I am totally enthralled by An Autobiography of Black Chicago (Black Chicago) by Dempsey Travis. This is the first time in a long time I have been unable to put a book down. And it’s a history book! This is a very well-written, easy-to-read book. Told from the words of Travis, Black Chicago begins with stories shared about his family’s entrance to the city in the early 1900s and later flows to his personal story. Many of the details are so vivid, it feels as if you were there with him.
Some of the things that really stood out were:
1. Black people lived all over the city with little racial tension until there was a big huge overflow in the early 1900s. We were then assigned to pockets.
2. Black people had to accept jobs they could get when they got to Chicago and many were in menial positions in the stockyards. They could not be managers because white people would feel that black people were taking “their” jobs even though many white people could not read and write and the black people could. Here is a quote from the book. “Always remember that although the man cannot write, he is boss because he is white.”
Ok, I’m going to digress here for a second.
Doesn’t this sound a lot like today? Well, before the recession. There could be a highly educated, experienced black person in a position for years making a certain salary, and the company would hire a less educated and less experienced white person doing the same thing making more money. As far as white people hating to report to a black man, check out the resistance to President Obama and he’s been in for almost 4 years!
3. At one point, racial tensions were so thick on the South Side, black people had to be escorted to safety in their own communities.
4. “Dunk the Darky in the Water” was a game at Riverview Amusement Park where white people threw balls at a black man sitting above a pool of water with his heads stuck through a hole in the white canvass. Apparently, it that was a very popular game.
5. State from 31st to 35th was “both Wall Street and Broadway to the black community in the 20′s.” They had their own backs, stores – everything. This was because they HAD to not because they wanted to.
6. The story of the Scottsboro Boys were shared. If you don’t know the story, check it out.
7. There was a Jim Crow seating policy at many of the clubs in the black community. “It was a common sight to walk into any of the class South Side clubs and see white folks hogging the ringside seats while Blacks sat on the side and in the rear.” In THEIR communities.
8. White prisoners of war were treated better than black military personnel serving The United States.
9. There were so many ways to separate black people by color from “blue veins” to the “brown bag” test. Do you know that it still exists? Today, the media images we see are creating that division.
10. Many of the black soldiers that returned from the war could get and education but not good jobs. Does that still happen today?
Oh, all of that happened within the first 120 pages. So, have you read the book? What were your thoughts?