Ever since I was a child, I’ve been both terrified and fascinated by the specter of death. I became obsessed with death after spending the summer with my grandmother in 1980. She had moved to Wichita, Kansas to reside with her daughter, Aunt Annabel, and we spent hot summer days together with her telling me tales from her youth.
She was a Southern Baptist and believed that the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ was going to happen in the year 2000. So I analyzed the situation, well as much as a nine year old girl can analyze and decided that it would be cool for everyone to die together at one time. Although I would only be 30 at the time, at least I would die in the company of my family and friends. The thoughts that children have.
In the years that have passed, I’ve learned a lot about death unfortunately. I’ve lost so many friends and family in the past five years that it’s surreal. Especially the deaths of my original family, the family I was born into. My brother Randy died in 1994, my mother Gertrude in 2006, and Larry in 2020. My father wasn’t a part of my life so it was just myself, my brothers, and my mother. Now it’s just me and it’s been one of the most difficult journeys I’ve taken. Although I have children, a grandson and a new grandchild due in the spring, and a ton of cousins and friends who love me, I still feel so alone at times. I’ve come to the realization that this feeling of loneliness and despair will never go away but it will always be a lingering bitterness.
Now I’m obsessed with dying these days. Worried about leaving my children motherless. Worried about what would happen to them if I should die. Wondering who’s going to love my babies like I do. My mother had three children and I’m the only one who is left. What kind of shit is that? Why am I still here? And how does it feel to be dead. Is there really an afterlife and a place where souls go when their journey on Earth is over? Will I see my dead loved ones again? Totally morbid as fuck and unhealthy but it is what it is.
I didn’t discover bell hooks until I went to college in 2002. I majored in sociology and minored in history. Took two Women and Gender courses and it was then I was introduced to her works. And my life changed.
Her writings made me think deeply and I learned to fight for myself as a Black woman living in a white patriarchal society that despises all women but has placed the Black woman on a special rung in hell. Learned to fight for my dignity and autonomy in system that wasn’t set up for my advancement but my demise.
And as I’m getting older, due to her works, I have learned to have grace for others who weren’t as fortunate as me to have access to her writings and the writings of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Assata Shakur and others. Black writers who reveled in their Blackness and wasn’t afraid to show it. Ignorance is cultivated in American culture these days so some people are doomed and all you can do is pity them and move on.
So Rest in Power bell hooks. Although you are no longer here in form, your works will continue to educate and transform, encouraging folks to improve their lives and elevate their minds. Folks like me.
My first introduction to Ida B. Wells-Barnett was during Black History Month when I was in grade school. Other than that, her history was alien to me as someone from Mars. Of course her name was familiar to me; there used to be a housing project on 39th and King Drive Boulevard that was named after her and although I recognized her name, I really did not know anything about her history or achievements until I read a book by Tonya Bolden entitled, African-American Women: 150 Crusader, Creators, and Uplifters. Only then, did I find out about the true history of Ida B. Wells-Barnett and what her accomplishments meant, not only for Blacks in this county but for anyone has been oppressed and marginalized in American society.
Her story gnawed at me. A woman born in slavery, she would grow up to become one of the great pioneer activists of the Civil Rights movement. She was a precursor of Rosa Parks, and was a feminist, newspaper editor and publisher, investigative journalist, co-founder of the NAACP, political candidate, mother, wife, and the single most powerful leader in the anti-lynching campaign in America.
She made major contributions to the field of sociology although her role was later obscured and marginalized. Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley (1998) further commented on her contributions as well as the contributions made by another African-American woman sociologist, Anna Julia Cooper: “Cooper and Wells-Barnett were not lone voices, but part of an enormous, segregated tradition of social analysis by African-Americans that included a rich discourse by African American women. Cooper and Wells-Barnett created a social theory morally and passionately centered in a standard of justice derived from Judeo-Christian religion and American demographic and republic claims. This theory of the intersection of race, class, and gender added a vital strand to the feminist tradition of sociology” (pp.171-172).
She was dynamic, controversial, temperamental, and uncompromising. She stood up for what she believed in, even at her own expense. However, even with all of her achievements, she is rarely mentioned in the history textbooks. For this reason, this is a love story dedicated to the life and achievements of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, particularly her crusades against the anti-lynching of Black folks during this particular era in time.
In the latter part of nineteenth century, sociological theories from Ida B. Wells-Barnett were groundbreaking. She was born on July 16, 1862, in Holly Springs, Mississippi and she was to two freed slaves. Her mother, Lizzie Warrenton, was a cook; and her father, James, was a carpenter and they believed that an education was very important. After the Civil War ended, they enrolled their children in Rust College, the local school set up by the Freedmen’s Aid Society (Hine 1993). Founded in 1866, the Society established schools and colleges for recently freed slaves in the South, and it was at Rust College where Miss Ida learned to read and write.
When she turned sixteen, her life changed forever. Both of her parents and her infant brother died during a yellow fever epidemic, and Ida was left to care for her remaining five siblings. She began teaching at a rural school for $25 a month and, a year later, took a position in Memphis, Tennessee in the city’s segregated black schools. Upon arriving in Memphis, she learned that teaching salaries were higher than Mississippi, and she learned that even though there was a stronger demand for literate individuals to teach, there was a stronger need for qualified ones. According to Salley (1993), because she needed qualifications in order to teach, she enrolled into Fisk University and gained her qualification in under a year.
