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

By Thomas A. Guglielmo | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

There is no such thing as a white community in Chicago.

Mayor Martin H. Kennelly, August 21, 1950

For decades, Italian Americans of all generations would have agreed with Mayor Kennelly's assertion. Indeed, from the late nineteenth century through the interwar years and despite the views and actions of a wide variety of individuals and institutions—such as the state, labor unions, employers, the Communist Party, anti-immigrant racialists, restrictive covenants, newspapers, and various neighbors and co-workers —many Italian Americans consistently avoided much talk of color. When identifying publicly, they did so in any number of ways—depending on the time and context as Italians, South and North Italians, Sicilians, Luccese, Americans, Italian Americans, workers, women and men, Catholics, and so forth—but hardly ever as whites.

Things changed around World War II for a variety of reasons. Italian Americans' rising wartime white consciousness owed a great deal to their decades-long accumulation of knowledge about Chicago's color line and their privileged position in relation to it. For Italian Americans of all generations this knowledge could have grown out of their earliest Chicago experiences, as well as the Color Riot of 1919, neighborhood relations in its aftermath, immigration restriction battles of the early 1920s, criminalization campaigns and local electoral politics in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Italian-Ethiopian War, union experiences, left-wing politics, and struggles over housing in the late 1930s and early 1940s. As a result, Italian Americans—particularly those of the growing second generation—were well primed to identify as whites; non-Italians had been seeing and treating them as such for years. 1

Numerous wartime color lessons were equally crucial in encouraging Italian Americans to identify publicly as whites. First, the war further Americanized Italians of all generations, classes, and political persuasions. Thousands of young men and some women marched off to serve abroad, while on the home front, thousands more did their part to win the war. 2 In September 1942, some sixty societies, clubs, fraternal orders, and trade unions came together to form the Italian-American Victory Council, which held mass “win-the-war” and “Italian-American Day” rallies, spon-

-172-

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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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