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The Rise of Chicago's Black Metropolis, 1920-1929

Christopher Robert Reed

Publication Year: 2011

In this book, Christopher Robert Reed describes the rise of Chicago's "black metropolis" of the 1920s, bringing to life the fleeting vibrancy of this dynamic period of racial consciousness and solidarity. Reed shows how African Americans rapidly transformed Chicago and achieved political and economic recognition by building on the massive population growth after the Great Migration from the South, the entry of a significant working class into the city's industrial work force, and the proliferation of black churches. Mapping out the labor issues and the struggle for control of black politics and black business, Reed offers an unromanticized view of the entrepreneurial efforts of black migrants, reassessing previous accounts such as St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton's 1945 study Black Metropolis. The exquisitely researched volume draws on fictional and nonfictional accounts of the era, black community guides, mainstream and community newspapers, contemporary scholars and activists, and personal interviews.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The New Black Studies Series

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

At the end of the twentieth century, I began the daunting task of constructing a one-hundred year history of African America settlement that began during the nineteenth century, along with an exploration of this population’s contributions to the growth and development of Chicago. Along this tortuous path, I was aided by many persons...

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pp. 1-8

For over a half century, perhaps the best scholarly work exploring African American life in large, industrialized, northern cities with expanding populations has been St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton’s Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (1945). This tome’s value to scholarship over the years extended...

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1. Demography and Ethos

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pp. 9-33

The Jazz Age was a national period filled with anxieties resulting from the unsettling pursuit of world peace, labor and racial unrest, anticipated economic recession, and a besieged value system. Within the South Side black community, a new sentiment prevailed so it was also the age of the “New Negro.” Prohibition challenged...

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2. "The Whirl of Life": The Social Structure

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pp. 34-70

The whirl of life that E. Franklin Frazier observed contemporarily might have been the synergy generated by the various social classes in their collective pursuit of racial progress and the enjoyment of living, the latter quality well noted in a group that learned to laugh and smile despite adversities. For the first time in the history...

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3. The Golden Decade of Black Business

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pp. 71-117

The complementary wing to politics within the Chicago political economy— the business sector—claimed as its leadership the triumvirate of black Chicago commercial enterprise: Robert S. Abbott, Jesse Binga, and Anthony Overton. These men dominated the business activities of the Black Metropolis with their control...

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4. Labor: Both Fat and Lean Years

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pp. 118-145

Whatever halcyon days were seen in the business sphere failed to materialize into a comparable experience for the bulk of the black laboring class during the 1920s. Although the war years had brought something positive into the lives of old and new black Chicago residents, the end of war brought a series of negative experiences and...

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5. The Struggle for Control over Black Politics and Protest

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pp. 146-185

Maintaining the stability of the Black Metropolis within the dynamics of the city’s political economy meant more than promoting growth and development in the business arena and expanding employment and housing opportunities. Politics was to be utilized to meet communal needs in employment and housing, offering the most...

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6. Transformed Religion and a Proliferation of Churches

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pp. 186-200

Granted that political and economic forces and influences greatly affected the whirl of life in the Black Metropolis, they did not preclude the dynamic power of religion from exerting its sway. African American religious belief and practices were indeed unfettered in their scope. The case was so much so that...

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7. Cultural and Aesthetic Expressions

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pp. 201-208

The whirl of life in black Chicago appeared dramatically in many cultural and aesthetic expressions. In its ability to overwhelm most other aspects of life, along with the heightened sentiment during the decade toward materialism and consumption, this composite spirit of creativity, rebelliousness, and celebration submerged reform...

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Conclusion and Legacy

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pp. 209-211

Perhaps there is a certain amount of irony in the fact that the declarative pronouncement on the meanings and achievements of this single decade of historical significance emanated from the perceptive mind of Joseph D. Bibb. The Alabama native, who attended and graduated from Yale University before beginning...


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pp. 213-251


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pp. 253-263


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pp. 265-271

E-ISBN-13: 9780252093173
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252036231

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: The New Black Studies Series