White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945

By Thomas A. Guglielmo | Go to book overview

7
RADICALISM, UNIONISM, AND
THE DEPRESSION

In the summer of 1932, with the United States facing its most severe depression ever, a destitute and desperate Nick Colletta left Chicago for Detroit in search of work. By late July, Mr. Colletta, having had little luck, wrote to the Chicago Commons settlement staff: “I haven't any hope to take work now, because in every place there is worst business. And about the future there is pessimist [sic]. I don't know what I shall do. …I will continue to fight for the life until I can't fight, and when I shall see that it is impossible and in vain to fight, I shall decide what I should do. …Now life seems to me strange and hard. It seems that the moral of the humanity goes down. ” Many working-class Chicagoans shared Colletta's despair. Over 40 percent of the city's workforce was unemployed and even those with jobs faced severe problems. Employers all over the city drastically reduced the hours and incomes of their workers, pushing millions of Chicagoans to the brink of starvation, into the streets, or both. With over two hundred Chicago families facing evictions weekly in the summer of 1931, “Hoovervilles” sprouted up at the eastern end of Randolph Street and in Grant Park, both in the Loop area. 1

These events hit Italians—the vast majority of whom were working class and struggling financially even before the crash—particularly hard. 2 Speaking of the nearby Italian community, the Chicago Commons reported in 1932 that the Depression

has left in its wake discouraged and disheartened men and women, constantly fearful that relief funds will cease; panicky when grocery orders are delayed or cut down; faced with continual irritation from landlords unpaid for many months and themselves struggling to exist; going without clothing, bedding and housing supplies; using candles and oil lamps for light, and trying to heat a four-room apartment with a small garbage burner which also serves as a cook stove.

-129-

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White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents *
  • White on Arrival *
  • Introduction 3
  • 1 - Early Italian Chicago 14
  • 2 - Riot and Relations 39
  • 3 - The White Peril of Europe 59
  • 4 - Race, Color, and Crime 76
  • 5 - Mayoral Races, Mayoral Colors 93
  • 6 - Fascism, Empire, and War 113
  • 7 - Radicalism, Unionism, and the Depression 129
  • 8 - The Color of Housing 146
  • Conclusion 172
  • Notes 177
  • Bibliography 241
  • Index 273
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