While returning to Memphis from a teaching convention in New York, she was met with racial provocation for the first time while traveling by railway. Ida was asked by the conductor to move to the segregated car, even though she had paid for a ticket in the ladies coach car. She refused to leave, and bit the conductor’s hand as he forcibly pushed her from the railway car. She sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, and was awarded $500 by a local court. Even though she won the case, the headlines read, “DARKY DAMSEL GETS DAMAGES,” and the decision was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court and was reversed (Bolden, 1996). She was ordered to pay court frees in the amount of $200. This incident infuriated Ida and spurred her to investigate and report other incidents of racism.
Outraged by the inequality of Black and White schools in Memphis and the unfairness of Jim Crow segregation, Ida became a community activist and began writing articles calling attention to the plight of African Americans. She wrote for a weekly Black newspaper called The Living Way.
Wells-Barnett’s teaching career ended upon her “dismissal in 1891 for protesting about the conditions in Black schools” (Salley, 1993, p.115). During her time as a school teacher, Wells-Barnett along with other Black teachers was said to have gathered and “shared writing and discussion on Friday evening, and produced a newspaper covering the week’s events and gossip.” (Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998, p.151). The newspaper was officially established and published and distributed under the name Memphis Free Speech and Headlights throughout the Back community a year after she was dismissed.
It has been said that her motivation to become a social analyst was the results of her involvement with the Memphis Free Speech and Headlights both as editor and columnist under the pen name Lola and as part owner. Unfortunately, her printing press was destroyed and she was run out of town by a White mob (Sally, 1993).
After getting dismissed from her teaching position, her attention then shifted from schools to the issue that would dominate her work for most of her life; lynching. Lynching was the brutal and lawless killing of Black men and women, often falsely accused of crimes, and usually perpetrated by sizable violent mobs of Whites.
It was during this Reconstruction Era, after the Civil War, that Black men made immediate civil gains such as voting, holding public office, and owning land. Yet, groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) developed at the turn of the century as a response. They made it difficult for Southern Blacks to vote or live in peace, attempting to maintain White supremacy through coercion and violence, including lynching (Salzman, 2004) .
Infuriated by the Memphis lynching in 1892, which involved a close friend, Ida expressed her grief in an editorial: “The city of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the White man or become his rival. There is nothing we can do about the lynching now, as we are outnumbered and without arms. There is therefore only one thing left we can do; save our money and leave town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, when accused by White persons” (Hine, 1993).
At the same time Wells saw what lynching really was; an excuse to “keep the nigger down” and execute Blacks “who acquired wealth and property.” (Duster, 1971) This sparked her investigation into the causes of lynchings. Since Whites could no longer hold Blacks as slaves they found in mob violence a different means of maintaining a system of “economic, psychological, and sexual exploitation” (Duster, 1971).
In addition, the result of her investigation and editorial sparked the Black community to retaliate and encourage all who could to leave, and those who stayed to boycott the city Railroad Company. Ida saw the success of the boycott, and asserted, “the appeal to the White man’s pocket has ever been more effectual than all appeals ever made to his conscience.” (Duster, 1971.)
As mentioned earlier, because of Well-Barnett’s racial identity, her social theory was well shaped by the events unfolding within her community as experienced by the first generation of African-Americans after Emancipation (Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998). According to Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley (1998): “This community took as one assumption that White dominance and its accompanying doctrine of White supremacy had to be confronted. American social Darwinists were giving doctrine of White intellectual legitimacy to Whites, which at this time meant Anglo-Saxon, imperialism abroad and supremacy at home, providing dogma such as that in James K. Hosmer’s“Short History of Anglo-Saxon Freedom”(p. 159).
Wells-Barnett’s social theory is considered to be a radical non-Marxian conflict theory with a focus on a “pathological interaction between differences and power in U.S. society. A condition they variously label as repression, domination, suppression, despotism, subordination, subjugation, tyranny, and our American conflict.” (Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998, p.161).
Her social theory was also considered “Black Feminism Sociology,” and according to Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley (1998), there was four presented themes within the theory: one, her object of social analysis and of a method appropriate to the project; two, her model of the social world; three, her theory of domination and four, her alternative to domination. Although those four themes were present in her theory, one could assume that the major theme above the four was the implication of a moral form of resistance against oppression, which is not farfetched seeing that oppression was the major theme in her life.
She used an amazingly straight-forward writing style to prove a very bold argument against lynching, discrediting the excuse of rape and other excuses. Wells used specific examples and sociological theories to disprove the justifications of lynching made by Southerners. Within her pamphlets, Wells portrays the views of African-Americans in the 1890s.
Southerners allowed widespread lynchings while hiding behind the excuse of “defending the honor of its women.”(Jones-Royster, 1997). The charge of rape was used in many cases to lynch innocent African-American men. The victim’s innocence was often proved after his death. Wells states that the raping of White women by Negro men is an outright lie. Wells supports her statements with several stories about mutual relationships between White women and Black men. White men are free to have relationships with colored women, but colored men will receive death for relationships with white women (Duster, 1971).
