The Culture and Diversity of Historical Chicago

11 reviews of titles about the people of Chicago and their impact on the city.

Baldwin, Davarian L. Chicago’s new Negroes: modernity, the great migration & black urban life. North Carolina, 2007. 365p ISBN 9780807830994, $59.95; ISBN 9780807857991 pbk, $22.50.
Reviewed in CHOICE August 2007

Baldwin (Boston College) calls his work an intellectual history of the New Negro Movement in Chicago during the first third of the 20th century. However, this monograph is much more than an intellectual history. Baldwin skillfully combines original sources such as newspapers and magazines of the period with secondary material to create a work that examines issues of class, economics, socialization, politics, and gender as they relate to the movement. The author traces the story of the migration of southern blacks to Chicago at the dawn of the 20th century, presenting a case study within the context of the mass migration of these people from south to north in search of a better life during this period that changed the face of both regions. Baldwin describes the resulting societal tensions the migration caused in Chicago, not only between blacks and whites, but within the black community as well, as the newcomers sought to define themselves in new ways from that of the existing black community in the city. This book, aimed mainly at an academic audience, is a fine addition to not only urban history, but also racial and economic historiography. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —T. A. Aiello, Gordon College

Chicago Project (Universitat Munchen). German workers in Chicago: a documentary history of working-class culture from 1850 to World War I, ed. by Hartmut Keil and John B. Jentz. Illinois, 1988. 427p ISBN 0252014588, $29.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 1989

A superb look at working-class culture in Gilded Age Chicago. Although the focus is on German-Americans, the editors more than succeed in their objective of integrating their subjects into the wider culture of working-class America. Chicago was a prototype of the industrial American city: German-Americans were the largest ethnic group among Chicago workers, and played a prominent role in the city’s and the era’s organizing drives. Most documents are drawn from the German-American labor press. These workers filled so many occupations that the material presents a complete picture of the effects of industrialism on the Gilded Age. Women and children, as well as working men, are integrated throughout the collection. The introduction to the volume and the remarks prefacing each documentary topic provide both the needed specific information on German-American culture and on the wider context in which that culture operated. Summing Up: Recommended for labor or immigration history collections, undergraduate level and above. —L. M. Lees, Old Dominion University

Cruz, Wilfredo. City of dreams: Latino immigration to Chicago. University Press of America, 2007. 230p ISBN 0761838201 pbk, $32.00; ISBN 9780761838203 pbk, $32.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2008 

Sociologist Cruz (Columbia College, Chicago) depicts the experiences of immigrants from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Salvador, and Cuba living in Chicago. Using primarily extensive interviews of Latinos of different generations, age groups, gender, and class, the author focuses on the causes and trajectory of immigration and Latinos’ trials and tribulations, dreams and aspirations. Cruz also uses US Census data and relevant scholarly literature to demonstrate the varied experiences of different Latino groups, examining various dimensions of the process of adaptation and assimilation, immigrants’ ethnic identity, work and family life, social and economic problems, and challenges. Furthermore, the study portrays Latino involvement in the church, school, economy, and city government, and efforts in building community organizations. Cruz shows how Chicago’s Latino community is a rich ethnic tapestry, not a monolithic group. The individual life stories provide ethnographic details of these immigrants in search of better opportunities for themselves and their children. Although many immigrants are a source of cheap labor and still face discrimination, many have also fulfilled their dreams of upward social mobility and have contributed to social institutions in Chicago. A valuable addition to the growing literature on immigrant and ethnic studies. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —D. A. Chekki, University of Winnipeg

Erdmans, Mary Patrice. Opposite poles: immigrants and ethnics in Polish Chicago, 1976-1990. Pennsylvania State, 1998. 267p ISBN 027101735X, $50.00; ISBN 0271017368 pbk, $19.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 1998

