Date of Award

May 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Urban Studies

First Advisor

Amanda I Seligman

Committee Members

Anne Bonds, Derek Handley


Black autonomy, Black resistance, Black towns, Milwaukee Bronzeville, Robbins Illinois, Segregation


Black towns and segregated Black neighborhoods are two examples of majority Black communities that were formed because of the racial discrimination African Americans faced. Previous research has examined majority Black communities from a deficit model; however, this paper highlights the assets of autonomy and resistance in two majority Black communities in the Midwest: Robbins, Illinois, and Milwaukee Bronzeville. This paper compares Robbins, Illinois, a Black town, and Milwaukee’s Bronzeville neighborhood, a segregated Black community, to answer the questions: How did African Americans in Robbins, Illinois, and Milwaukee Bronzeville use autonomous practices to navigate racial discrimination between 1920 and 1970? What were the similarities and differences between the way Black autonomy was practiced in Milwaukee Bronzeville and Robbins, Illinois? How were Black autonomous practices in Robbins, Illinois and Milwaukee Bronzeville viewed and/or challenged by their non-Black counterparts? And how does Black autonomy affect Black liberation? Using archival data and secondary data analysis, this paper reveals how Black residents practiced autonomy by creating their own businesses, organizations, churches, and more in response to racial discrimination. The key findings of this research indicate that first, the ways Black residents practice autonomy in majority Black communities are similar but not identical. Second, Black autonomous practices are challenged through urban renewal and racially targeted interstate highway construction. Last, majority Black communities use Black capitalism to achieve Black liberation; however, Black liberation is not achievable under a capitalistic system. Ultimately, this paper argues that full Black liberation can be achieved when Black people can exist without having to resist.