As shown by Wells, the excuses used by Whites to torture and murder African-Americans were false. In no way can these kinds of crimes ever be truly justified because of the victim’s crimes. Perhaps the most obvious reasons these crimes happened are hate and fear. Differences between groups of people have always caused fear of the unknown, which translates into hate. Whites no longer depended on African-American slave labor for their livelihood. When African Americans were slaves they were considered “property” and “obviously, it was more profitable to sell slaves than to kill them”(Jones-Royster, 1997). With all restraint of “property” and “profit” lifted, Whites during and after Reconstruction were able to freely give into their fear and hate by torturing and killing African-Americans.
Wells’ investigations revealed that regardless of whether one was poor and jobless or middle-class, educated, and successful, all Blacks were vulnerable to lynching. Black women, too, were victimized by mob violence and terror. Occasionally they were lynched for alleged crimes and insults, but more often these women were left behind as survivors of those lynched. Up to this time, African-Americans had almost never been free from some form of persecution; the period of Reconstruction was particularly difficult. With the occurrences of lynching steadily increasing with no hope of relenting, their new found freedom ensured little safety.
Eventually, Wells was drawn to Chicago in 1893 to protest the racism of the exclusion of African Americans from the World’s Fair. With the help of Frederick Douglass, she distributed 20,000 pamphlets entitled “The Reason Why the Colored American is Not in the Columbian Exposition.” On June 27, 1895, she married Ferdinand Lee Barnett, lawyer and editor of the Chicago Conservator, and continued to write while raising four children with him (Duster, 1971).
Ida believed firmly in the power of the vote to effect change for African-American men and women. She saw enfranchisement as the key to reform and equality, and she integrated the Women’s Suffrage movement by marching in the 1913 Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C., with the all White Illinois delegation (Sterling, 1979).
She continued to write in her later years, and remained one of the most widely syndicated Black columnists in America. She published articles on race issues and injustices that were printed in African-American newspapers nationwide. Toward the end of her life, Ida worked to address the social and political concerns of African-Americans in Chicago. She made an unsuccessful run as an independent candidate for the Illinois State Senate in 1930, and died the next year of the kidney disease uremia (Duster, 1971).
Wells-Barnett’s influence was profound. When the federal government built the first low-income housing project in Chicago’s “Black belt” in 1940, it was named in her honor (Sterling, 1979). Her autobiography was published posthumously by her daughter, Alfreda Duster in 1971.
In Chicago, she helped to found a number of Black female and reform organizations, such as the Ida B. Wells Club, the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago, and the Chicago Negro Fellowship League. She also served as director of Chicago’s Cook County League of Women’s Clubs. These clubs were a means for Blacks to join together for support and to organize to effect change (Duster, 1971). At the national level, Wells-Barnett was a central figure in the founding of the National Association of Colored Women, a visible organization that worked for adequate child care, job training, and wage equity, as well as against lynching and transportation segregation.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s passion for justice made her a tireless crusader for the rights of African Americans and women. She was a social reformer, a suffragist, a civil rights activist, and a philanthropist. Her writings, regardless of the risk to her safety and life, raised public awareness and involvement to address a number of social ills resulting in the oppression or murder of African Americans.
Her service of time through the creation of myriad clubs and organizations improved the lives of her people. Her work in Chicago, in her final years, focused on providing for the needs of the city’s African American population. Modeled after Jane Addams’ Settlement House efforts, Wells created urban houses for Black men, where they could live safely and have access to recreational amusements while they searched for employment (Hines, 1993).
Ida B. Wells-Barnett is sometimes referred to as the “Mother of the Civil Rights movement.” She refused to be moved from the Whites only railway car eighty years before the famous Rosa Parks held her seat on an Alabama bus. She encouraged the Black community to take steps to gain political rights, using the same means that would successfully be used much later during the Civil Rights movement such as economic and transportation boycotts (Hines, 1993).
In similar fashion to Margaret Sanger (of the Birth Control movement) and Susan B. Anthony (of the Women’s Suffrage movement), Wells-Barnett was a woman who dedicated her entire life to upholding her firm beliefs about social reform. She began by writing about the disparity in education and school conditions for Black children and spent much of her life working to abolish lynching through public awareness (Hines, 1993). Ida, through her example, writings, speaking, and service in various organizations, elevated the voice of women’s equality and suffrage. She was a pioneering Black female journalist, and led a very public life in a time when most women, Black or White, did not actively participate in the male political realm.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was connected to many prominent leaders and reformers, male and female, during her lifetime. Among them: Jane Addams (1860-1935) was a social reformer, social worker and the founder of Chicago’s Hull House, the most famous of the settlement houses. Addams and Wells-Barnett successfully worked together to block the segregation of Chicago’s public schools (Sterling, 1979).
She was also connected to W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) who was a famous Black scholar, sociologist, researcher, writer, and civil rights activist who voiced opposition to the accomodationist views of his contemporary, Booker T. Washington (1856-1915). Washington urged African Americans to focus on self-improvement through education and economic opportunity instead of pressing Whites for political rights.
Ida B. Wells outwardly disagreed with Booker T. Washington’s position on industrial education and was mortified with his implication that “Blacks were illiterate and immoral, until the coming of Tuskegee.” (Hine, 1993) Outraged by his remarks, she considered his rejection of a college education as a “bitter pill.” (Hine, 1993). She wrote an article entitled “Booker T. Washington and His Critics”regarding industrial education. “This gospel of work is no new one for the Negro. It is the South’s old slavery practice in a new dress.” (Hine, 1993).
