front cover of American Pogrom
American Pogrom
The East St. Louis Race Riot and Black Politics
Charles L. Lumpkins
Ohio University Press, 2008
On July 2 and 3, 1917, race riots rocked the small industrial city of East St. Louis, Illinois. American Pogrom takes the reader beyond that pivotal time in the city’s history to explore black people’s activism from the antebellum era to the eve of the post–World War II civil rights movement.

Charles Lumpkins shows that black residents of East St. Louis had engaged in formal politics since the 1870s, exerting influence through the ballot and through patronage in a city dominated by powerful real estate interests even as many African Americans elsewhere experienced setbacks in exercising their political and economic rights.

While Lumpkins asserts that the race riots were a pogrom—an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group—orchestrated by certain businessmen intent on preventing black residents from attaining political power and on turning the city into a “sundown” town permanently cleared of African Americans, he also demonstrates how the African American community survived. He situates the activities of the black citizens of East St. Louis in the context of the larger story of the African American quest for freedom, citizenship, and equality.

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Bitter Fruit
Black Politics and the Chicago Machine, 1931-1991
William J. Grimshaw
University of Chicago Press, 1992
William Grimshaw offers an insider's chronicle of the tangled relationship between the black community and the Chicago Democratic machine from its Great Depression origins to 1991. What emerges is a myth-busting account not of a monolithic organization but of several distinct party regimes, each with a unique relationship to black voters and leaders.

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The Changing Pattern of Black Politics in Britain
Kalbir Shukra
Pluto Press, 1998

front cover of If There Is No Struggle There Is No Progress
If There Is No Struggle There Is No Progress
Black Politics in Twentieth-Century Philadelphia
Edited by James Wolfinger
Temple University Press, 2022

Philadelphia has long been a crucial site for the development of Black politics across the nation. If There Is No Struggle There Is No Progress provides an in-depth historical analysis—from the days of the Great Migration to the present—of the people and movements that made the city a center of political activism. The editor and contributors show how Black activists have long protested against police abuse, pushed for education reform, challenged job and housing discrimination, and put presidents in the White House.  

If There Is No Struggle There Is No Progress emphasizes the strength of political strategies such as the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” movement and the Double V campaign. It demonstrates how Black activism helped shift Philadelphia from the Republican machine to Democratic leaders in the 1950s and highlights the election of politicians like Robert N. C. Nix, Sr., the first African American representative from Philadelphia. In addition, it focuses on grassroots movements and the intersection of race, gender, class, and politics in the 1960s, and shows how African Americans from the 1970s to the present challenged Mayor Frank Rizzo and helped elect Mayors Wilson Goode, John Street, and Michael Nutter. 

If There Is No Struggle There Is No Progress cogently makes the case that Black activism has long been a powerful force in Philadelphia politics.


front cover of Not in Our Lifetimes
Not in Our Lifetimes
The Future of Black Politics
Michael C. Dawson
University of Chicago Press, 2011

For all the talk about a new postracial America, the fundamental realities of American racism—and the problems facing black political movements—have not changed. Michael C. Dawson lays out a nuanced analysis of the persistence of racial inequality and structural disadvantages, and the ways that whites and blacks continue to see the same problems—the disastrous response to Katrina being a prime example—through completely different, race-inflected lenses. In fact, argues Dawson, the new era heralded by Barack Obama’s election is more racially complicated, as the widening class gap among African Americans and the hot-button issue of immigration have the potential to create new fissures for conservative and race-based exploitation. Through a thoughtful analysis of the rise of the Tea Party and the largely successful “blackening” of President Obama, Dawson ultimately argues that black politics remains weak—and that achieving the dream of racial and economic equality will require the sort of coalition-building and reaching across racial divides that have always marked successful political movements.

Polemical but astute, passionate but pragmatic, Not in Our Lifetimes forces us to rethink easy assumptions about racial progress—and begin the hard work of creating real, lasting change.


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Stare in the Darkness
The Limits of Hip-hop and Black Politics
Lester K. Spence
University of Minnesota Press, 2010
Rap’s critique of police brutality in the 1980s. The Hip Hop Political Convention. The rise (and fall) of Kwame Kilpatrick, the “hip-hop mayor” of Detroit. Barack Obama echoing the body language of Jay-Z on the campaign trail.

A growing number of black activists and artists claim that rap and hip-hop are the basis of an influential new urban social movement. Simultaneously, black citizens evince concern with the effect that rap and hip-hop culture exerts on African American communities. According to a recent Pew survey conducted on the opinions of Black Americans, 71 percent of blacks think that rap is a bad influence. To what extent are African American hopes and fears about hip-hop’s potential political power justified? In Stare in the Darkness, Lester K. Spence answers this question using a blend of neoliberal analysis, survey data, experiments, and case studies.

Spence finds that rap does in fact influence black political attitudes. However, rap also reproduces rather than critiques neoliberal ideology. Furthermore, black activists seeking to create an innovative model of hip-hop politics are hamstrung by their reliance on outmoded forms of organizing. By considering the possibilities inherent in the most prolific and prominent activities of hip-hop politics, Stare in the Darkness reveals, in a clear and practical manner, the political consequences of rap culture for black publics.

front cover of Watchman, Tell Us
Watchman, Tell Us
John J. Bird and Black Politics in Post-Civil War Illinois
Wayne T. Pitard
Southern Illinois University Press, 2024

The most influential Black leader in 19th century southern Illinois

This key biography of John J. Bird unveils the forgotten story of a remarkable Black political figure in post-Civil War Illinois. Emerging as a leader in Cairo, the city with Illinois’ second-largest Black community, Bird played a pivotal role in advancing civil rights within the state, also becoming Illinois’ first Black elected judge and first Black trustee of the University of Illinois. Watchman, Tell Us deftly examines Bird’s lifetime of service and advocacy for a vulnerable community and the ways in which he successfully advocated for and protected voting rights, educational opportunity, and public access for the Black residents of southern Illinois.

Bird arrived in Cairo at age twenty during the Civil War to aid the 2,000 Black refugees from the South living there. By 1870, he had established the city’s substantial Black Republican wing, providing the Black community with unprecedented political influence in this hostile, majority white, Democratic town. Under Bird’s leadership, the Black Republicans pressed for policies that improved the well-being of the African American population, including the early establishment of a Black public school, the rise of an integrated judicial system, and the ability to access public and private businesses. Bird became influential across Illinois as a judge and university trustee, a leader in the Black convention movement, and a significant newspaper editor in Cairo and Springfield. When Bird died in 1912, the nation he loved had once again betrayed its Black citizens, and it appeared that most of the achievements he had fought for had collapsed. But the work of Bird and the other civil rights workers of the nineteenth century created the foundation upon which the movements of the twentieth century could stand.


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