Freedom's BallotAfrican American Political Struggles in Chicago from Abolition to the Great Migration

Freedom's BallotAfrican American Political Struggles in Chicago from Abolition to the Great Migration

Margaret Garb

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226135908

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

This book is about three generations of African American activists--the ministers, professionals, labor leaders, club women and striving entrepreneurs-- who engaged in political struggles, constituted themselves as political actors, and made race the central dividing line in urban politics. It is a history of Chicago politics during a period of rapid industrialization, mass immigration, and the rise of the political machine. It is the story of northern black activists who, in the final decades of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth, grew angry at Republicans and distrusted Democrats. They were a tiny but surprisingly influential force. While their southern counterparts built communities bounded by disfranchisement and racial terror, African Americans in northern cities sent representatives to state legislatures and county boards, won positions in municipal agencies, and gained influence in urban politics. Their agendas were guided by the dynamic social conditions of the industrializing north and the rapidly changing spatial organization of American cities. They were neither the bland voices of racial uplift nor pliant puppets of Republican machines. They were outspoken, exacting, and pragmatic politicians who aimed to use electoral politics as a tool in the struggle for racial equality. Their history highlights the revolutionary potential and the tragic limits of American democracy.