Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Depression Comes to the South Side: Protest and Politics in the Black Metropolis, 1930-1933

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Depression Comes to the South Side: Protest and Politics in the Black Metropolis, 1930-1933

Article excerpt

Depression Comes to the South Side: Protest and Politics in the Black Metropolis, 1930-1933. By Christopher Robert Reed. (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2011. Pp. xiii, 182, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth, $29.95.)

Christopher Robert Reed, who has already contributed so much to scholarly understanding of African American history and institutions in Chicago, here zeroes in on the first years of the Great Depression for Black Chicagoans. These economically devastating years were more than a forgettable placeholder between the flowering of Bronzeville's own "Renaissance" of the 1920s (chronicled in one of Reed's earlier monographs) and its belated shift to New Deal support in the late 1930s.

Yet making sense of Chicago's South Side in transition-with all of the political and social breakdowns, cross-pressures, and struggles accompanying a stressed economy in free fall-asks a lot even of Reed. At times his presentation can seem fragmentary and more intent on recovering reports from black print media and Reed's own invaluable interviews than on entering into or extending arguments developed in related secondary literatures on Depression-era culture and politics (for example, Lizabeth Cohen's Making a New Deal [1990] and Wallace D. Best's Passionately Human, No Less Divine [2005] barely surface here).

The dissolution of the old political order followed a distinctive and lonely path for Chicago's African Americans, especially in the early Depression period covered in this book. They were the last major Chicago demographic to join the New Deal electoral coalition and to relinquish their loyalty to the "party of Lincoln," then the party of Herbert Hoover and Big Bill Thompson's Republican city machine. One could hardly blame them for viewing the Democratic Party as "the institutional incarnation of evil," (p.54) all the more so as the stinging mayoral entrance of Democrat Anton Cermak brought gambling crackdowns in African American wards and the removal of black Republicans from cherished patronage positions (revealingly, over a quarter of Chicago's postal employees were black). The African American community portrayed in this study tended to view traditional politics not as a vehicle for broader systemic change or a vanguard welfare state, but as a source of patronage jobs and an arena in which egregious racial slights and blatant discriminatory assaults on racial dignity could be denounced and combated. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.