Department Stores and the Black Freedom Movement

Workers, Consumers, and Civil Rights from the 1930s to the 1980s

By Traci Parker

328 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 13 halftones

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4867-5
    Published: April 2019
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4866-8
    Published: April 2019
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4868-2
    Published: February 2019

John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

In this book, Traci Parker examines the movement to racially integrate white-collar work and consumption in American department stores, and broadens our understanding of historical transformations in African American class and labor formation. Built on the goals, organization, and momentum of earlier struggles for justice, the department store movement channeled the power of store workers and consumers to promote black freedom in the mid-twentieth century. Sponsoring lunch counter sit-ins and protests in the 1950s and 1960s, and challenging discrimination in the courts in the 1970s, this movement ended in the early 1980s with the conclusion of the Sears, Roebuck, and Co. affirmative action cases and the transformation and consolidation of American department stores. In documenting the experiences of African American workers and consumers during this era, Parker highlights the department store as a key site for the inception of a modern black middle class, and demonstrates the ways that both work and consumption were battlegrounds for civil rights.

About the Author

Traci Parker is assistant professor of Afro-American studies at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
For more information about Traci Parker, visit the Author Page.


"Sheds light on the intricacies and impacts of African Americans' attempts to be afforded the right to work and shop at established stores. Wonderfully detailed."--Library Journal

“Parker draws on government, social movement, and private sector documents along with periodicals and oral histories to show African Americans in a dozen northern and southern cities subverting ‘this ambiguous and contradictory space’ of retail.”--Choice

"In this fascinating book, Traci Parker convinces us that the department store of the twentieth century was far from a frivolous place. Rather it was a site as central to African American workers’ and consumers’ struggle for equality as the better-known factory floor and voting booth."--Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University

"This is a powerful and largely untold story. Parker masterfully captures the distinct yet intertwined fates of worker and consumer rights."--Victoria W. Wolcott, State University of New York at Buffalo

"Traci Parker's meticulously researched book offers us a brilliant analysis of department stores as sites of black resistance to discrimination in both work and leisure. This is a welcome addition to the field of African American history, and, more broadly, the history of capitalism."--Vicki Howard, author of From Main Street to Mall: The Rise and Fall of the American Department Store

"Traci Parker’s Department Stores and the Black Freedom Movement is a highly readable account of African American struggles to secure equal access to the palaces of consumption that once dominated American retail. While pre–civil rights era department stores were theoretically open to all, most offered blacks few employment opportunities, and unequal service. Parker's book chronicles both this discrimination and black resistance to it, offering an engrossing account of the department store movement that extends from the 'Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work Campaigns' of the 1920s to the sit-ins of the 1960s."--Mia Bay, coeditor of Race and Retail: Consumption Across the Color Line