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American central cities have long faced problems associated with population losses and deteriorating economies. As middle-class citizens move to the suburbs and as shopping centers and industry join them, the city experiences considerable difficulty raising money to fund the services needed by its growing low-income population. Just as the dwindling middle class produces strains in the city's economy, it also alters and reshapes the contours of the city's politics. This was particularly true of the 1960s since the vast majority of the out-migrants was white and a large proportion of the growing number of low-income city residents was black. Cities that historically were dominated by the white elite were so changed demographically that the political status quo was threatened. Quick, effective remedies were necessary for the white elite to achieve political stability and to reduce the dangers confronting the established order.

A strategy traditionally employed by most cities and still available to some cities is annexation. Such a strategy works equally well for cities faced with an erosion of established power as for cities encumbered with declining bases of public revenue. For those cities surrounded by suburban municipalities, annexation is a useless device. Other cities, however, by expanding their boundaries to include unincorporated suburban areas, can acquire additional land, commercial/industrial enterprises, and people, all of which may generate new revenue to match their increased expenditures. Furthermore, additional population drawn from predominately white suburbs may represent new votes for a city faced with an increasing black population. This strategy has proven to be particularly useful in the South where, generally, the annexation laws are less restrictive than those in other parts of the country, where the cities are less likely to be hemmed in by other municipalities, and where racial politics over the years has been most acute.

After an eight year effort to expand its boundaries, the City of Richmond, Virginia, on January 1, 1970, annexed twenty-three square miles and 47,000 people from Chesterfield County. At first glance, apart from the length of time involved in the land acquisition, this 1970 Richmond annexation could be viewed as one of hundreds of municipal annexations since 1945. In fact, however, the boundary expansion was unique. It so captured the attention of public officials and academicians across the nation that it may now constitute the most celebrated municipal annexation in recent American history. Apart from the legal issues raised during the litigation following the annexation (U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Merhige once classified the case as the most complex since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka), and the questions which the case poses for urban planners, economists, and political and social thinkers, the annexation primarily reflects an intense power struggle between establishment whites and the city's activist blacks. It is the politics surrounding the Richmond annexation that invokes such interest among scholars and the lay public as well.

This book constitutes a political analysis of the 1970 annexation. Specifically, this study explores the political rationale for annexation, the process by which the intent was converted into public policy and the political actors involved in the process. Though the study of. the annexation includes legal, economic, and urban planning issues, those issues are only peripheral to the central concern-power.



Publication Date



Schenkman Publishing Company


Cambridge, MA


annexation, municipal government, Richmond, Virginia, politics


Urban Studies


Copyright © John V. Moeser and Rutledge M. Dennis

Dr. John V. Moeser is retired Senior Fellow at the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement at the University of Richmond and professor emeritus of urban studies and planning, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Dr. Rutledge M. Dennis is Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at George Mason University. A noted expert on the work of W.E. B. Du Bois, he was formerly the first coordinator of African American Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The Politics of Annexation: Oligarchic Power in a Southern City

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