The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900-1967


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The History of the Near South Side of Chicago and the Ethnic Changes Part 1

English Choose a language for shopping. Amazon Music Stream millions of songs. Amazon Advertising Find, attract, and engage customers. The reason for this contact was that African Americans were slowly building an autonomous cultural sphere on the South Side where they could be the venue owners, the musicians, and the audience — which is the essence of the photo capturing the interior of the Pekin. The conscious use of self-sufficiency as a way to resist segregation was at the heart of the complex relationship African Americans had with Chicago.

The Black cultural sphere ensured the promotion of African American culture, but it ran the risk of legitimizing the city's racial politics. It also necessitated that the Pekin's owners, ignored by city leaders and banks, turn to the city's crime syndicates to underwrite the theater. By the early s, the onetime jewel of the community became infamous as a resister of Prohibition laws and a venue for gang violence.

In the minds of many Chicagoans in the s, the Pekin was an example of the connections between crime and African Americans.

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The Pekin illustrates that it was impossible to resist segregation without being shaped by segregation. In the forefront of the conflicts and contradictions born of the African American struggle against segregation in Chicago, as the photos of the Pekin demonstrate, were the musicians. African American musicians began to arrive in Chicago in considerable numbers in the early s.


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  8. They were attracted to Chicago in part because of the Pekin and what it represented. The musician migration collided with a political movement in which Chicago leaders were turning more toward using physical segregation as a tool to contain the city's booming "vice" businesses and the growing African American population within the same area of the city.

    Rather than ending vice, civic leaders pushed brothels, saloons, dance halls, and gambling establishments into the least politically powerful part of the city: the emerging South Side "black belt. The history of the growth of segregation in Chicago stands side by side with the history of the growth of African American culture in the city.

    Black musicians were caught between these two historic forces. To survive, all Black musicians would have to defend their music and their profession from the social stigma resulting from the vice purge that pushed vice into the South Side, which threatened to reduce their music to an element of crime. The Black musicians' opponents included both white social crusaders, seeking to drive out popular music venues, and African American leaders, striving to build a "respectable" Black cultural sphere on the South Side. Three forces shaped the musicians' reality in Chicago in the early twentieth century.

    The first was the vice purge. Around the turn of the century, before the creation of the "black belt," pulp novelists and religious leaders described the places of vice in the city as the Customs House in the Loop, the Chinatown neighborhood south of the Loop, the Levee of the near South Side, and the Little Hell neighborhood north of the Loop. These areas were the "slums of vice," characterized by dice games, prostitutes, opium, and ragtime that "grated on sensitive ears.

    The only descriptions of racial mixing concerned Chinatown and focused on the relationship between opium, Asians, and European Americans. These early descriptions of Chicago suggest that there was a connection between popular music and vice before African Americans started to arrive in Chicago in large numbers. The process by which African Americans became tied to notions of vice was a historical process rooted in the policing of the Levee.

    As Chicago's red-light district, the Levee emerged in the s on Wabash Street close to the downtown business district — the Loop. It was a red-light district notorious for its saloons, dance halls, brothels, and displays of sexuality that were often interracial, cross-class, public, and commercial. It was a place of social experimentation where people from different backgrounds could mix and touch one another without concern for social propriety. In the early s, the police began to focus on the Levee. The surveillance and prosecution caused the district to begin to creep further and further south, from the downtown commercial area to 18th and 22nd Streets between State and Armour.

    Though the drift had been underway for awhile, it was not until that the conscious plan to force vice into the Black neighborhoods began with the Vice Commission's report. At the core of its arguments was the Levee. The commission viewed this section of Chicago as a vice bacillus branching out into the city. In the report, the Vice Commission observed that vice was always "within or near the settlements of colored people. Where ever prostitutes, cadets, and thugs were located among white people and had to be moved for commercial and other reasons, they were driven to undesirable parts of the city, the so-called colored residential sections.

    Chicago civic leaders were not alone in the war on vice. In Seattle, the city's women pushed for the recall of Mayor Hiram Gill, charging him with corruption because he supported a legal vice district in the city. In the Arizona and the New Mexico territories, the public debate concerned Prohibition, the need to recall corrupt judges, and women's rights.

    The Black Musician and the White City

    Throughout Ohio, the police and city leaders blamed Black communities for vice and refused to distinguish between criminals and law-abiding African Americans, which resulted in violence and an increase in the incarceration of Blacks. Chicago civic leaders were also not alone in looking to segregation as a way of controlling the ever-increasing African American population in the city. This was the age of Jim Crow. Between and , there was a marked increase in residential segregation laws throughout the South, and the residents of Atlanta took things a step further by segregating elevators.

    In Harlem in , white residents were calling for "Jim Crow" cars in the city trains because they disliked the striking growth in the number of Black residents in the neighborhood.

    Article excerpt

    Furthermore, large-scale race riots marred each presidential election. The election reflected the growing tension in the nation when Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party refused to seat duly elected Black delegates, suggesting that the Progressive movement was for whites only. Chicago's vice crusade and turn toward segregation stands out in this moment of social reform because it was legitimized and endorsed not only by city and civic leaders but also by social scientists at the University of Chicago, which gave the vice purge the auspices of a city-planning measure.

    Their rationalizations illustrate the divided nature of their plan for the city. On the one hand, they were attempting to apply the progressive ideals for which the city had become famous. On the other, their inconsistencies and the uncertain terms regarding vice and race reveals that in they were starting down the path of creating two Chicagos dominated by different political and cultural ideas.

    In the end, the Chicago commissioners, politicians, and police did not succeed at preventing or eliminating vice. Instead, they pushed vice further into the "black belt. Once in the Black neighborhoods, the vice areas would comprise the borderland between the neighborhoods of the Black elites and the areas controlled by poor European American communities. The vice purge resulted in two significant developments. First, the purge designated the South Side as the neighborhood of vice. Following the purge, the majority of the musicians playing jazz and blues in Chicago, and those who would migrate to the city over the next few decades, relocated to the South Side because the music venues were economically tied to the "pleasure palaces," "resorts," and "dives" controlled by crime syndicates.

    Black music — and, by extension, the Black musician — were seen as the accomplice of vice.

    The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900-1967 The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900-1967
    The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900-1967 The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900-1967
    The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900-1967 The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900-1967
    The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900-1967 The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900-1967
    The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900-1967 The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900-1967
    The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900-1967 The Black Musician and the White City: Race and Music in Chicago, 1900-1967

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