Down the Up Staircase

Three Generations of a Harlem Family

Bruce D. Haynes and Syma Solovitch

Columbia University Press

Down the Up Staircase

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Pub Date: April 2017

ISBN: 9780231181020

240 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $30.00£24.95

Pub Date: April 2017

ISBN: 9780231543415

240 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $29.99£24.95

Down the Up Staircase

Three Generations of a Harlem Family

Bruce D. Haynes and Syma Solovitch

Columbia University Press

Down the Up Staircase tells the story of one Harlem family across three generations, connecting its journey to the historical and social forces that transformed Harlem over the past century. Bruce D. Haynes and Syma Solovitch capture the tides of change that pushed blacks forward through the twentieth century—the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, the early civil rights victories, the Black Power and Black Arts movements—as well as the many forces that ravaged black communities, including Haynes's own. As an authority on race and urban communities, Haynes brings unique sociological insights to the American mobility saga and the tenuous nature of status and success among the black middle class.

In many ways, Haynes's family defied the odds. All four great-grandparents on his father's side owned land in the South as early as 1880. His grandfather, George Edmund Haynes, was the founder of the National Urban League and a protégé of eminent black sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois; his grandmother, Elizabeth Ross Haynes, was a noted children's author of the Harlem Renaissance and a prominent social scientist. Yet these early advances and gains provided little anchor to the succeeding generations. This story is told against the backdrop of a crumbling three-story brownstone in Sugar Hill that once hosted Harlem Renaissance elites and later became an embodiment of the family's rise and demise. Down the Up Staircase is a stirring portrait of this family, each generation walking a tightrope, one misstep from free fall.
Bruce D. Haynes's story is a classic American tale—which combines the big themes of history with the gritty reality of a single family's extraordinary story. Jeffrey Toobin, staff writer at The New Yorker and senior legal analyst at CNN
Haynes channels W. E. B. Du Bois to provide a rich sociological portrait of his "talented tenth" family. The lively writing conveys both universal family dramas of social mobility (up and down) as well as the particular context of Harlem across the twentieth century. A great read! Dalton Conley, author of Honky, Princeton University
An utterly captivating work that shows off Haynes's brilliant sociological imagination on every page. He and Solovitch are masterful at linking the small personal details of everyday family and community life to social structure and history. Like Dalton Conley's Honky, this book will be seen as a significant contribution to the emerging literary form of sociological memoir. Mitchell Duneier, author of Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea, Princeton University
Down the Up Staircase is a beautifully written, captivating, and absorbing book that connects seemingly private concerns with public policies and structures in clear and convincing fashion. It delineates vividly how poverty and downward mobility do not make people noble, resilient, and resourceful, but instead shatter social ties and self-esteem. This fast-paced book will likely be consumed by readers in one sitting, but its powerful and poignant stories will linger in the mind long afterwards. George Lipsitz, author of How Racism Takes Place
Down the Up Staircase is a riveting narrative about three generations of a black family and their struggle to maintain inherited privilege. Written with elegance and penetrating insight, the book shines light on the precarity that all blacks confront, regardless of their social class and personal ambitions. Stephen Steinberg, author of Race Relations: A Critique, professor of urban sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York
A candid and profoundly personal contribution to America's racial history. Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
This masterful account begins as a portrait of a house that was a living, breathing extension of the family that lived in it both in hopeful times and in darker ones. But it soon reaches out into the larger social landscape of Harlem and then into the changing history and culture of an entire land. In doing so, it shifts seamlessly from a sensitive biography to a thoughtful ethnographic sketch of an important place in an important time, and then into a wise and compelling essay on the social history of our time. What we encounter on the printed page, of course, is written narrative, but it is conveyed to us in what might best be described as a rich and perceptive voice. In every way, a remarkable work. Kai Erikson, Yale University
This thoughtful and sobering memoir weaves the beauty and tragedy of Haynes's family story into the complex history of Harlem.... Like Harlem's story, the memoir is bittersweet, painting a full and complicated picture of black upper-class life over generations. Publishers Weekly
Down the Up Staircase combines elements of memoir and sociology, culminating in an incredibly rich story. Bookish
In this thoughtfully conceived and crafted memoir, the authors offer evocative, relentlessly honest portrayals without judgment. In doing so, they encourage the reader to ponder the variables in her own life, the tides and forces that help or hinder her pursuit of the sweet life. Elizabeth Dowling Taylor, The New York Times Book Review
[A] moving memoir. Georgia Rowe, East Bay Times
As Isabel Wilkerson did expertly in 'The Warmth of Other Suns' — the Pulitzer Prize-winning epic tale of the Great Migration — Haynes and Solovitch follow their relatives through decades, revealing the impact of public policy and social change on the family from generation to generation. Krissah Thompson, Washington Post
Acknowledgments
Preface
1. Mad Money
2. Not Alms but Opportunity
3. New Negroes
4. Soul Dollars
5. Stepping Out
6. Do for Yourself
7. Free Fall
8. Moving on Down
9. Keep on Keepin' on
Notes
  • Read a feature on Bruce D. Haynes in the New York Times's City Room blog

About the Author

Bruce D. Haynes is professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of Red Lines, Black Spaces: The Politics of Race and Space in a Black Middle-Class Suburb (2001) and the coeditor of The Ghetto: Contemporary Global Issues and Controversies (2011).

Syma Solovitch is a freelance writer, developmental editor, and educator. This is her first book.