Erdmans’s book is a highly informative study of the complex, often contentious relations among the third- and fourth-generation Polish ethnics who have constituted the center of Polish group life in Chicago, and the migrants, “tourists,” and political refugees from Solidarity-era Poland who have recently settled among them. This rare focus on late-20th-century European immigration illuminates a neglected dimension of recent US social history; it centers around the original immigrants and their descendants (new “ethnics”). Erdmans combines a wealth of information in fresh ways and with admirable economy. The study straddles the Atlantic, cogently depicting political and social developments both in Polish Chicago and in Poland itself, and it draw on an array of sources and methods, including questionnaires, interviews, historical research, ethnography, social theory, and current scholarship on identity and nationalism. Among Erdmans’s most fascinating findings is that Polish-Americans’ legendary anticommunism has ironically turned against the recent refugees from communist Poland. The American “discourse of communism” provides a powerful lens through which recent Polish arrivals seem suspiciously to lack a healthy work ethic or a respectable sense of individualism. This clash of sensibilities reveals a good deal about the changes wrought in Polish Chicago across several generations, and about far broader issues of immigration, settlement, the political meanings of “assimilation,” and the valences of “ethnic” attachment. A valuable resource. Summing Up: Upper-division undergraduates and above. —M. F. Jacobson, Yale University

Grossman, James R. Land of hope: Chicago, Black southerners, and the Great Migration. Chicago, 1989. 384p ISBN 0226309940, $29.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 1990

With this well-researched and beautifully written study, Grossman makes an important contribution to scholarship on black migration to Chicago around the time of WW I. Grossman shows how resistance to southern racism laid the groundwork for the migration even before war production needs created the demand for labor that made the move financially viable. He stresses the key role of institutions within the black community (especially the Chicago Defender and informal social networks) that spread information about the attractions of Chicago and encouraged southern blacks to leave home. In this way, Grossman demonstrates that what previous scholars have considered to be a leaderless and disorganized movement was in actuality guided by a complex network of social institutions, individual decisions, and grass-roots leaders. In the second half of the book, Grossman concentrates on the community that southern blacks found—and helped to shape—in Chicago. He details cultural changes by looking closely at schools, work sites, politics, and public contacts between whites and blacks. The book succeeds in telling the story of the “great migration,” and it also illumines other important aspects of the community whose initiative and imagination it describes. Summing Up: College and university libraries. —G. Lipsitz, University of Minnesota

Guy, Roger. From diversity to unity: southern and Appalachian migrants in Uptown Chicago, 1950-1970. Lexington Books, 2007. 131p ISBN 0739118331, $55.00; ISBN 9780739118337, $55.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2008

Guy (Univ. of North Carolina, Pembroke) based this short study of migrants from the US South to Chicago on solid firsthand research in the Uptown neighborhood where many migrants settled. The book includes very revealing vignettes of the adjustments migrants had to make to life in a cold, fast-paced, northern industrial city, based on extensive interviews with residents of the Uptown neighborhood. The author also explores the origins and unfolding history of major institutions such as the Chicago Southern Center in the neighborhood itself and the Council of the Southern Mountains at Berea College in Kentucky, telling the story of the men and women who founded these groups and showing how the first of them served to bring southern migrants “from diversity to unity,” as the title of the book suggests. The great migration of the mid-20th century has been studied in more detail for black Americans leaving the South, so this book makes a very valuable contribution to understanding that white Americans also made the same difficult transitions from rural to urban-industrial life, experiencing many of the same problems and stigmatization along the way. Valuable for undergraduate and graduate courses on ethnicity, adaptation of migrants, urban community studies, and urban politics. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic levels/libraries. —E. Carlson, Florida State University

LaGrand, James B. Indian metropolis: Native Americans in Chicago, 1945-75. Illinois, 2002. 284p ISBN 0252027728, $34.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2003

Of all ethnic groups in the US, American Indians have become urbanized more quickly than any other group. In 1980, 53 percent of all American Indians lived in urban areas. Part of what LaGrand (Messiah College) examines in his study of Native Americans living in Chicago between 1945 and 1975 is the nature of urbanization: how and why various American Indian people went to Chicago, why some stayed and others returned to the reservations, and, ultimately, how urban living shaped Indian notions of identity. His study looks at Indian urban experiences from the perspectives of those who lived them. He also examines why Native peoples began changing their self-identification from a tribal designation to that of “Indian.” If LaGrand had reported just on Indian urban experiences and examined Indian identity, his study would have been remarkable. However, it serves as an example of the kind of information that can be obtained from an innovative approach to the study of American Indian social history. Its multidisciplinary approach makes it a valuable model for the study of American Indians in urban settings across the nation during the 20th century. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels and collections. —L. Graves, South Plains College

Lovoll, Odd S. A century of urban life: the Norwegians in Chicago before 1930. Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1988. (Dist. by Illinois.) 367p ISBN 0877320756, $29.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 1989

