now you go down and you see old filthy mattresses out on the curbs and it is taking on a ghetto look.” According to Scott Cummings’ book, filthy mattresses have proven the least of the problem for the 10,000 inhabitants of “Poly,” as the area is commonly called. Once a stable, middle-class, and exclusively white neighborhood, the racial composition of Poly has undergone a striking series of changes during the last half of this century. The economic boom of the fifties and the desegregation efforts of the Great Society conspired to bring a wave of prosperous African Americans, whose presence disturbed the community’s hitherto reliable sense of racial hierarchy. Then, in the seventies, lower-class minorities in search of jobs began to pour into the area. To observe that Poly’s white citizens did not avail themselves of this opportunity to forge a multiracial neighborhood is to understate the matter somewhat dramatically. The most affluent among them quickly headed for the suburbs. The rest soon followed, encouraged by real estate brokers, bankers, businesses, and other profiteers who fed the logic of “white flight.” By the mid and late seventies, when Cummings worked in the neighborhood as a community organizer, “white resistance had collapsed, white flight had accelerated,” and Poly “was well on its way to becoming a predominantly black neighborhood.” Census records, he notes, indicate that white families occupied 98 percent of Poly’s households in 1960. Thirty years later, that number fell to a mere 12 percent. Of those whites who were “left behind,” the majority were elderly whose homes one could rather easily identify by the iron bars fixed across the windows and doors. As this narrative suggests, what makes the recent history of Polytechnic Heights a tragedy is not racial transformation per se, but the decline into poverty that accompanied the loss of jobs and the flight of middle-class money. This point does not always seem obvious to Cummings, who spends much of the book presenting, in needless detail, an inventory of rapes, thefts, burglaries, murders, and drug sales, along with numerous episodes of vandalism, intimidation, and extortion all of which were committed by Poly’s black youth at the expense of a vulnerable \(and understandably in the wake of the white exodus Poly degenerated into an exceptionally violent, squalid place to live. A series of brutal rapes in 1978 and again in 1982 gathered such a storm of media protest that even if a heavy crack-cocaine traffic in the eighties had not fortified its reputation for lawlessness the neighborhood might still signify little else but violent crime to the larger population of Fort Worth. Yet it seems quite possible to argue that the process of “ghettoization” in Poly turned not only or even necessarily on a racial axis, but also on the question of class. Soon after whites abandoned the community, the black middle class, which had made its initial forays in the fifties and sixties, left as well. Cummings notes this in passing but makes little of it, referring frequently to the poverty-stricken “underclass” that resulted, but failing to develop any particular insights in this direction. Among his observations concerning the feelings of those white elderly who were left behind in Poly, consider this notation, which is not pursued by any analysis: “Some of the elderly insisted that they did not object to living in the same neighborhood with black people, but most were very concerned about the ‘type of colored’ that were moving in.” “The elderly,” he continues, “were highly critical of certain classes of people regardless of racial or ethnic origin.” For some, then, the problem was 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER nu. aek……,..01000,,..111.4,.74.,rorsec NOVEMBER 26, 1999 se.