She felt that focusing only on industrial education would limit the opportunities of aspiring young Blacks and she saw Washington as no better than the Whites that justified their actions through lynching. Wells-Barnett joined DuBois in his belief that African Americans should militantly demand civil rights, and the two worked together on several occasions, most substantially as co-founders of the NAACP.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), of which Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a founding member, is still a thriving organization with thousands of members nationally. The association continues to advocate for the advancement of African Americans.
Two of the primary issues on which Wells-Barnett worked on, anti-lynching and women’s suffrage, are now defunct issues. Lynching is a federal crime and women received the vote in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. For this reason, related groups that arose at the time, such as the Anti-lynching League, the Freedmen’s Aid Society, and the National Association of Colored Women are no longer in existence. Yet, the League of Women Voters was created as an outgrowth of the suffragist movement, and is an organization that still educates men and women about their responsibilities as voters.
Wells-Barnett’s contribution to the field of sociology is so significant that her work “predates or is contemporaneous with the now canonized contributions of White male thinkers like Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, George Simmel, and George Herbert Mead, as well as the contributions of White female sociologists like Adams, Gilman, Marianne Weber, Webb, and the Chicago Women” (Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998, p.171).
Ms. Wells-Barnett is an inspiring example of the power of the written word and the determination to succeed despite the odds. She was an African American woman, the daughter of slaves and considered the lowest of the low on the historical totem pole in American society and her tenacity, ambition, courage and desire for justice changed history. She was direct and possessed strength during a time when this was unheard of by a woman, especially a Black woman. A reformer of her time, she believed African-Americans had to organize themselves and fight for their independence against White oppression. She roused the White South to bitter defense and began the awakening of the conscience of a nation.
Through her campaign, writings, and agitation she raised crucial questions about the future of Back Americans. Today African-Americans do not rally against oppression like those that came before. Gone are the days when Blacks organized together; today Blacks live in a society that does not want to get involved as a whole. What this generation fails to realize is that although the days of Jim Crow have disappeared, it is important to realize that the fight for equality is never over.
In the preface of On Lynching: Southern Horrors, A Red Record and A Mob Rule in New Orleans (a compilation of her major works), she writes, “The Afro-American is not a bestial race. If this work can contribute in any way toward proving this, and at the same time arouse the conscience of the American people to a demand for justice to every citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel I have done my race a service. Other considerations are of minor importance” (Wells, 1969).
Barnett, Ida. B. Wells. (1969). On Lynching: Southern Horrors A Red Record and Mob Rule in New Orleans. New York, New York: Arno Press.
Bolden, Tonya. (1996) The Book of African-American Women: 150 Crusaders, Creators, and Uplifters. Avon, MA: Adams Media.
Duster, Alfreda M. (1971).Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida. B. Wells. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.
Hine, Darlene Clark, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, & Elsa B. Brown, Eds.(1993). Black Women in America. Vol. 2. Brooklyn, New York: Carlson Publishing.
Jones-Royster, Jacqueline. (1997). Southern Horrors and Other Writings; The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892-1900. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Lengermann, P. M. & Niebrugge-Brantley, J. (1998). The Woman Founders: Sociology and Social Theory, 1830-1930. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Salley, Columbus. (1993). The Black 100: A ranking of the most influential African-Americans, post and present. New York: Carol Publishing Group.
Salzman, Jack, ed. (2001). African-American Culture and History. Vol. 4. New York, New York: Macmillian Reference USA, 2001, 881-83. .
Sterling, Dorothy. (1979). Black Foremothers: Three Lives. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Feminist Press, 1979, 60-117.
Men lose their minds at thought of a woman perfectly content with her own company. Because that means that they can’t hold a relationship and a possible marriage over her head along with a passel of brats.
They can’t constantly chant “that’s why you’re single!” to a woman who truly doesn’t give a fuck. Those types of scare tactics doesn’t workon a woman who’s secure in herself and knows that her womanhood doesn’t hinge upon saddling herself with a man not worth two dead flies and children with his fucked up DNA.
For centuries, women have been socialized to believe that their only purpose in life is to get married and spit out the next generation of dysfunctional, unhappy people but after three waves of feminism, women have been taking off the patriarchal blinders and seeing American culture for what it is: a system that hates women and children so many are opting out.
A culture that respected and revered women and children would make it easier for them to exist. It would have a better healthcare system so that women wouldn’t be still dying in childbirth in the year 2021.
A culture that respected and revered women and children would have a national and generous maternity leave for expectant mothers that would allow them to rest and bond with their babies.
A culture that respected and revered women and children would have a nationally funded childcare program in which families wouldn’t be charged college tuition for daycare.
And most importantly, a culture that respected and revered women and children wouldn’t be still trying to force women into having children that they do not want. It’s almost 2022 and certain states in this country are trying to reverse Roe versus Wade, Supreme Court decision that gave women the right to abortion. It’s mind boggling that women who live in a supposedly enlightened, so called superior country are still fighting for autonomy over their own bodies.
So that’s why men fear and despise a happy single woman. They know that these women are free and can’t be subjugated into taking on trash so they try through violence or legislation to keep them in their place as walking wombs.