Lovoll’s thorough, interpretive study of the Norwegian ethnic minority in Chicago is impressive and in many ways a model work. The book covers a century of growth, increasing social sophistication, and ultimate assimilation of Norwegians in the great urban metropolis. The author’s stature and reputation are unquestioned; Lovoll earlier produced a definitive one-volume history of the Norwegian-American people, The Promise of America (CH, Dec ‘84), and other studies in the Norwegian-American field. Based on secondary as well as original sources, the work helps correct the rural bias that has heretofore been prevalent in studies of Norwegians and other Scandinavian immigrants in the US. Lovoll demonstrates the heightened national identity that urban life encouraged among Norwegians as well as the interplay between the group and the burgeoning multiethnic environment of the city in the 20th century. Well illustrated and eminently readable despite its solid scholarly grounding, the book should be of particular interest to Norwegian Americans, Chicagoans, and students of the impact of urban ethnicity on modern American life. Summing Up: Recommended for college, university, and public libraries with collections reflecting these interests. —K. Smemo, Moorhead State University

Low, John N. Imprints: the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and the city of Chicago. Michigan State, 2016. 318p bibl index ISBN 9781611861884 pbk, $29.95; ISBN 9781609174750 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2016

This important contribution documents ways that the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi have maintained an ongoing and enduring presence in Chicago. Low (comparative studies, Ohio State Univ. at Newark), an enrolled citizen of the Pokagon Band, grounds his work in the different ways that people make meaning of space and place. He effectively uses multiple narratives to study the connections between the past and the present. As a result, Chicago emerges from this study as a place that was fundamentally shaped by continued Potawatomi interactions, even as Potawatomi physical residence was limited, denied, and ignored by non-Natives. Essay topics are varied: Simon Pokagon and his book Queen of the Woods (1899), which argued for equality and Indian inclusion; an early-20th-century land claim to downtown Chicago that illustrates the ways the Potawatomi mapped their world; the making of the Chicago frontier in an American national narrative (and the place of Indians within that narrative); the mid- to late-20th-century Chicago canoe club and its effect on tribal identity; and the heightened visibility and presence of the Potawatomi today. Overall, Low engages in a particularly rich and productive interdisciplinary discussion that adds substantially to the literature. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —K. L. Ackley, The Evergreen State College

McMahon, Eileen M. What parish are you from?: a Chicago Irish community and race relations. University Press of Kentucky, 1995. 226p ISBN 0813118778, $32.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 1995

In her readable account of Chicago’s Irish Catholics, McMahon discusses the varied experiences of this ethnic group in the US as she sets the stage for her study of one parish on Chicago’s southwest side. The author clearly demonstrates the difference between Irish “territorial” parishes and other “national” parishes. The latter tended to separate themselves from mainstream US and other Catholics. McMahon tells St. Sabina’s story chronologically from 1916 until the 1970s, when the parish became largely African American. She focuses on leading clergy and lay individuals who helped create a successful church and school. The book is an outgrowth of a dissertation and is based largely on personal interviews done mostly during 1985-86. There are no pictures of leading individuals or of the magnificent church, a surprising omission. A useful addition to collections on Chicago, Irish, and Catholic history. Summing Up: General, undergraduate. —A. K. Prinz, Elmhurst College

Schmidt, Garbi. Islam in urban America: Sunni Muslims in Chicago. Temple University, 2004. 242p ISBN 1592132235, $64.50; ISBN 1592132243 pbk, $22.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2004

Although Muslims have been in North America for longer than the US has been in existence, questions still persist regarding whether Islam is compatible with Western society. Schmidt (Danish National Institute of Social Research) does an expert job of answering this question in the affirmative through extensive fieldwork and interviews conducted over 18 months in Chicago’s Sunni Muslim community. Revealed is the diversity inherent not only in Islam but, perhaps more importantly, in Islam in the US. Muslims of all backgrounds (national, ethnic, racial, educational, immigration cohort, class, gender, etc.) are creating what can only be called “American Islam.” Dispelling the conventional and popular view of Islam as a monolith, Schmidt demonstrates the diversity within American Islam and how disagreements emerge among American Muslim communities regarding what constitutes legitimate practice. At the same time, there is no doubt that there exists an American Islamic umma (or community of Muslims). In this way, Muslims in the US are representative of the Latin phrase on the Great Seal of the US, E pluribus unum, or “Out of Many, One.” As a result, they are neither solely Muslims nor Americans, but rather, Muslim Americans. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —G. C. David, Bentley College