Troublemakers: Chicago Freedom Struggles through the Lens of Art Shay

University of Chicago Press
This book will become available on January 20, 2020. You will not be charged until it is released.

What does democracy look like? And when should we cause trouble to pursue it?
Troublemakers fuses photography and history to demonstrate how racial and economic inequality gave rise to a decades-long struggle for justice in one American city.
In dialogue with 275 of Art Shay’s photographs, Erik S. Gellman takes a new look at major developments in postwar US history: the Second Great Migration, “white flight,” and neighborhood and street conflicts, as well as shifting party politics and the growth of the carceral state. The result is a visual and written history that complicates—and even upends—the morality tales and popular memory of postwar freedom struggles.
Shay himself was a “troublemaker,” seeking to unsettle society by illuminating truths that many middle-class, white, media, political, and businesspeople pretended did not exist. Shay served as a navigator in the US Army Air Forces during World War II, then took a position as a writer for Life Magazine. But soon after his 1948 move to Chicago, he decided to become a freelance photographer. Shay wandered the city photographing whatever caught his eye—and much did. His lens captured everything from private moments of rebellion to era-defining public movements, as he sought to understand the creative and destructive energies that propelled freedom struggles in the Windy City.
Shay illuminated the pain and ecstasy that sprung up from the streets of Chicago, while Gellman reveals their collective impact on the urban fabric and on our national narrative. This collaboration offers a fresh and timely look at how social conflict can shape a city—and may even inspire us to make trouble today.
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About the author

Erik S. Gellman is associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he focuses on working-class and urban life, visual culture, and comparative social movements in modern America. His other books include Death Blow to Jim Crow: The National Negro Congress and the Rise of Militant Civil Rights and, coauthored with Jarod Roll, The Gospel of the Working Class: Labor’s Southern Prophets in New Deal America.Art Shay (1922–2018) was a prolific photographer who captured many critical moments in Chicago’s postwar urban history.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jan 20, 2020
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9780226604084
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Language
English
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Genres
History / General
History / United States / 20th Century
History / United States / State & Local / Midwest (IA, IL, IN, KS, MI, MN, MO, ND, NE, OH, SD, WI)
Photography / Photoessays & Documentaries
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Illinois State Historical Society Certificate of Excellence 2016

During the Great Migration of the 1920s and 1930s, southern African Americans flocked to the South Side Chicago community of Bronzeville, the cultural, political, social, and economic hub of African American life in the city, if not the Midwest. The area soon became the epicenter of community activism as working-class African Americans struggled for equality in housing and employment. In this study, Lionel Kimble Jr. demonstrates how these struggles led to much of the civil rights activism that occurred from 1935 to 1955 in Chicago and shows how this working-class activism and culture helped to ground the early civil rights movement. Despite the obstacles posed by the Depression, blue-collar African Americans worked with leftist organizations to counter job discrimination and made strong appeals to New Deal allies for access to public housing. Kimble details how growing federal intervention in local issues during World War II helped African Americans make significant inroads into Chicago’s war economy and how returning African American World War II veterans helped to continue the fight against discrimination in housing and employment after the war. The activism that appeared in Bronzeville was not simply motivated by the “class consciousness” rhetoric of the organized labor movement but instead grew out of everyday struggles for racial justice, citizenship rights, and improved economic and material conditions. With its focus on the role of working-class African Americans—as opposed to the middle-class leaders who have received the most attention from civil rights historians in the past—A New Deal for Bronzeville makes a significant contribution to the study of civil rights work in the Windy City and enriches our understanding of African American life in mid-twentieth-century Chicago.

This publication is partially funded by a grant from Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan fund.
In this exceptional dual biography and cultural history, Erik S. Gellman and Jarod Roll trace the influence of two southern activist preachers, one black and one white, who used their ministry to organize the working class in the 1930s and 1940s across lines of gender, race, and geography. Owen Whitfield and Claude Williams, along with their wives Zella Whitfield and Joyce Williams, drew on their bedrock religious beliefs to stir ordinary men and women to demand social and economic justice in the eras of the Great Depression, New Deal, and Second World War. Williams and Whitfield preached a working-class gospel rooted in the American creed that hard, productive work entitled people to a decent standard of living. Gellman and Roll detail how the two preachers galvanized thousands of farm and industrial workers for the Southern Tenant Farmers Union and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. They also link the activism of the 1930s and 1940s to that of the 1960s and emphasize the central role of the ministers' wives, with whom they established the People's Institute for Applied Religion. This detailed narrative illuminates a cast of characters who became the two couples' closest allies in coordinating a complex network of activists that transcended Jim Crow racial divisions, blurring conventional categories and boundaries to help black and white workers make better lives. In chronicling the shifting contexts of the actions of Whitfield and Williams, The Gospel of the Working Class situates Christian theology within the struggles of some of America's most downtrodden workers, transforming the dominant narratives of the era and offering a fresh view of the promise and instability of religion and civil rights unionism.
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