I’m a big fan of the cartoon “SpongeBob SquarePants” and one of my favorite characters is The Dirty Bubble. He’s a villain on SpongeBob’s favorite cartoon show and he’s a nasty fucker as you can see from the picture above. The very name of this character makes me dissolve into laughter and lets me know that despite of my 51 years, I’m still a silly little girl at heart. Imagine being a villain because you refuse to wash your ass. Hell it’s a lot of Dirty Bubbles walking around in Chicago 😃😃😃😃😃
The Bronzeville neighborhood means so much to me because much of my family’s history has been entwined in this area. My family started migrating from Mississippi during the 1930s. My Uncle Joseph was the first Allen to make the trek to the Promised Land and for him, the journey was bountiful. He started a Ma and Pa grocery store on 45th and Wabash with the help of his wife, my Aunt Edna, who worked as a laundress. With the proceeds of both their earnings, they purchased two buildings, including the one where his store was located. After that, the rest of my family, including my grandmother, with hope high in their hearts came to Chicago to make their fortunes. Some succeeded and some did not. However, that was not really important. What was important is that they had the opportunity to succeed, an opportunity that had been denied to them in their hometown of Itta Bena, Mississippi because of the rampant racism that existed. My own experiences with Bronzeville started in 1989, when my mother, my daughter and I moved to 49th and Prairie. We lived there until 1992, and despite of what anyone says about that area, I had a ball. I never knew such colorful characters actually existed outside of the many books I had read.
Bronzeville got its name because of the mass influx of African-Americans who came to Chicago that settled in the areas between 29th and 51st Street, during the Great Migration from 1915 to the 70s. Bronzeville was once a city within a city, with its own stores, several newspapers and strong churches. This neighborhood was dubbed the Black Metropolis because of the many opportunities offered to blacks. It became a magnet for African Americans, who migrated from the South in droves. Jobs were plentiful and there were many black-owned businesses such as banks, insurance companies and funeral homes. There were many social institutions to help the disadvantaged and activities for people to immerse themselves in. The nightlife was fantastic. Musicians came from all over America to play at the Regal Theater and The Savoy. There were several famous blacks who lived in Bronzeville and they include: Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Ferdinand Barnett, Robert Abbott, Lionel Hampton, Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, George Cleveland Hall, T. K. Lawless, Jesse Binga, Anthony Overton, and Richard R. Wright. These African-Americans contributed many gifts that would stand the test of time.
However, despite of its rich history, Bronzeville has faced a severe reversal of fortune. The losses of the stockyards and steel mills to different cities have pushed thousands of people out of the job market. Public housing projects – Stateway Gardens, Robert Taylor homes and the Ida B. Wells homes, created to give people better housing, trapped people in poverty and fear. The middle classed has moved to the suburbs. Retail businesses and lending capital have fled to safer pastures. This once proud Black Metropolis is now one of the poorest in the entire nation. The majority of its young people drop out of high school. Joblessness is the norm. Drugs and violence are rampant.
Even with all the adversity Bronzeville has faced in recent years, this community still has several strengths – beautiful old mansions, a great location near public transportation and the Loop, many churches, and a history so thick that you can feel it. This blog will discuss two things that were very important to the Bronzeville area during its heyday: housing and religion. It will discuss the hard time black migrants had getting decent housing due to overcrowding, segregation and what solution was taken to correct it, but ultimately caused a bigger problem. It will also discuss the religious wars that took place between the old guard blacks that had already settled in Chicago and the new immigrant blacks. There has been a great deal of renewed interest in the Bronzeville area because of its rich history, so hopefully, some of the money spent on other areas in the city of Chicago will be spent on this beautiful city within a city, the city called Bronzeville.
The Great Migration forced the established African American community in Chicago to make major adjustments and accommodations for its new inhabitants. Historically, black churches had, like their counterparts in the South, resisted any involvement in social issues. The arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants, however, simply could not be ignored and churches, being the black community’s richest and most influential institution, were quickly called to action in the effort to help migrants properly adjust themselves to life in Chicago.
African Americans already living in Chicago were known as the Old Settlers and they were aware of the major implications the Great Migration would have on their lifestyle. The Old Settlers had striven to establish respect from whites and a sense of equality within the city’s socioeconomic system. With the arrival of the Southern blacks, most of whom unfamiliar to city life, the Old Settlers feared that the progress they had achieved would be dashed. White people would probably equate them with the thousands of uneducated, fresh from the country migrants. Most importantly, the Old Settlers realized the enormous strain placed on many of the migrants who, having fled the South for better opportunities arrived in Chicago lacking housing or a sense of direction. From the migration’s outset, African American Chicago area churches bore the brunt of the responsibility for helping guide the migrants.
The Old Settlers also worried that the temptations of Chicago’s nightlife would be too much for the green as grass migrants. Down South, the church was the center of social life. Chicago, on the other hand, provided numerous outlets for entertainment (bars, nightclubs, taverns, gambling halls), many of them deemed by the ministry as deviant and destructive. African American social activist Richard Wright, Jr. emphasized the importance the church played in welcoming migrants to Chicago. He said, “Get these Negroes in your churches; make them welcome; don’t turn your nose and let the saloon man and the gambler do all the welcoming. Help them buy homes, encourage them to send for their families and to put their children in school” (Sernett, Promised Land).
