Born in Flames: Arson, Racial Capitalism, and the Reinsuring of the Bronx in the Late Twentieth Century


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


During the 1970s, a wave of arson devastated cities across the United States, wiping out large portions of neighborhoods home to poor communities of color. Popular memory confuses the arson wave with the 1960s uprisings. Yet these fires were lit not for protest, but for profit, most of which flowed into the ironically named FIRE industries—finance, insurance, and real estate. By asking why cities went up in flames in these years, how their fires were extinguished, and what arose in their ashes, this project casts new light on the restructuring of US cities since 1968. It explores how the rise of the FIRE industries, which eclipsed manufacturing as the engines of urban economies in the 1970s, reshaped neighborhoods of color in the aftermath of the civil rights movement. In the Bronx and elsewhere, the arson wave sparked a groundswell of community organizing that ultimately stemmed the tide of the burnings.