This project engages the work of Harold (“Hal”) M. Baron (1930-2017), former Director of Research for the Chicago Urban League (1962-1968) and, later, public policy architect of the historic mayoral campaign of Harold Washington, followed by a tenure as the Chief Policy Advisor for the Washington Administration. Harold Baron initiated and influenced key struggles against institutional racism and economic inequality. He earned his doctorate degree from the University of Chicago, in economic historiography. In the 1960s, he worked to advance the cause of civil rights as the Research Director for the Chicago Urban League (CUL), and provided research on institutional racism in Chicago to Martin Luther King Jr. Baron is one of the original proponents of racial formation theory, which remains one of the most salient theories of race relations in the social sciences and historiography. Baron was the initiator of the historic lawsuit against the Chicago Housing Authority and the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development in the 1960s, which led to the largest desegregation program in the nation’s history, the Gautreaux project, widely considered the Brown v. Board of Education of housing law. (Rennard “Rennie” Davis, John Bracey, and Richard Rothstein were some of Baron’s research assistants at the CUL who worked on the Gautreaux case.) Following a lifetime of public service, research, and theoretical investigation of modern race relations, Baron became involved in economic and ecological development of base communities in Central America. He served as Chair of the Board of Directors of EcoViva, a Central American organization engaged in environmental, economic development and social justice work, principally in El Salvador, involving such U.S. progressives as Jeff Haas, co-founder of the People’s Law Office, in Chicago, and anti-globalization theorist Naomi Klein.
Hal’s relationship to the City of Chicago and his role in the historic election and administration of Harold Washington, for whom he served as Chief Policy Advisor, is enough to warrant urban planning scholars and students becoming familiar with Hal Baron’s incomparable legacy.
At the core of this project are two unpublished manuscripts, and the development of a website and digital content platform to serve as a portal to Hal Baron’s legacy. The first [Manuscript 1], Through a Plate Glass Darkly: Studies in Racial Transformation of Harold Baron, consists of a compilation of Baron’s writings. The second, [Manuscript 2] An American Dilemma: Reconstructing the Rhetoric of Race is an extensive, but unfinished, manuscript written by Baron. A number of legal boxes contain materials that consist of research material gathered by Hal Baron in support of his unpublished book. These boxes also include material from Baron’s years at the Chicago Urban League and as policy advisor to Chicago Mayor Harold Washington.
Baron’s contributions have had an impact on the theory, practice and social policies of American race relations for over 50 years, contributions that he either originated or was an early proponent. His final, unfinished, work, An American Dilemma: Reconstructing the Rhetoric of Race will instigate a seismic shift in liberal social and policy science, making his voluminous papers from this project the capstone of his years of quiet, intense, and consequential effort to deconstruct the dominance of America’s racial formations.
For too long, the work of Hal Baron has been marginalized among a select group of progressive intellectual-activists. Scholars, researchers, and students will find in his work a critical, strategic, mind that speaks profoundly to our present moment, so much so that you will ask why you haven’t heard of Hal Baron before now.
Off the Shelf Podcast interviewed project lead Lou Turner for their inaugural episode on Hal Baron ( available here).