One of the first churches to help the immigrants was Olivet Baptist Church which is located on 31st and King Drive. This church assumed a major role in the process of aiding migrants. The Rev. Lacey Kirk Williams, the minister at that time, sent members of his church to several Chicago train terminals to meet incoming passengers. Church members greeted the newcomers and immediately directed them to places of assistance. Olivet quickly transformed itself into a social service center for migrants, providing them with food and clothing, while assisting them in the obtainment of housing and employment. They also hosted a wide variety of social, educational, and recreational activities, and soon gained a reputation throughout the South “as an oasis of mercy in the urban desert” (Sernett, Promised Land).
There would be major clashes between the migrants and the established Old Settlers, some of which concerned religion but most of which had to do with class status. The new migrants did not like the Northern churches. They felt that these churches were cold and impersonal. They were used to the expressiveness of the churches down South and to them; the Northern church services were restrained. The established Northern blacks felt that the new migrants were countrified and embarrassing. They liked the calmness of their church services and did not want change. They were also concerned about their own hierarchy in Chicago.
Some churches compromised their traditional religious practices in order to accommodate their new members. They incorporated gospel choirs, and added new, more vibrant songs to their traditional church hymns. Ministers livened up their sermons by interjecting “shouts” and encouraging emotional responses from the congregation. Still, the migrants still found themselves set apart by their class status, appearance and demeanor. The condescending attitudes toward the migrants by the predominately upper-class church congregations did not help the situation. They made fun of the migrants’ clothes, accents, and lack of education. It always amazes me that in spite of all the racism and contempt we have endured from other cultures that we would treat each other so shabbily.
Some of these migrants eventually left these churches and started their own denominations. The churches came to be known as Storefront Churches. These churches tried to recreate the Southern rural churches that the majority of the migrants were used to. E. Franklin Franzier explained that the storefront churches “represented an attempt on the part of migrants, especially from the rural areas of the South, to re-establish a type of church to which they were accustomed” (Sernett, Promised Land).
Of course, the established black churches felt that these churches were a slap in their faces. They felt that these churches were a disgrace to the African American race and nothing more than a minstrel show. The preachers from these churches were derided for their lack of formal training and were subjected to accusations including defrauding their flock of money, being agents in the numbers racket, and of immoral sexual behavior (Sernett, Promised Land). However, despite the criticisms, storefront churches persisted, and exist to this very day, their presence a testament to the strength of the Southern migrants willingness to keep their heritage and an unwillingness not to bow down to those who looked down their noses upon them.
Decent Housing but At What Cost?
The new migrants having settled the issue of religion now had to deal with housing. The majority of people lived in tenement housing and there were many horror stories about overcrowding, rats and insects. However, living conditions in Chicago, though overcrowded, were similar to housing conditions in the South. Down South, most migrants lived in three or four room cabins. It was not uncommon for as many as five people to sleep in one room.
But this was The Promised Land, and things were supposed to be better. As soon as they were able to get themselves together, they moved. Living conditions were used as a measure of the success or failure of migration. A family succeeded when they secured a place of their own.
One of the most popular living spaces for migrants were kitchenette apartments. These apartments were called that because everything was enclosed in one room, including the kitchen and are similar to what is called an efficiency apartment today, except a bit smaller and housing more people. Families of four and up lived in these small spaces. Many families took an apartment like this, dreaming of the day when a better life would come along. I came to know this type of apartment very well. My mother, my then-baby daughter and I lived in a kitchenette apartment from 1989 to 1992. We had been burned out of our previous apartment and lost everything we owned. We needed to start off from scratch and save some money in the process.
Unlike the migrants, we did have two separate rooms. The kitchen was actually pretty large and so was the bedroom/living space but we had to share a bathroom with the other tenants. It was a unique experience living in that building. There was a pimp and his two ladies of night living down the hall, and they would fight everyday. Sometimes, the girls would fight each other and on other days, would join forces and beat up the pimp. A lady named Dorise lived across the hall and she would get drunk everyday. Her boyfriend was a drunk too, and one time when he was laid out across the lawn in a drunken stupor, someone stole his brand new Reebok gym shoes off his feet. When the first of the month came (check time), the tenants of 4949 South Prairie would party like it was New Year’s Eve. It was truly an experience I will never forget.
By the 1940s, as more migrants flooded Bronzeville, there was less and less space for them to move into. Already decrepit apartments became overcrowded and the living conditions became worse. To alleviate this overcrowding, many blacks attempted to move to into neighboring areas and out to the newly emerging suburbs. However, they were met with massive white resistance, both political and violent, forcing them to stay confined in the overcrowded and dilapidated slums of the South Side. The City of Chicago needed to do something about these conditions; there was a serious housing shortage and the migrants either did not have the money to move elsewhere, or could not because of white resistance. The Chicago Housing Authority, a government agency, attempted to solve the housing problems of the South Side by building affordable housing projects.
The first of these housing projects to finished were the Ida B. Wells Homes, and they were completed in 1941. The next to be finished were The Dearborn Homes, which are located from 27th to 30th streets and from State Street to the Rock Island Railroad tracks. They were completed in 1950. They were designed by Loebl, Schlossman and Bennet and represented the CHA’s first “high-rise” public housing project. They ranged from 6 to 9 stories. The most notorious of the housing projects built by the CHA were The Robert Taylor Homes, Chicago’s (and the country’s) largest housing project. They were completed in 1962. They were named after Robert R. Taylor, the commissioner of the CHA from 1938-1950. Robert Taylor resigned from the CHA in 1950 after realizing that the political forces in Chicago would prevent the CHA from building unsegregated public housing. These political forces wanted blacks isolated and segregated from the rest of Chicago. And it worked.
The Robert Taylor Homes, consisting of 28 identical sixteen-story buildings practically guaranteed segregation because it was built in the middle of the slums of Bronzeville, keeping its over 28,000 residents isolated. By stacking people literally on top of each other, the CHA was able to house many people on this two-mile piece of land. The architects, who designed this madness, had hoped the open space surrounding the Robert Taylor Homes would give its residents a sense of closeness to the outdoors, making The Robert Taylor Homes a suburbia within the city. However, the land surrounding the buildings served more as an isolating factor Because of its isolation, these projects became a hot seat of criminal activity, which included drug trafficking, gang wars and murder. Public housing, instead of giving the poor an outlet of hope, continued the vicious cycle of poverty and turned Bronzeville into a ghetto.
Bronzeville was once a bustling center of activity for African-Americans who wanted to better their lives. Once the jobs left the community, it took the heart out of Bronzeville. The projects took its soul. What is left now is an empty shell of broken beer bottles and shattered dreams. There has been a great deal of renewed interest in Bronzeville, and some of the old, abandoned buildings have been rehabbed. New businesses have come back and put money in the community. If this interest continues, this neighborhood can be great again, but two key ingredients are needed to make this dream come true. The churches of Bronzeville have to take a more active role in the lives of its inhabitants, like they did in when the Migration first started. The ministers cannot turn a blind eye to the gang violence and drug activity that still plagues this area. The residents of Bronzeville also have to take a stand and not allow their neighborhood to continue its descent into the gutter. The residents have to teach their children about Bronzeville’s rich history. Bronzeville was built on the blood, sweat and tears of black migrants who came to Chicago with nothing in their pockets but dreams and a hope for the future. The children of Bronzeville should never be allowed to forget this. Bronzeville is the proverbial diamond in the rough. Let’s hope its shine will come through.
One of the easiest ways to make money via the social media is to exploit the insecurities of Black women. Black women in this country have been told by the dominant culture and their own kind for centuries that they are ugly, masculine, and as a whole, unlovable. As a result of this never ending propaganda, too many Black women suffer from low self esteem and are highly male identified. The definition of a male identified woman is in the link above but my own personal definition is a woman who will sell her soul and her first born child for some dick. I hate to sound crass and uncouth but it’s the truth and there are individuals who know this fact and have decided to make some money by capitalizing on this need for the ding a ling.
In either 2015 or 2016, I came across this chick name Ro Elori Cutno via Facebook. She claimed to be an expert on relationships and all the fellas loved her dirty draws because she advocated for women reverting back to their “natural” role as a subservient, meek, mild, wet hole for men instead of striving for an education and a life outside of striving for husband.
She even had the audacity to start a “Wife School” and charged desperately unhappy women $30,000 to attend. The school was in Paris and not only did the attendees had to pay their transportation costs but they had to live in a shady boarding house with their other clueless brethren. And then she set them up with some truly unattractive men who just wanted a green card and they got married and rode off into the sunset broke but at least they were married!
But eventually, all good things come to an end and shit got to stanking for Ro. She got caught up being a shyster doing shiesty shit and now she’s in Senegal trying to exploit more guileless women but in her wake, another generation of femininity gurus have picked up the flag and are juicing Black women out of their hard earned coins. Now it’s the “femininity” scam and this new crop of people are making coins telling Black women that if they wear pink and speak softly, Prince Charming is going to pull up in a Rolls Royce and sweep them off to a mansion where they will rest in their femininity for all eternity.
It’s so many of these women and men getting paid off the insecurities of Black women that it needs to be a crime but I really don’t feel sorry for these women and maybe it’s because I don’t understand their mentality.
I’m Generation X and I was raised by Black women from the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers. Beautiful chocolate and caramel brown sisters who who were soft and feminine and wore big hats and fur coats to church every Sunday but didn’t have an issue with stepping out of character and cracking someone upside their head if they needed to.
These ladies including my mother who is not in the above picture taught me everything about femininity and womanhood. How to behave properly in public spaces. How to walk away when a man is treating you like shit. So many life lessons and it’s sad that it’s too many sisters who didn’t receive these lessons as young girls and are now willing to pay complete strangers to learn how to be a woman. Paying thousands of dollars to get attention from men not worth two dead flies and who need some lessons in masculinity if you ask me.
I’m currently watching BET Soul and they played Mary J. Blige’s video “Love No Limit” and lord it brought back memories of being young and carefree. Then it occurred to me that this album will be 30 years old next year. The same age as my son and now I feel old as mummy dirt. So I’m sitting here wondering where the time go.
So much have changed in my life since 1992. I’ve lost so many people that I loved with all my soul including my original birth family, aunts, cousins and friends.
When I look in the mirror, I see traces of the younger woman I used to be but I mostly see sadness. Sadness for my lost loved ones and the state of a culture that is selfish and trifling. I remember that idealistic girl I used to be and wonder where she went and what happened to her. Who is this cynical broad staring back at me in the mirror daily?
But I know who she is. It was easy for her to turn into a cynic considering what generation she’s from. Generation X, the forgotten generation stuck between the Boomers and Millennials who battle daily on the social media.
The original latchkey children who were left to their own devices and learned to be satisfied with eating ravioli straight out the can because their mothers refused to buy a microwave and threatened them with violence if they turned on the stove.
The generation who saw a spaceship blow up in the air back in 1986 and if they were Black, saw the destruction of their community when the crack era started. It’s no wonder why so many of us are drunks. We’ve seen it all and still somehow manage to get up in the morning with a semi straight face despite the pain of yesteryear.
But despite the pain, considering what I have been through during these last almost 30 years, I’m eternally grateful to be still alive and in one piece. Fatter with laugh lines but still here. So this little story is for my Generation X folks. My middle age Around the Way gals and homeboys. We go make it y’all. Yes we are.
When looking back at past eras, the 1950s is looked upon by many as an idyllic time in American history. The nuclear family headed by a male breadwinner was the desired norm and televisions shows such as Father Knows Best and I Love Lucy were popular. However, there was a dark side to this lifestyle. Women were treated like second-class citizens and some were living unhappily married because their financial and educational options were limited and they were as dependent on their husbands as their children.
The media, in collusion with the government, and sociologists constantly espoused the virtues of family and children and women, who wanted more out of life were looked upon as freaks of nature. However, some women during that era expressed dissatisfaction with their lives and an inarticulated longing for a life beyond their children and husbands. Some of these women were forced out the workforce after World War II and felt resentment that their only option for financial stability was marriage. This inarticulated longing would lead to a major social upheaval towards the end of the 1950s and would be the beginning of the second-wave feminist movement. This movement caused a shift in family values and altered family structure for future generations to come. The 1950s Family Experiment would be short-lived but fondly remembered.
Several factors lead to the forming of the nuclear family. By the end of the 1940s, the divorce rate dropped sharply; the ages of people getting married fell to a 100-year low; and the birth rate soared. Women dropped out of the workforce as soon as they become pregnant and some young women had two or more children in diapers at once. Also during this time, the education gap between young middle-class men and women increased and job segregation for working women and men peaked. Limited educational and job opportunities for women made them more dependent on marriage for their financial well-being.
Young, newly married couples were encouraged to sever their family ties and put all their emotional and financial eggs in the small basket of the immediate nuclear family. Women were told by experts that all their energies should be used for their husbands and children, not aging parents and other relatives. Psychiatrist Edward Strecker and various colleagues argued American boys were infantilized and emasculated by women who were old-fashioned “moms” instead of modern “mothers”.
Modern mothers placed their parents in nursing homes; old-fashioned mothers took their parents in at the expense of their own “important” nuclear family. A modern mother was not supposed to have friends, a job, or anything or anyone that would take attention from her husband and children. She was also supposed to grant early independence to her male child. It is no wonder that many women who believed in this advice and put it into practice ending up abusing alcohol or tranquilizers over the course of the decade.
Women were encouraged to confine themselves to a very narrow definition of “true” womanhood by a variety of sources such as family education specialists and marriage counselors, columns in women’s magazines, government pamphlets, and above all television. These experts told women during the 1950s that their greatest role on the planet was to be wives and mothers. The role of a “real” woman was to have no interest in a higher education or a career and women were taught by these experts to pity women who had the nerve to want a life beyond being a wife and mother.
Televisions shows such as Donna Reed, Ozzie and Harriet, Leave It to Beaver, and Father Knows Best showed women how much easier their lives would be if their families were like those families and the I Love Lucy show warned women about the perils of what happened to a woman who wanted a career or if she schemed behind her husband’s back (Coontz, 38), The mothers on Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet were immaculately dressed with pearls around their necks. Their homes were clean and their children never got into trouble. However, on I Love Lucy, Lucy usually looked terrible by the end of the episode. Her hair was at times standing on top of her head and her clothes filthy from her weekly adventure. Women and their families watched these shows and tried their best to emulate the perfect and bright lives shown to them on a weekly basis.
Noticeably absent from these discussions are the role of Black women during this era. Black women were delegated to the background as housekeepers and nannies, taking care of other women’s children and then going home to take care of their families. So from the beginning, this image of a beautiful, bountiful lady of leisure that keeps her home, children, and herself immaculate was never intended for Black women because Black women never had and were not given those same opportunities. They had to work. But unlike white women, they received help from their extended family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family member assisted in the raising of children. Many parents left their children with family members when they made the trek to the North during the Great Migration and when they got on their feet, sent for their children and the family members who helped them.
However, towards the end of the 1950s, a dramatic shift occurred. Cultural values changed dramatically and the children of these women found the social hypocrisy of their parents sickening. Many young adults and some of their mothers would march in the streets to protest against sexism, racism, and militarism. Minorities and women began to receive the civil rights that were rightfully due to them and more and more women entered the workforce, forcing a dynamic shift in child rearing practices. By the 1970s, husbands and wives had begun to share household duties and women were no longer bound to their homes.
The concept of family has changed and although there have been some issues; it was ultimately for the best. Women have more rights but divorce is commonplace in current modern society and many children live in one-parent households. Despite the gains of the 1960s, women still face discrimination and do the majority of household work regardless of how many hours they work per week or if they have a partner. But women now have opportunities that would not have been imagined sixty-years ago. Children do not have to see their mothers treated like chattel and America is on the verge of electing the female President of the United States. Nothing remains the same – ever. The constantly changing landscape of the American family owes a lot to the women of the 1950s.